By Ben Osborne

For the rest of our season previews, click here.

What type of respect does the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine get around here? Based on the fact that I was assigned the Bobcats preview, not very much. I have no connection to them, save for a childhood love of Michael Jordan and a lifelong obsession with college hoops, both of which are facts only somewhat connected to the Bobcats (MJ is the team’s Managing Member of Basketball Operations, and, I can tell you from experience that North Carolina is the college basketball capital of the world). In fact, if SLAM’s top-ranked college team hadn’t lost Brandan Wright to the NBA, I’d say the Heels could’ve given the Bobcats a tough game this season. I guess I need to stop giving my two cents to Sam on running the website…

Really, I don’t have any more problem with the Bobcats than the average NBA fan—it’s just that their location in college basketball heaven, the bad taste their NBA predecessors left in Charlotte’s mouth (thanks George Shinn!) and lack of investment in NBA stars made them the most irrelevant team in the NBA for the first three seasons of their existence.

Minimal marketing impact aside, the team Lang famously nicknamed the BETCats has actually made very steady progress on the court. Look at their win totals since their debut 2004-’05 campaign: 18, 26 and 33. If progress like that can continue, they’re a 40.5 win team this season, which would probably have them on the periphery of the Playoff chase.

They do have a kind of cool roster, and I enjoyed spending time on a good blog my usual lack of interest in the Cats keeps me from frequenting (queencityhoops.com), but the consensus around the net seems to be that the aforementioned 7.5-win improvement is not likely. The fact is that the EC has gotten better, and while the Bobcats roster has been enhanced with the Jason Richardson trade, the loss of Sean May for the season (he’s no Amare Stoudemire, but I think slamonline readers were way too negative about his loss. Dude could’ve had a nice season.) contributes to leaving the Bobcats too thin and inexperienced to play the franchise’s first-ever May game.

So what are the Cats working with?

Probable Starting Lineup: Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Adam Morrison, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor

Except for JRich, I see a lot of guys whose careers are on the upswing. Felton has proven to be behind his classmates Chris Paul and Deron Williams, but there should be little shame in that. Ray is quick as sh*t and can make plays on offense and defense. Get a little smarter and tighten that J, and he can be a strength. JRich’s injuries made him an albatross on my fantasy team last year and I often hate his shot selection, but he’s been through some NBA battles and is another good two-way player. Morrison (who may be the 6th Man instead of starting) is not a two-way player at all; his defense is awful. But dude can shoot and he had a few huge games last year. If the rest of the team warrants enough defensive attention that he can be an afterthought for opponents, he should score in the mid-teens most nights, which ain’t bad. G-Dub, signed to a contract extension that let fans know the Bobcats do have some interest in competing, is the Cats best player. He goes all out every night and seems to be growing comfortable with team-leader status. Emeka is the biggest x-factor as far as I’m concerned. He’s undersized for a true center, but his athleticism and defensive smarts make him one of the game’s preeminent shot blockers and rebounders. His offensive game looks uncomfortable to me, but he’s actually a 15-ppg scorer for his career; look at his career stats, in fact. I’m impressed. So what’s the problem? Dude has a balky back and injuries have forced him to miss an average of 30 games a year over his three pro seasons. Wallace and JRich are also a little fragile, so I’d say that health is a huge concern for this starting lineup. A concern that is amplified because of…

Other Key Players: Matt Carroll, Ryan Hollins, Primoz Brezec, Jeff McInnis, Walter Herrmann, Jared Dudley, Jamereo Davidson

This is not a bench that will remind anyone of the 1990 Pistons’ (Microwave, Rodman, Salley). Carroll is a sweet shooter the Bobcats way overpaid to keep. Hollins is playing a lot in the preseason but never did anything at UCLA to make me think he’d be a good pro. Brezec has had personal problems and is injury-prone like the other Bobcats “big” men. McInnis is a head case, and Dudley and Davidson are rookies who may not be League-caliber (I like Dudley, but smarts and intensity do not always make undersized collegians good pros). Herrmann’s ridiculous hair notwithstanding, he’s probably the Cats best bench player. A proven commodity on the international scene, the Argentine has a diverse offensive game, and, at 28, passes for a veteran in Charlotte.

Coach: Sam Vincent

He’s Michael Jordan’s old friend. He may turn out to be a good coach, but I thought Bernie Bickerstaff did a nice job overseeing this improving team, and as John Hollinger put it, “by limiting the list of candidates to his inner circle, MJ effectively excluded about 98 percent of the league—that’s not a great way to get the best people.” Again, Jordan was my second-favorite player when I was young, but his career as an executive has been marked by cronyism, which I simply cannot respect. I’m not rooting against Vincent by any means, I just need to be proven that he’s more than MJ’s boy. I also wonder, will Charles Oakley be his eventual replacement?

Predicted record: A modest, two-win improvement over last year that leaves them at 35-47. Playoffs? April of ’09 is a long way away, but I have no problem envisioning them there and then, esp if Vincent has what it takes as coach.