See, what had happened was…
The Bobcats are coming off their best season in franchise history. For the first time, a Bobcat player (Gerald Wallace) made the All-Star team. A trade that landed Stephen Jackson in Charlotte was arguably the best transaction during the ‘09-10 season. Swapping Flip Murray and a draft pick for Tyrus Thomas proved to be another strong decision.
Without a single nationally televised game the Bobcats were the NBA’s best kept secret. Winning 44 games, the Bobcats claimed the 7th seed and faced off against the Orlando Magic. By clinching a playoff spot, Charlotte forced its way on to TNT and into the homes of millions. Although the end result of the series was far from ideal (Charlotte couldn’t even steal one game from the Orlando juggernaut), it was another big step forward in the team’s evolution.
What did they change?
Over the summer some roster tweaking was done. Starting point guard Raymond Felton left for New York. Felton’s capabilities as a point guard were not displayed in the Playoffs against the Magic, and his presence will be missed.
Rotation players Stephen Graham and Larry Hughes also will not be returning for the upcoming season. Money was spent to extend Tyrus Thomas’s contract, and it appears the troubled forward has finally found a permanent home in Charlotte. After a botched trade to Toronto, Tyson Chandler was packaged with Alexis Ajinca and sent to Dallas for Erick Dampier, Eduardo Najera and Matt Carroll. Dampier was later released, giving the Bobcats a little wiggle room for any future transactions.
Free agents Kwame Brown, Shaun Livingston and Dominic “Who Dat” McGuire were all given contracts leaving Darius Miles, Sherron Collins, Javaris Crittenton and Matt Rogers to fight for one of the final roster spots.
Tell me about the current roster…
The most noticeable difference will be at the point guard position. After wasting away on the bench last season, DJ Augustin will finally have his chance to start and prove he was worth drafting over Brook Lopez or Jason Thompson. DJ has never been a playmaker like Felton was; Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will both have increased ball handling responsibilities due to this. DJ can be a lights out shooter when he is given consistent playtime. Now that he is starting, there will be no more excuses.
If DJ is not up for it, former lottery pick Shaun Livingston looks to be ready for a chance. After his promising career was derailed by a knee injury (ironically against the very team he is now playing for) Shaun may have the opportunity to get things back on track if things don’t work out for DJ.
Even if SLAMonline doesn’t consider Jackson a Top 50 player, his impact on this team is invaluable. A full season of Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas will defiantly provide a boost. The lack of Jackson’s leadership and Thomas’ athleticism were two reasons this team got off to a slow start last year.
The team now has a half season and one training camp together, and I do not expect the same rocky start from last season. The return of sharp shooter Matt Carroll as well as the steady playtime for DJ will provide the three-point threats that were non-existent last year.
Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown both showed flashes of brilliance last year. Henderson displayed his phenomenal defense against Kobe Bryant, among others, while Brown enjoyed throwing down highlight reel worthy dunks whenever he entered the game. Being a rookie on a Larry Brown-coached team is tough and both Henderson and Brown have made it out alive. I looking forward to seeing if either of the youngsters can crack the rotation. I will be pulling for them.
Gerald Wallace exploded last year, and I expect him to retain his spot in the NBA‘s star class (and the SLAMonline Top 50). Gaining an All-Star appearance, a (forgettable) dunk contest showing, and a slot on the ‘09-10 All-Defensive First Team, Wallace is slowly creeping out from under the covers into the mainstream. Combined with Stephen Jackson a lethal 1-2 punch is formed that is good enough to beat any team.
So what can be expected out of this group?
The Bobcats are in the toughest division in the NBA; every other team has a legitimate shot at making the Playoffs. Yet I expect a slight progression in wins with this current group. When I say slight, I mean slight.
I am ‘predicting’ a 45-37 record. Keep in mind this prediction is only valid with for the roster we have as I am writing this on October 3. Every season, the Bobcats shake up the roster. Already appearing in trade rumors, I do not expect the entirety of this group to finish the season as Bobcats.
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.