First things first: read this deconstruction of the Bobcats' recent history leading up to this point and the evaluation from Zach Lowe at Grantland. It's without a doubt the best piece on the team from a broad national perspective, in regards to accuracy, detail and level of information and quality of writing.
The documentation of the Bobcats fall from their lone playoff year is solid, though he says that the Bobcats only got two main pieces of value from dumping Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler: the two first round draft picks for Wallace and moving up in the draft in 2011 for Biyombo. Lowe elaborates in a sidebar that it's not meant to be a shot at Charlotte's return on value, but that those players outside of Wallace didn't have much value.
It's certainly true. Diaw certainly didn't have many teams chomping at the bit to trade for him because of his $9 million salary, an often disinterested playing style and being overweight in recent years with the team. To find any significant value in return for Diaw outside of cap space between 2010 and 2012 would have been akin to finding a steel chest full of gold bullion buried on a beach with the cheapest metal detector you could find at Wal-Mart.
The Chandler trade was just a disaster, regardless of the rumored target with hopes of flipping Erick Dampier's fully unguaranteed trade chip of an expiring contract. The Bobcats took on money to give up Chandler (though few saw Chandler becoming the force he has been the past couple years) to return Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera's bloated contracts.
But though Lowe does briefly discuss how Jackson didn't have much value, the Bobcats managed to get more or less of a windfall from the volume scorer with a hefty contract and infamous penchant for wearing his emotions on his sleeves. Not only was he a major centerpiece of the bizarre three-way trade with Sacramento and Milwaukee that helped the Bobcats jump 12 spots in the lottery, but he set off a chain of events that returned them a future lottery pick. Jackson went to Milwaukee and the Bucks gave Charlotte Corey Maggette. Maggette was traded a year later for Ben Gordon and a first round pick that will be top-8 protected in 2014 and top-one protected in 2015. The Bobcats ultimately had to take on another year of a big contract, but in valley of a rebuilding mode when cap space isn't a big concern the Bobcats essentially got a solid offensive player and a nice first round pick in the fallout of Jackson's departure.
OK, moving on. Let's get to the meat and potatoes.
Rod Higgins, Bobcats President of Basketball Operations, take it away!
"We could have just sat on that money. But we've had a lot of losses over the last two years. We've gotten to the point now where we just want to compete. We have to send that message to our fans."
He makes a very important point. As fans, we have sat through a lot of terrible basketball the past few years. I went through a span between the 2011-12 season and 2012-13 season during which I didn't see the Bobcats win from the beginning of January until November.
One of the questions I've heard a lot in the fallout from the Bobcats subsequent use of their cap space for Al Jefferson was "Well, you have to spend it at some point and how many more years do the Bobcats need to spend at the bottom for draft picks?"
I hardly think another year of watching some exciting young talent with the addition of Cody Zeller with a great chance at a top pick in one of the best drafts since possibly 2003 is the worst thing in the world before you start building in free agency the following offseason.
But I get the other side of the conversation, too, which the front office and coach Steve Clifford agree with. Their viewpoint is that Al Jefferson is the foundation for the near future. His post offense is one of the best in the league and should revolutionize an offense that relied too heavily on guard scoring and that coincidentally had a ton of shot-clock violations. If everything falls into place, Jefferson is solid as cement in the post, gives the guards a release valve and an option in the pick and roll and spaces the offense for three-point shooters.
Basically, the Bobcats see Jefferson as the piece that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
"Al instantly helps the development of everyone else," Clifford says. "Or at least he should, if we are organized the right way and execute the way we need to."
Er, on offense at least. Jefferson's weaknesses on defense have been discussed in earlier posts. But he acknowledges his major weakness in the pick and roll. Apparently Utah changed pick and roll defensive strategies almost from possession to possession, leaving Jefferson and the team on defense in flux to recover.
But the focus of this article isn't necessarily focused on Jefferson, but it's about the path Charlotte is taking. Lowe puts it terrifically so: "Charlotte, in other words, patiently pursued a 'one step back, two steps forward' strategy, but lost patience with it right before the draft class that represented pay dirt."
It's a position that will divide people as it already has. The detractors have fair points, though. It's easy to say a draft is 'can't miss' a year before it. And it's hard to pass up such a strong talent (even if only offensively) when you've been bad for so long. Plus, the young core surrounding Jefferson won't stay as they are and have the potential to build further around the talent they've already shown.
As Lowe points out, skeptics question whether Jefferson will single-handedly deliver the Bobcats from the depths of the lottery. But they boast much better depth in the frontcourt and are returning all of their young talent. Though some aren't sold that Jefferson will take the Bobcats from the bottom of the lottery, some aren't sold Jefferson won't push them into near-playoff contention.
One of the more interesting tidbits from this article is the story of the wooing of Jefferson. Only two teams met with Jefferson: Charlotte and Utah, who told Jefferson they wouldn't pursue him. The Jazz offered to partner for a sign-and-trade for a better situation, but after Jefferson saw how much the Bobcats front office and coaches believed in him being a valuable component of their team, he declined Utah's offer. And then he saw Charlotte's offer, which apparently left him, uh, pleased.
"It made me feel so good that there's a team out there that has so much belief in my game," Jefferson says of his dinner with Higgins and Clifford. "I was like, 'Done deal.' And then when they started talking money, it was like, 'Oh my god!' It was icing on the cake."
Moving on from the Jefferson part of the article, Lowe's talks with Clifford include some interesting topics. Clifford said that they're going to try to take advantage of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive rebounding talents, but to do that they will have a scheme in place to counter the disadvantage it poses in transition defense. When Clifford worked with the Rockets, they had a big man sprint back on defense the moment they saw Steve Francis had a chance at an offensive rebound. If they implement something similar, I imagine that would be Cody Zeller or Bismack Biyombo's role, depending on who's on the floor.
Jefferson and Clifford aren't concerned about his reputation for being an offensive black hole or any possible concerns that Jefferson's offense would preempt the development of their other young players. Clifford says he's planning to have Jefferson constantly in motion and to use him more in pick and rolls. Jefferson has consistently performed excellently as a pick and roll man, scoring 1.02, 1.16, 0.97 and 1.01 points per possession in the past four years (in order from 2009 to 2012). However, his utilization in the pick and roll is a very small part of his game. The percentage of his possessions coming from there have never broken 10 percent, but they've been rising each year from 6.4 percent in 2009-10 to 9.1 percent in 2012-13.
The Bobcats are going to try a lot of new things this season, from the micro in Jefferson to the macro in moving forward with the team in general.
Teams like Houston and Indiana have shown that you don't necessarily need to get top picks to rebuild but you do need to either draft well and acquire assets. But on the flip side, you could be the next Milwaukee Bucks desperately trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. Lowe's concerns that the Bobcats might have lower ceiling than had they waited another season are identical to what I think. The ceiling of the team will depend on a couple things: 1) how their young players develop the next couple years 2) how well they draft or how they use those picks. Charlotte could have as many as three first round picks this year. Depending on how well they draft and what they find or what they can acquire with them, the team could drastically affect their future prospects.