October 21, 2010
Last year's record? 44-38, lost in the first round to Orlando.
Projected record, as predicted three months ago in time to publish in Yahoo! Sports' NBA Preview Magazine? 38-44
Why I think that sounds about right?
The Bobcats were an overachieving team that impressively clawed its way past .500 and into the playoffs last season, but at what cost?
High cost. Very costly. So much money, such little (a playoff appearance, and gate receipts from two playoff home games) payoff.
This team has mortgaged its future so many times over that Michael Jordan was able to buy the franchise mainly by assuming its debts. Instead of building through the draft smartly, the Bobcats went for "win now" right out of the gate, they're working with the ultimate "win now" coach in Larry Brown, and they have possibly one last time to "win now" before the wins, and Larry, go away.
Because the team is so broke, it couldn't really make any moves in the offseason, it lost its starting point guard, and they're going to have to once again rely on the surprise factor to eke out wins. Because they're certainly not scoring their way toward many victories.
Why I think I might be terribly, terribly wrong?
Well, NBA teams have a habit of taking certain nights off. And while the Bobcats can't rely on the scintillating nightlife of the Queen City to act as a night-before home-court advantage, this team is still full of hard workers who rarely take a break. If Stephen Jackson(notes) keeps his wits about him, and the defense (which was first in the NBA last year) stays strong, I can totally see the Bobcats working their way toward ... 39 wins?
This roster is awful. Just terrible. And while Gerald Wallace(notes) will give his all and Jackson really seemed to take to Larry Brown last season, the team's terrible depth and giant hole in the playmaking department make me think I might be terribly, terribly optimistic more than anything in penciling these Bobcats in for 38 wins.
Which is a shame, because it's been about a decade and a half since fans of the Charlotte NBA franchises could boast an owner that was working on their behalf. If the Bobcats start slow, and Larry Brown starts to chafe, Jordan needs to cut the bravado, and start dealing away players. This team likely hit its ceiling last season, and there's little point in pretending otherwise.
Step up or step off
It wasn't a great sophomore year for D.J. Augustin(notes). Slotted in behind Raymond Felton, the former Texas Longhorn saw his nightly minutes cut by more than 30 percent, and he didn't respond well to the chop. His confidence shaken by limited minutes and poor play early in the season, Augustin posted notably decreased field-goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages, and saw his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) dip from roughly-league-average (14.95, according to John Hollinger) in 2008-09 to end-of-the-bench-worthy (11.19) in 2009-10.
But now Felton's in Manhattan, it's Augustin's turn to run the show in Charlotte, and in the preseason, at least, he looks to have regained some of that confidence. An exhibition line of 14.6 points and four assists per game might not stir visions of All-Star berths and Eastern Conference finals appearances, but it's better. It's something to build on. If he does, the Bobcats could earn back-to-back trips to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. If he doesn't, they'll be back in the lottery. No pressure, dude.
Five things about the Bobcats that furrow Ol' Man Howard's brow
1. That Livingston boy, back on the court what happened to his knee? Mm-mmm. I don't think so. Black magic, and I don't like it one bit.
2. Gerald Henderson(notes) has been a no-good dog since the first time I laid eyes on him at a church-league tournament in Richmond back in 1977, and I have a hard time believing he's any different now.
3. French and Red? Not in my neighborhood, "Boris." If that is your real name.
4. When's that nice young Wallace fella just going to settle down and stop fidgeting so darn much? Too much commotion. Disturbs my sleep.
The Psycho Package: An idea whose time has come
About a month ago, inspired by repeated references to the Green Bay Packers' "Psycho defense" (a nickel alignment featuring one defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs) on "Monday Night Football," I cracked wise on Twitter that if coach Larry Brown ever saw fit to roll out a lineup of Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas(notes), Eduardo Najera and Kwame Brown, we in the NBA-watching-and-writing community should refer to that as the Bobcats' "Psycho Package." Because those are all people who are, have been or play like they are crazy, you see. (If you doubt Najera's on-court nutjob credentials, I'm sure Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would be willing to vouch for him.) Yes, I agree, it was hilarious.
I chose those players because -- positionally, at least -- you could theoretically get away with that lineup for a minute or two. You could let Cap'n Jack and Crash man a big backcourt while Ty and Najera harassed opposing forwards, and Kwame Eeyore'd his way back and forth beneath the basket. I doubt it'd be particularly successful, but it wouldn't be as conventionally disjointing as saying something like, "Hey, let's play D.J. Augustin at center against the Orlando Magic and feed the post on every possession."
Then, friends started to help me spitball. They asked me how I could leave Boris Diaw(notes) and his rampant delusions of grandeur (at least they would explain why he so often seems to carry himself like a sated emperor above deploying his Swiss Army knife talents) out of the package. They said, "You could use a point guard -- maybe Sherron Collins(notes) is the crazy Smeagol type of Hobbit." They said it wasn't really a psycho squad unless it included Ghost of Christmas Past/training camp invitee Darius Miles. And so on. Suddenly, it started to feel like it was going to be hard for the Bobcats to play a game that didn't include an appearance by some combination of legit Psycho Package principals. It'll be damn near impossible three months from now, after Larry Brown turns D.J. Augustin into a certifiable basket case.
I think the Bobcats should embrace their newfound identity as a haven for the disturbed. It's like the old saying goes: If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly. And if you're going to stock your roster with unhinged talent that can play multiple positions, you might as well give them a chance to play together. Let your freak flag fly, Charlotte. Throw the Psycho Package out there and let God sort 'em out.