Rich Cho and Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Michael Jordan (Getty Images)
After a wildly-impressive start — 7-5, a 12-game turn that seems miraculous at this point — the Charlotte Bobcats have faded badly. The team has lost 22 out of 24 games and fallen to second to last in the NBA in defense despite a group of hard-working youngsters, while generally looking outclassed even in a terrible Southeast Division. It’s just fine, though! The Bobcats are far more watchable in 2012-13, working under coach Mike Dunlap, and all indications point to owner Michael Jordan allowing GM Rich Cho to pull the strings as he works up a proper rebuilding plan.
And the reward for a season’s worth of losing? A chance at the top pick in the NBA draft, something the Bobcats have never earned. Because these are the Bobcats, though, some outsiders are wondering if this team should even bother with adding yet another lottery pick. The draft stinks, two NBA scouts tell the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, so run away accordingly:
The Observer consulted with two long-time scouts (neither connected to the Charlotte Bobcats) as conference seasons commence in the college game. Each works for a team likely to have a top-10 pick. Each spoke on condition of anonymity because neither is authorized by his employer to speak publicly on draft prospects.
While the two conversations were separate, each conveyed the same conclusion: This isn’t the year a franchise-changer will emerge from the draft process.
“I don’t think this is a good draft,” said one scout. “This is the year you should consider trading your draft pick — no matter where it is.”
Of course, this is scout-y bluster. There are dozens of brilliant scouts that make this league hum, but there are also a group that loves to talk to the media off record. For years Sports Illustrated has published the “findings” of several scouts in that publication’s NBA season preview, and you can’t help but walk away from that read wondering how each NBA team doesn’t go 0-82 under their guidance. Math would get in the way, for starters, but some of these scouts couldn’t be bothered with that.
Trading a pick as part of an overall plan, a way to move up or down while mindful of all options and without minds made up in January is sensible. Trading a pick, no matter where it falls, is nonsense.
It’s become quite apparent, even to those of us that don’t follow NCAA hoops, that the 2013 draft will lack star power in ways that will make the relatively wanting 2012 draft look like something worth chiseling into Mt. Rushmore. NBADraft.net, a resource so old my bookmark of the page still reads as “NBADraft.net 2002 Mock Draft,” lists Kansas’ Ben McLemore as the top prospect, with Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad falling into slots two and three. If things hold and the lottery goes according to odds, the Bobcats would pick third overall. Each of those three, unless we have a late bloomer, would figure to be available.
None would turn the Bobcats around immediately, a definite problem. Is this a problem to trade away from, though?
Shabazz Muhammad has already worn Bobcat colors (Getty Images)So the team won’t draft a Hall of Famer with the third overall pick. So it won’t draft anyone that will move the needle with ticket sales. So what? Did Bradley Beal sell any tickets for Washington when he was taken third overall in last June’s draft? Hardly. All he’s done is shoot over 53 percent from behind the arc in the month of January, averaging nearly 18 points per game and driving Wizards fans apoplectic at thoughts of trading him to Memphis for a player in Rudy Gay whom one prominent NBA watcher actually (and mistakenly) called an All-Star during a telecast last week. All while Beal works for a contract that is two-thirds of the league’s average salary.
The league, unless some boffo anomaly draft turns up out of nowhere in the next few years, doesn’t work the same way it once did. Coldly stated — you draft assets. Not performers that are ready to turn things around. Even with the first overall selection.
For scouts — admittedly, just two in Bonnell’s report — to throw their hands up and give the cynical take in January? That leaves you wondering about just who they’re suggesting their teams take in other drafts. Trade a pick “no matter where it is?” Again, drafting third overall in June could mean the cash-strapped Bobcats get to field a youngster from ages 20 to 24 under a cheapo, rookie scale contract that would then allow the Bobcats to utilize restricted free agency on the player, and the year after that then pay him more than any other team could should he earn a maximum salaried contract.
And should the Bobcats grab the first pick? No team has traded the top pick in 20 years. And while orthodoxy and history aren’t always reasons to resume the pattern, it should be known that the last team that dealt the top selection made out quite well in ways that you just won’t get in 2013.
The Orlando Magic dealt Chris Webber to Golden State in 1993 for Anfernee Hardaway, minutes after taking Webber first overall. It’s true that Webber had a much better career than Hardaway, and probably would have even if Penny’s knees had held up, but also consider the fact that Orlando also received lottery picks in 1996, 1998, and 2000 in the deal. It’s also true that the John Gabriel-led Magic also whiffed on a couple of those picks, but that’s besides the point. On paper, prior to the final draft, Orlando took in three lottery picks for the penance of moving down two spots. That sort of transaction ain’t happening in 2013.
On top of that, this was two years before rookie contracts took hold. Now players know exactly what they’re making as soon as they’re drafted. There was a worry as to whether or not the Magic could afford Chris Webber. Twenty years on, though, the Bobcats’ pick in 2013 won’t be signing a 15-year, $74.4 million dollar deal out of the gate as Webber did. If they choose third overall, the pick will make around four and a half million in his first season. There aren’t a whole lot of productive players, working off of non-rookie deals, contributing at that price. At that age, too, with that potential.
The worry is understandable. The Bobcats are respectable — we love what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker have brought this season — but star-less. There probably aren’t any stars in this year’s draft. The team, somewhat famously, also owes the Chicago Bulls a pick in exchange for Tyrus Thomas.
That pick probably won’t go to Chicago until 2016, though, due to its massive protection. In the meantime, the Bobcats will also get Portland’s unprotected 2015 pick (assuming the Trail Blazers make the playoffs this year and next), and Detroit owes them a selection that becomes unprotected in 2016, while only having protection up to the top spot in the 2015 draft. This team isn’t hurting for selections, which to us means an unspectacular lottery choice in 2013 is passable.
Those extra picks don’t mean the Bobcats should deal, “no matter” the placement. It means, after years of Sean May and Adam Morrison and trading up for Emeka Okafor, they’re ready to add to a slate that has been rightfully cleaned. And while we respect the work of scouts and the added knowledge about this June’s mess, let’s respectfully disagree with this outmoded take.