Clawing Toward Respectability
Why the ‘Cats will be in the Playoffs next year.
Pro hoops in North Carolina may never usurp the fervor of collegiate ball, which is to say that the Charlotte Bobcats won’t be matching the Tar Heels’ trophy case anytime soon. But the Bobcats will prove more prowl than purr next season—and they will make the Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
While the club missed the Playoffs by four games this season, Charlotte can claim a three-win improvement over last year, and their win total of 35 marks a franchise record. Next season will be better. The reason starts at the top.
His ABA career notwithstanding, coach Larry Brown has taken all of his previous NBA ballclubs to the Playoffs in his second year at the helm (note that he coached just that single season with the Knicks in ‘05-06). In each of those second NBA seasons, the respective team has never lost more games than in his first season, with the lone exception being the strike-shortened campaign of ‘98-99.
Next year will find Brown’s luminary pedigree well matched with franchise assets. The Bobcats will again have a sequence (albeit a small one) of lottery balls donning their emblem at this summer’s draft, which serves as a nice compliment to the fact that there are only four teams within the Eastern Conference that have less contractual cash committed to 2009-10 than do the ‘Cats. Charlotte, presently with the League’s 28th-ranked payroll, has approximately $56 million for which they’re responsible next season.
In addition, the gelling Bobcats will have few offseason migraines in dealing with present personnel – 36-year-old Juwan Howard (and his 4.1 ppg) will be their lone unrestricted free agent. Inversely, the following conferences competitors will be forced to deal with these notable player contracts in some form or other:
Atlanta: Mike Bibby
Chicago: Ben Gordon
Cleveland: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Wally Szczerbiak, Anderson Varejao
Detroit: Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace
Miami: Jermaine O’Neal
New York: Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson
Orlando: Hedo Turkoglu
Philadelphia: Andre Miller
Toronto: Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker
Surely Charlotte’s sights can’t realistically mirror those of Cleveland or Orlando, but among the lesser rungs, their opportunity for ascension from a roster-consistency vantage remains worthy of note.
Ether aside, Charlotte’s present-day roster offers great promise in and of itself. Sure, ’05 first-rounder Sean May may appear more in the winter of his years and the ‘Cats ensuing top-choice Adam Morrison is now ‘staching (and watching) in L.A., but the wealth of the assembled crew is proving more peak than valley.
Center Emeka Okafor has been in the League’s top 15 for both blocks and rebounds in each of his five years in the NBA. Injuries considered, he’s still averaged double-digit boards and at least 1.7 bpg throughout his run. Gerald Wallace’s scoring average ascended in each over his first four years in Charlotte before taking a slight dip to 16.6 this year—the talented scorer remains a potent offensive threat. Point guard Raymond Felton has proven enigmatic in his four-year NBA run, however his 6.7 apg in his career somewhat offset his disturbing turnover totals. Such positional concern, however, is undoubtedly buoyed by D.J. Augustin’s stated arrival, as the All-Rookie Second Team point man ranked among the top 10 rooks in points, assists, free throw percentage, three-point percentage and minutes.
And of course, a burgeoning structure is not simply predicated upon its pillars alone; Charlotte should be readily commended for their assembly of complimentary pieces. Bringing the collectively versatile Boris Diaw and Raja Bell over from Phoenix provided the Bobcats not simply with depth and experience—but with accomplished depth and experienced, as the two sport a combined nine trips to the postseason between them. Furthermore, the additions of well-traveled DeSagana Diop and Vladimir Radmanovic gave Charlotte a mosaic threaded with specific skill-sets (rebounding and outside shooting, respectively), along with further veteran survival scars of second-seasons enjoyed—both Diop and Radmanovic have been to the NBA Finals.
Bobcat backers may never proudly don their team’s dizzying orange, black, blue and silver design, but come next season the club will collect enough box score success to crawl the franchise out of the lottery cave for the first time in team history.
Judd Spicer is a sportswriter in the Twin Cities with the limited ability to drive to his left. He regularly covers the Minnesota Twins and all things sport for City Pages. Spicer welcomes comments and opportunity via juddspicer.com.