On the night of January 15th, 2013, the fiance' and I decided to go for a night out on the town and figured we'd catch a Bobcats game while out. That night they were playing the Indiana Pacers at Time Warner Cable Arena, a team that for the first few weeks of the season were looking very shaky but had recently began playing up to some of the standards and expectations they began the season with. For some reason or another, we were late catching the light rail and ended up missing the beginning of the game.
When we arrived in the arena, the score was already 20-9 in favor of the Pacers. The arena was quiet, the fans were spaced out all over, and the Bobcats were playing, well......Bobcat ball. We accessed the lower level seating and flashed our tickets to the guard who casually pointed us to a section directly behind her that had several seats open about 5 rows up from the court. A father and son duo were in our original seats, but this was no worry as almost the rest of the row was empty. It was very cool and dark in the arena as we took
our somebody else' seats, and my girl immediately put her phone away, clutched my arm, and pressed up against me for warmth.
"Where's Boris?" she asked. I then went on a rant about how I was so happy that the slob was let go after Charlotte and I got tired of seeing him sludge up and down the court. This was the very reason she remembered him as we had attended a game the previous year in which she noticed how slow he was getting back on defense and running in transition. No strong effort at all being displayed. She then asked me "Where's Mully?" in which I replied he's out for this one I guess. We had attended a game a few weeks before that and a crowd of fans were chanting M-V-P as he shot free throws which forever etched that name in her mind.
We sat and watched the game some more and the lead began to grow larger. Beginning to look disinterested at the product I was seeing, she offered me the chance to go ahead and go bowling (our next planned trip while out) in which I told her no. She's the type that likes to try to keep my spirits up beat about things and loves to get me to talk, so she turns and asks me "what would you do if you were the coach?" I then put my arm chair coaching hat on and fired away.
"Well, for one, the team desperately needs a low post scorer. Someone like Zach Ran.....well, this guy that plays for another team. He can play with his back to the basket and back people down, like #21 for the Pacers is doing us. This is important for when teams slow down and need to run plays. And oh, we need to get out of this stupid zone defense and stop giving up all these 3 point shots. Dunlap talked a good game but man, sometimes I wonder. And watch this guy checking in. We call him Horse Lime on the website. Watch he jack up a dumb ass shot as soon as he gets the ball in his hands."
Right on cue, Tyrus launched a bad shot.
"We need to get move the ball more. You know what iso ball is? That's all we play. 5 guys just out there doing their own thing. And oh my god, here comes Diop. Remember him? You remember, the guy that shoots free throws as bad as that dude from your school" (she went to App State).
I kept on going and going with everything I thought was wrong with the team. No ball movement, poor shot selection, no interior scoring, weak rotations on defense, improper spacing, no one to command a double team, getting destroyed on the boards.This continued until the buzzer sounded and we were victims to a 103-76 loss and a 9-29 record. A feeling of hopelessness had sat in. Although, to be fair, this had happened countless times before.
I went home that day and watched the game on my television. I had it set for record since I didn't originally plan on going and for the first time in a while, I sat and watched the full game to determine exactly what lead to us taking this drubbing. I mean, I had seen it with my own eyes, but I just needed to see it again. What I found were several flaws in the way the game was played. We would never make the playoffs on this same road. I had been attributing our losses up to that point to a lack of talent and effort, but what I saw was much worse.
However, with some of the things that have been done in between today and that awful day, I believe this team is ready for a playoff run. I know that will be met with talks of "pipe dreams" and "delusion" from this site because 1. You still don't believe the team is any good or 2. You want a top 5 pick in the draft. Whatever your reason, I don't care. But I am making this statement and sticking to it. I know I'll be met with talks about us being the worst team ever and the second worst last year in which I am open for debate. But before doing so, please review the top reasons why I think it will happen.
