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Since hiring general manager Rich Cho in 2012, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats have gone about rebuilding the smart way. They’ve taken chances on project draft picks, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Cody Zeller. The team has attempted to compete with unheralded coaching types like Mike Dunlap and Steve Clifford. The franchise finally passed giving in to the temptation to overpay for a roster that could max out at 40 wins and an eighth seed in the playoffs.
It was a fun run! It lasted for a year, and it ended in July of 2013. The Charlotte Bobcats, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, have reached an agreement with free agent big man Al Jefferson, reportedly paying the man $41 million over three years. Al Jefferson, you may recall, turned 28 in January. The Charlotte Bobcats think that paying Al Jefferson through his prime will take them somewhere.
Al Jefferson has a low-post game worth admiring. He should put up fantastic numbers through that probable prime, and we’ve always admired his abilities. Al Jefferson is a good dude who is FANTASTIC at one specific thing — bossing people around on the low left block. In spite of the poor Charlotte spacing, he should put up great numbers with the Bobcats.
This is too great a number to pay for Al Jefferson, though. And it makes no sense for a Bobcat team that should be building its future around 22-year-olds, and not those bound to hit their 30s over the course of a contract.
Al Jefferson is a killer on that left block. He can’t hit cutters with passes, though, and weirdly doesn’t earn many free throws. He has good form on his jumper but won’t consistently hit a space-creating baseline 15-footer. And his defense, despite his effort, is terrible. Jefferson tries, but he is pitiful at both one-on-one defense and help defense from both the weak side or (most importantly, in 2013) in the screen-and-roll.
Overall, and this is sad to write, this leaves Jefferson as a millstone, as opposed to a cornerstone. Defense is half the game, and you can spend an entire evening attacking Al on that side of the court. When you compare that with the other end (a scorer who makes half his shots from 2-point range but rarely gets to the line) this deal just isn’t worth it.
Not worth it on the Bobcats, at least. On a different squad? With shooters and defensive helpers? Al Jefferson could really help. This adds to the bummer of both Jefferson and Charlotte agreeing to something like this. Al could really contribute to a winner with the proper setup around him, not unlike (and we’re not being mean) Eddy Curry’s work with the 47-win Chicago Bulls in 2004-05. The man has skills, down there, and the right helpers could help mask his mitigating influences.
He’ll be spending his best years in Charlotte, though, making eight figures for a team hoping to actually win eight games in a month for once. They won’t, though. The team is filled with projects and youngsters and no amount of brilliant work from Clifford (and hoped-for Jefferson-helper, associate head coach Patrick Ewing) can change this. Even if those projects round off into franchise players … what’s the point? Jefferson will be in his early 30s by the time it all comes together.
It’s just a bad pairing. It’s the two friends that you want to see happy who still really shouldn’t get together for that four-month relationship that you know is just going to end in shouts and picking sides when you see them at a party. Save for the part where Jefferson is potentially getting paid through 2016, not for four months, and the knowledge that the Bobcats can’t really call this thing off with a curt text message.
Cross your fingers, Charlotte. Also understand what you’re getting into.