...because you can't resurrect something that never was.
Opinions of ESPN's Bill Simmons are as polarizing as anything in the sportsblogosphere this side of Charlie Weis. Personal feelings aside, the man knows his NBA. He has once again taken the time in his most recent article to touch on the Bobcats,
In a 'Which NBA team would you NOT want to take over based on location, attendance, ownership, cap flexibility, can't-miss commodities on the roster and spending ability?' debate, the final choice has to come down to Charlotte or Washington ... and I'd have to go with the Bobcats. They are locked in to nearly $130 million over the next three years for Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Matt Carroll and Nazr Mohammed. Just look at that sentence for a second. Charlotte's new marketing campaign should be, "The 2009 Bobcats: Giving hope to wanna-be GMs across the country!As if I've not already bitten off more than I can chew by trying to get into the race to become college football czar, I feel prepared to tackle another task: The Bobcats wanna-be GM. While others try to figure out what's going on with the economy, or how to keep the turkey moist, I am wrestling with how to fix the hometown team.
First things first, the mission is to win a championship. The goal is not to squeak into the playoffs as an eight seed. If you build a team with a championship in mind, the playoffs will come. If, however, you build a team with the goal of making the playoffs, the championships (or even Finals appearances) won't necessarily happen. It sounds simple, but on a daily basis it's easy to lose sight of the vision.
Next, we need to establish Charlotte's place in the NBA. While it's a beautiful city, it's not an elite destination for star free agents. Few teams in the Association are (New York, Boston, LA, and Miami), but the signifance is the team can't expect to build primarily through free agency (ala New York 2010) or even blockbuster trades (Boston 2008). Looking at similar teams that have made the Finals in the last twenty years, they almost exclusively have two of their top three scorers drafted by the team (or involved in a draft day trade). The Spurs Big 3, Dirk and Josh Howard for the Mavs, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson for the Nets, and the list goes on and on. These teams would then add pieces to their core; some bigger, like Jason Kidd, and some smaller, like the random guys on the Spurs bench.(Digression: the only team that doesn't fit this mold in the last five years: Detroit who were the beneficiaries of a particular inexperienced GM trading for Jerry Stackhouse. Sorry Bobcat fans. The silver lining: the only two teams that have done it in the last ten years, the other being the AI-led Sixers were both coached by Larry Brown.)
Building through the draft gives smaller market teams a better chance at locking up potential stars, Chris Paul for one will be staying in New Orleans, but likely wouldn't have gone to New Orleans as a free agent.The NBA salary cap rules also work to aid retention and a little extra green from the home team never hurt. Once the core is in place, veterans will be much more interested in joining the team for reasons other than a paycheck. Because these players often have a higher price tag it's best to add them last. Teams that are interested in making the playoffs will often add them first, which hurts the team in the long run. A better team means worse draft picks, means needing to add another veteran (and their contract) through trade or free agency. When teams go this route the window for a championship is at best a few years. Teams that win rings often have to get bounced a time or two before developing the chops for a Finals run (read the first several paragraphs of the above mentioned Simmons article). Building through veterans doesn't allow this, so unless the team is at one of the elite destinations the likelihood of catching lightning in a bottle is extraordinarily small.
So, the big question, how do we get the Bobcats to that level? This isn't a dry cleaner, it won't be done in a day. My plan will take two years to start having results on the court. That does not mean the Finals in 2011, but a young core taking their lumps in the playoffs should be possible.
PATIENCE. (Not to be confused with INACTION)
Let's take a moment and go back to Mr. Simmons original statement, “They are locked in to nearly $130 million over the next three years for Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Matt Carroll and Nazr Mohammed.” Every smart person in the NBA knows that the Bobcats are currently attempting to trade from a position of weakness. Be it the contracts or the obligitory arm-flailing, knee jerk reaction to a GM not used to Coach Brown's antics, everyone knows where the Cats stand. Trading from this position will result in either the team taking on more salary (just under a different name) or not receiving fair compensation. All of the trade rumors that have surafced this season have pointed to the team trying to make the playoffs, but not building towards a championship.
The Bobcats front office needs to focus on two things this season. Deciding if they want to build around Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace or neither. If the answer is neither, they're both eligible to be traded, but for the time being should not be shopped. Recommendation: Look to move Richardson, but not if it means taking on a longer salary and only if the team is compensated with young talent, draft picks, expiring contracts or the other team takes on another salary (Nazr or Carroll). Gerald Wallace can be a piece of the building of the new look Bobcats, but he's by no means untouchable.