Mike Dunlap Is Gone: Throughout the year, I was constantly seeing things from Dunlap to make me question his ability to lead an NBA team. Whether it was running full court presses and tiring out his own players, playing a zone defense for 80% of the game (which lead to us being tied for the worst 3 point defensive team in the league), sitting MKG for long stretches of time in the fourth quarter, letting Byron Mullens jack three pointers like he was Ray Allen, playing the 3 Mouseketeer offense (Sessions @ SF, wtf?), or failing to implement a pick and roll offense, not holding players accountable for not getting back on defense or missing passes, it was a lot. I have a lot more if you really want me to go there. And then on top of this he is holding 4 hour long practices and benching veterans for weeks at a time with no explanation. I constantly said throughout the year that if Dunlap did not change his ways then he deserved to be canned. For the most part, that was met with opposition. But guys listen, this stuff really adds up and I'm glad the front office was paying attention. This is a player's league and these are grown men that are well paid to do what they do. This is why Ben Gordon told him he needed to humble himself. It wasn't just Ben feeling this way. According to exit interviews, the coach had simply lost the team. So while others are pointing at 21 wins and screaming "oh wait, why fire him, he tripled our team record", I'm saying he UNDERACHIEVED. If Steve Clifford can just manage to cut out half of these things which are all in a coach's power, then that roster from last year wins at the least 25 games. I know people don't want to pin anything on the coaches, but I dare someone to try to stop me from doing it.
McRobert's Arrival: Even after McBob has been signed to an extension, I still feel as though the impact he had on the team is very underrated. When he was acquired from the Orlando Magic in a deal for Hakim Warrick, most met the move with a "meh". This continued through the first few games as he didn't really get much playing time, which changed when he exploded for 10 points in only 7 minutes in a blowout loss to the Clippers. The good that he brought to this team certainly did not come from his scoring though, it came from his ball movement. The way cutters began to responding to his patient and willing passing was a thing of beauty and instantly changed the mind set of the team. The ball began moving better which opened up a lot more scoring opportunities for other players, which includes Walker, who at that point was the basically the only facilitator on the team. In the 17 games that McRoberts played 30 or more minutes, the Bobcats went 8-9 (which happened to be our 8 final wins) down the stretch, which would have lead to a much more respectable record over the duration of the season at that pace. Granted, not every team was trying their absolute hardest to win, but there is no doubt in my mind that his presence and passing over a full season will be extremely helpful in our quest to win.
Addition By Subtraction: Players like DeSagana Diop and Tyrus Thomas are no longer on the roster. Now I don't want to completely throw these guys under the bus as I do appreciate their time here, but Diop is basically useless at this stage in his career and Thomas just couldn't help but do dumb stuff about 90% of the time he was in the game. Diop played in 22 games averaging 10.3 minutes while Thomas played in 26, averaging 13.8 minutes. That means, for me, that roughly 591 minutes were wasted by having these two on the floor. COMBINED, the two averaged 5.5 PPG, and 4.6 RPG. How about the money made between them? How about over $15.5 million dollars. That's a helluva lot of money going into "dead space" on the roster. Now that these two are gone, those are two roster spots we are able to fill with better players, which shouldn't be hard to find.
The East is Evolving: Even if teams don't decide to go into tank mode, there are a ton of changes being made in the East. In Detroit, you have Josh Smith basically coming in to play SF again while Jose Calderon, the team's only true PG has moved on. The Bucks are still in flux with bringing Brandon Jennings back and have pretty much lost JJ Redick and Monta Ellis for nothing. The Magic are still young and rebuilding. The Celtics and 76'ers are tearing it down. The Hawks have added Paul Milsap in place of Smith. The Raptors are open to moving Rudy Gay. They've already shipped Andrea Bargnani off to the Knicks for Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, who refuses to play in Toronto again. I mean, there's just a lot going on. Even if teams aren't trying to deliberately lose, there are setbacks that come with change. Chemistry issues and what not. That's not to say we aren't changing as well. We are. But the East will not be the familiar lay out that we've become accustomed to. Teams will rise, and teams will fall. It's up to us to determine our place in line. The only playoff "locks" I am currently seeing are the Nets, Knicks, Pacers, Heat and Bulls (who I wouldn't have as a lock of Tom Thibodeau wasn't such a damn genius). Those are 3 spots open for the rest of us. We can squeeze in there.
