Posted by Kelly Dwyer
C: Emeka Okafor, Primoz Brezec
PF: Walter Herrmann, Sean May
SF: Gerald Wallace, Adam Morrison
SG: Jason Richardson, Matt Carroll
PG: Raymond Felton
That's a good team. That could be a really good team. A trade or two, and that could be a 50-win team.
That's the Charlotte Bobcats' nine-man rotation, as presently constructed. The Bobcats rarely receive much play, hipsters, from mainstream media outlets; partially because the team has won 77 games in its three-year existence, and partly because the outfit still reeks of expansion tackiness. The team's uniforms look like gimmicky NBDL duds, the organization is an expansion franchise in a non-expansion town (Charlotte, a burgh whose residents know the pro game quite well and haven't been swayed by tawdry expansion entertainment elements since the early 1990s), and former big boss man Bernie Bickerstaff's modus operandi was to act as low-cost haven for talented youngsters looking to round out their games.
Bickerstaff's plan was sound, but it was also in sharp contrast to expansion outfits of before, who seemed intent on grabbing at least one semi-star through the expansion draft to lend credibility to a burgeoning franchise. Bickerstaff knew that potential Bobcats fans weren't going to be swayed with the presence of an expansion draft retread, and that any inclusion of a 1998 All-Star on his roster would prevent any number of youngsters from taking in the minutes and shots needed to develop into a potential All-Star. Problem is, while acting as a glorified NBDL team, the Bobcats were lost in the sway. One of 30 teams, not that great a team, not working off the gleam of a new NBA city, and doing its damage with players you probably haven't heard of.
However (to paraphrase John Mayall), that's all way, way, in the past. Bickerstaff's foresight has created a young, cheap (the Bobcats are under the salary cap now, and will be right at the salary cap level next year even if they extend Okafor and Brezec's contracts at market value), and entertaining outfit that could reach the playoffs this year on its own merits - and not off the dwindling talents of a fading veteran. Michael Jordan is squarely in charge now, and though the early returns haven't been great (drafting Adam Morrison, thinking the addition of Jason Richardson a major move, dumping Brevin Knight), Bickerstaff's prior moves should mitigate MJ's influence.
The Richardson deal needs to be re-thought. J-Rich is overpaid, he's not an All-Star, and any team that relies on him as a first offensive option is in trouble. But he's also a sound scorer, fine rebounder - and picking up a 20 points per game scorer (no matter the contract size) for the eighth pick in the draft will always be a great move. But Jordan can't rest. His frontcourt is loaded, even if May and Okafor (as they did last year) combine for 105 games again, and MJ needs to take advantage. Jordan needs to move Morrison, who boasts the rare rookie contract that could net a fine player in return, for another Richardson-esque semi-star. Dump Morrison while the bloom (to those who aren't paying attention) is still on the rose, combine it with your cap space, and net someone making eight or nine million a year. At the very least, see if you can pry Ricky Davis' expiring deal from the Timberwolves for Morrison and one of Minnesota's first-rounders. Not Boston's. Minnesota's. Fo' shizzle.
As it stands, though, there are a lot of reasons to like this team and the structure behind it. Jordan couldn't stand Sam Vincent as a player, and worked his tail off to get him shipped off the Chicago Bulls 20 years ago - even though it meant MJ would have to pair with Craig Hodges in the backcourt. So what does it say about Vincent that he was able to overcome Jordan's noted sense of cronyism and win the gig as newest Bobcat coach? Okafor can play, and defend when healthy, Sean May is one of the league's more underrated talents (18 PER over his 58-game career), and Gerald Wallace merely does everything well. This could be a playoff team.