April 27, 2010
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Charlotte Bobcats.
Well, you have to give the Charlotte Bobcats credit. They got exactly what they wanted. And now they have to live with it.
When Larry Brown was hired before the 2008-09 season, we told you Charlotte's best-case scenario was to get to the first round, collect a couple of home postseason appearances and enjoy the revenue earned. Before the season started, we told you the same thing. When the team traded for Stephen Jackson(notes), that ideal was all but assured as the franchise's line of thinking.
And the Bobcats did it. Went for "win now" in the East, stacked the roster with Larry Brown types, defended like mad and made it to the playoffs. They won 44 games, were competitive nearly every night, were first in defensive efficiency and delivered the first two playoff games for the area since the 2001-02 season. We are, without snark, applauding that.
But that's it, you know. This is as good as it gets. Even if Larry Brown hangs on to coach, which nobody outside of Cheryl Miller believes at this point.
This team was built to win now, and "now" ended around 11 p.m. ET on Monday. Though the team does have a series of younger players, it can't deny the focus was to make the playoffs at whatever long-term cost and take in some needed gate receipts. Trading Emeka Okafor(notes) for Tyson Chandler(notes), shooting for Jackson, blowing off the last two drafts (two lottery appearances resulting in D.J. Augustin(notes) and Gerald Henderson(notes)? yikes) and hiring Sir Larry made this ideal so, so obvious.
And now they have to deal with the fallout.
Brown is all but gone, those planned-ahead public caveats ("I won't coach for anyone but Michael Jordan") that he thinks nobody picks up on are proof enough, and if that isn't enough for you, Cheryl, then you have Adrian Wojnarowski's piece on him from Monday. Woj breaks more stuff by late April, accurately, than anyone else does all
year career, and you can't smartly discuss the Bobcats moving forward with Brown as coach.
And without Brown pushing this roster to its absolute limit, Charlotte is in trouble because I don't see many available coaches who could do wonders with this lot.
Brown could barely do it. He got Stephen Jackson to come through with the most well-behaved season of his career, San Antonio Spurs-tenure included, as Jack tried to lead while trying to keep his nasty offensive instincts in check. And yet, during the playoffs, Jackson was miserable.
Jackson shot 35.8 percent in the series, and by Game 4 was aiming his attempts. We'd feel sorry for the slump if he didn't act a right prat in Monday night's loss to the Magic, sitting out of one huddle and earning himself a technical foul late while it was still a three-possession game. Stephen also averaged 4.2 turnovers, which is really, really hard to do in a series that was this slow.
The cat's stripes never changed. Charlotte got the absolute most out of him, and all roads still led to a first-round sweep. I can't remember which local sportswriter I sparred with after he called Jackson "the best Bobcat ever" after the trade that brought him to Charlotte (over Gerald Wallace(notes), mind you), but I wouldn't mind rubbing that in as Wallace averaged 17.5 points, nine boards, nearly three combined blocks/steals per game on the series, with just three turnovers in four games.
Here's the scary bit: Jackson will never be this good again. Both in terms of play and attitude. And he's due nearly $28 million over the next three years of his career. And he turned 32 earlier this month. Penny-wise, pound-foolish.
Wallace is better off. He's not even 28 yet, and he'll be offering All-Star-level play over the next four years for a contract that comes in just under eight figures. That's a bargain, the best Charlotte ever had. The only one it has right now.
Tyson Chandler? Made more or less useless due to injury, and a pity because he could really defend when healthy. He's a nice expiring contract next year, but before contracts expire, you still have to pay the guy $12.6 million next season. Charlotte will be paying Boris Diaw(notes) and DeSagana Diop(notes) an average of over $15 million a year over the next two years and Diop over $7 million in 2012-13. Awful deals.
The team could lose Raymond Felton(notes) for nothing this summer, it won't have a draft pick and it's hoping against hope that Tyrus Thomas(notes) will play for the qualifying offer next season instead of jetting to some eager squad with cap space.
Young help beyond that? There is none. Absolutely none. Augustin is not a point guard at this level, and I think Henderson left North Carolina sometime last January. I haven't seen him, at least.
The team will save a little money in losing Brown and hiring a coach on the cheap, but that's about it. Michael Jordan bought this team and inherited a litany of debts, so you better not bank on more payroll being added, unless Michael is banking on going bankrupt. It's not as if they could do much anyway as the team is capped out this summer.
Beyond that, there is some hope, as Chandler and Nazr Mohammed's(notes) expiring deals add up to about $19.5 million, but at this point I'm inclined to believe Jordan would rather let those contracts lapse than turn them into longer salaries in a trade. With those deals expiring next summer, the Bobcats will be under the cap, but with a new collective-bargaining agreement due to hit at about the same time, just how much room will they have with a $42 million payroll entering 2011-12?
Don't feel sorry for these guys because this is exactly what they wanted. The Bobcats have been making moves for years based on breaking through to the postseason, even as it became obvious their time in the Playoff Lounge would last for about a week and a half, at best. This month was the culmination of several years' worth of work, and I hope they dug it. Because this is it. It truly is.
Apologies for the dour take, Charlotte fans, but you can't possibly expect this type of outcome next season, even if Brown did come around. Jackson is slipping badly, Chandler's becoming more and more of a liability, and who, exactly, is getting better next year? Tyrus Thomas? Who says he'll even stick in Charlotte?
If you want to look at a way to make the playoffs in the East, regardless of cost, and regardless of future falloff, the Bobcats are your blueprint. Most notable amongst the necessary requirements is to hire Larry Brown. But that's all they're getting, and the cost (in the long run) will be pretty dear.
Of course, all they're getting is exactly what they asked for.