Experience for Our Core: I think the jump in Kemba Walker's game is the most overlooked aspect on this site. The kid jumped his scoring from 12.1 to 17.7 points (7 more minutes of play), increased his shooting percentage from 37% to 42%, and was a top 5 player in the NBA adding 2.0 steals per game. He has a chance to be a special player in the league as he combines the skill with the charisma and heart of a winner. Playing in Charlotte has hurt his popularity a bit, but people outside of the Q.C. are beginning to take notice of his game. A third year in the league can do him wonders. More experience would definitely benefit players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as well as he continues to work on his jump shot and attempt to avoid foul trouble. No longer being a rookie should help him a little bit with the refs. Bismack has nowhere to go but up in regards to his game as he is an extremely hard worker and is very athletic for a big man. His basketball IQ is still low, but the coaching staff has said they plan to bring him along at a slower pace, allowing him to learn to excel in rebounding and defense and not focusing on scoring, so his minutes will be more limited, but he is still a part of this rotation. Jeffrey Taylor shouldn't be overlooked as well. He is an athletic wing with a developing three ball (34%) and is a capable defender. My only complaint with him really is his aggressiveness, which comes over time for some players. And speaking of aggressiveness, have we all forgotten how Gerald Henderson exploded after the all-star game. Not only was adding McRoberts a part of this, but the fact that Hendo began attacking the rim ferociously with the ball clutched super tight until he was ready to finish which allowed him to draw fouls and keep defenders in trouble. This is not something he is going to forget all of the sudden. His game is still evolving and I fully expect him to start AND finish the season strong if he remains aggressive throughout his campaign.
The Bobcats Actually Have Depth Now:
As currently constructed, let's take a look at the Bobcat's depth chart:
PG Walker, Sessions
SG Henderson, Gordon
SF Kidd Gilchrist, Taylor
PF Zeller, McRoberts, Adrien
C Jefferson, Biyombo, Haywood
That roster may not impress you at all, but let's think about this for a second. Our bench is now comprised of a player that's started over 100 games for us the past 2 years, another that is constantly credited with improving the team, a second year player most fans actually like, Ben Gordon who can still be very effective if his ball handling is eliminated, and Sessions, who averaged over 14 ppg for us last year. I challenge anyone to find me any Bobcats' bench even remotely close to being that impressive in year's past.
The starting lineup is made up of a player who could be an All-Star as soon as the team starts winning, another guard who averaged closed to 20 over the second half of the year, a SF who does pretty much everything a coach asks, a 7 footer who plays like another SF, and a center who has a legitimate chance at being an All-Star next year. The guy averaged 18 and 9 last year for a team knocking on the playoff door in the west.
Holes Have Been Filled: With the front court receiving a MASSIVE scoring punch with Zeller and Jefferson also comes my argument that holes have been filled. We went from one of the worst front courts in NBA history to one now that can actually be called decent (I refuse to use the word average when discussing a player of Jefferson's caliber). We now have a facilitator in McRoberts (missing for 3/4 of the year last year), better rebounding (Jefferson, Zeller, Biz off the bench) and improved arc ball shooting if Zeller is everything the team intends him to be. We'll need more shooters (or improvement from within) to fill out the roster but the issues that corrupted this team are slowly disappearing.
In Conclusion: Listen, I've coached, played, and watched basketball for so many years and from my opinion, I think this team has serious playoff potential. I know a lot of you want the team to lose to obtain another pick in the draft or you just feel that because the team has been so bad over the last 2 years that there is no way in hell they can make the playoffs but I'm seeing a team whose improvements go way beyond simply "adding Zeller and Jefferson to the 2nd worst team in the league." You can come in here and talk about me being crazy or whatever, but back up your reasons to why this team is so horrible and doomed for another top 5 pick.
And for that, I must ask, if we are still that bad, then what the hell are we doing here? If we've done all of this and the team is still in position to obtain a top pick, I can guarantee you that some people will be fired, traded, waived, or simply released. We have four players who have been top 10 picks in the past 3 years, a 20-10 caliber center (the hardest spot to get a scoring threat), and a host of able veterans. The front office isn't in this to lose. If that were the case, they would have never brought Jefferson is or paid Thomas not to play for us anymore. Like it or not, we aren't a part of the Andrew Wiggins chase. We're aiming to win. We'll make the playoffs. If you have reasons why we can't, we have plenty of time to debate while we wait.