The other focus should be deciding what to do with Raymond Felton and Sean May. Raymond should be the re-signing priority, but the cost may be too much (6-8 million). Teams like Atlanta and Philly could well be in the market for a starting point guard this off-sesaon and paying Raymond starter money to backup DJ would not be a wise investment. Before scoffing at the suggestion of Sean May, consider this: Forwards that can score from the post, the elbow, the top of the key and the wing aren't exactly common, they're by no means Honda Accords. May's value has certainly dipped with his weight issues, but some team will give him a chance because of the tools he posesses. Again, it's price dependent but signing May at a discount price could be a coup if his head and heart are in the right places. Recommendation: Try to re-sign both, but with what Raymond will likely demand, probably only re-sign May.
In the interest of full disclosure, I recently exchanged e-mails with someone whose been writing about the NBA far longer than I, and I argued that trading Gerald Wallace was the most logical step to cap freedom and that it should be done sooner rather than later. So, I'm a flipflopper, which could be damning to my political career, but is much better than Buyer's remorse.
If the Bobcats cool off on the trade talks for a bit, as the playoffs approach other teams will start to get anxious about improving their team and may see fit to pay more. Take for example Cleveland, as the LBJ to NY chatter reaches fever pitch, the organization is going to feel pressure to deliver a championship in the delusional hopes that it might convince the King to stay. If they continue to play with the idea of using Lebron at the four, they may see fit to acquire a small forward. Suddenly, Wally Szczerbiak or Ben Wallace (and their expiring contracts) become valuable trade chips. They decide to move Wally, in hopes of acquiring an athletic small forward that can be a jack of all trades and with little need to be a scorer and a shooter to replace the outgoing Wally. Now, the draft picks they can offer won't be very appealing so they have to offer someone not in their primary rotation. Gerald Wallace and Matt Carroll for Wally's expiring contract, JJ Hickson and (maybe) a late first rounder? It's just an example, but the Cats likely won't score anything close to that if they trade either Wallace or Richardson now.
Remember the motto: PATIENCE. Not trading either by the end of this season isn't detrimental to the progress of the team. The offseason priorities should be securing a backup PG, re-signing Shannon Brown, and possibly Sean May. The team's cap space will be limited, but there are only a few restricted free agents to keep an eye on. Outside of Danny Granger the market is fairly bare (for the younger players we want to target). The most important choices will be in the draft. Other than point guard, the team should look to take the best available player, preferably a forward.
Heading into next year, a lot of the large contracts (excluding Emeka's) become more trade friendly. Matt Carroll's will have three additional years, but provided he rediscovers his shot, he'll be a deal at less than $4 million per for two of those three seasons. Jason Richardson will have only one more year, the prefect length for a team in need of scoring and looking to make a serious playoff push. Even Nazr will only have one more year, but his contract will be the hardest to move. If the Cats stick to acquiring young talent, draft picks, and expiring contracts, the team should be primed for success in 2010.
Adam Morrison will have had two years back from his injury and his role in the NBA should be clear. Picking up the options on DJ, Alexis (maybe) and Jared will be no brainers and provided the team has been succesful in moving either Richardson and/or Wallace, they should be a player in the free agent market. The Cats will not be in the running for the crème de la crème, but there are plenty of mid-level free agents that could help push Charlotte's team towards their first playoff berth.
The roster would look something like this:
DJ Augustin, Shannon Brown, Adam Morrison, Jared Dudley, Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Alexis Ajinca, two lottery picks and one or two 2nd round picks.
If Jason Richardson is gone the roster should have either another young talent or a late first round pick. It would be great to keep Gerald Wallace, but if not hopefully the team will receive something similar.
In addition, the team would have a good amount of room under the cap to add either a very good player or a couple solid players.
Many of the details will depend on the potential trades and draft picks, but if the Bobcats follow this plan the playoffs should be within reach, the team will have a young core led by a point guard entering his prime, speckled with veteran leadership, room for growth, and be free of the albatross contracts currently restrticting movement. Just remember, stay patient, grow through the draft, and add large veteran contracts only after the young core is in place. Well, I'm off to Dubai!