Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Jason Richardson (acquired from Golden State)
Players acquired via draft:
Derek Anderson (re-signed, one year minimum)
Jeff McInnis (re-signed, one year minimum)
Matt Carroll (re-signed, six years, $26,900,000)
Gerald Wallace (re-signed, six years, $57,000,000)
Ryan Hollins (exercised team option)
Walter Herrmann (exercised team option)
Primoz Brezec (opted in)
In a recent debate with someone about who the eight playoff teams in the East are going to be this season, debate raged as to who would be the eighth team. We discussed the possibility of the eighth seed being Orlando, Washington, Milwaukee, and even Atlanta, before finally settling on one which I won’t mention (because it will spoil a later post).
Neither of us debated the possibility of Charlotte being the eighth seed. This is because we had both already pencilled them as the seventh, with absolutely no contention from each other.
There’s two possible conclusions that you can draw here. The first would be that the two of us basically don’t know what the hell we are talking about, which is a good point well made that I am unable to counter. The second would be to assume that, yes, Charlotte is a playoff-calibre team. And that point, I can defend.
The franchise got off to a slow start after expansion, as you would expect, but slowly the Bobcats picked up pieces along the way. Starting around Emeka Okafor and building outwards, nothing much has gone right for the Bobcats before this summer. Mired deep in the lottery, and bound by the salary cap limitations that the NBA seems to strangely enjoy putting onto new franchises, the Bobcats achieved little on-the-court success, struggling through the growing pains that expansion teams are somewhat mandated to go through. All the losing didn’t really pay off either, given the unsuccessful selection of Adam Morrison at #3 in last year’s draft.
Along the way, though, the Bobcats have slowly been assembling pieces. Despite only Gerald Wallace and Primoz Brezec remaining on the roster from their initial expansion draft (someone’s going to have to explain to me one day quite what the point was of selecting so many free agents that they then didn’t sign), Charlotte have picked some players up along the way for cheap, players that have helped their on-court product. Brevin Knight (recently waived, but we’ll come to that) added veteranness and that, and also played fairly well. Pick-ups on the cheap such as Matt Carroll and Walter Herrmann have paid dividends, and the Bobcats have added good young players through the draft such as Okafor and Raymond Felton (notice that I didn’t list Morrison).
This summer, they added the scoring punch that they sorely lacked, in obtaining Jason Richardson from Golden State for next to nothing. The move has its downsides – with contract extensions for Felton and Okafor coming up in the not-too-distant future, and with Gerald Wallace and Matt Carroll re-signing this summer to six-year contracts, adding the big salary of Richardson takes away the financial flexibility that Charlotte previously enjoyed. It commits them to this current core for at least the short term, whether it is good enough or not. And it also means that the awesome Carroll gets less court time, which is disappointing for all concerned. But it plugs the slightly important 20-point-a-game scorer that Charlotte has always lacked.
In addition to this, the Bobcats spend well in retaining most of their players from last year, and obtained two possible rotation players in Jared Dudley and Jermareo Davidson via the draft. I don’t really know any more about them than that, so I’ll leave that there.
As I said above, Charlotte seemed like a strange choice for automatic inclusion into my predicted playoff seedings. They haven’t, to coin a phrase, done it yet. But despite being only a 33-win team a year ago, they have three big factors working for them:
a) They had a big infusion of talent this offseason, more so than most teams.
b) They have continued internal growth from their young core players.
c) They’re relatively healthy. Well, except Sean May.
To elaborate on point C, the Bobcats do have an injury-prone roster. Star big man Emeka Okafor has played in only 166 of the 246 games of his career, which is a poor ratio, and star forward Gerald Wallace set a career-high in games played last year with a rather uninspiring 72.
Everyone is healthy at the moment, apart from Sean May, who is to miss the season with more surgery on his cartilage-free knees, and who I’m willing to bet never plays more than 40 NBA games for the rest of his life. Despite the fact that injuries to the Bobcats are about as inevitable as a Jonny Gomes swing and a miss on a down and away curveball, they have the sort of depth right now that they have never had before, which will help them to overcome it. Last year’s starter Matt Carroll is now a key bench player, joining a deep wing rotation including Wallace, Richardson, Dudley, Morrison, and last’s year breakout player Walter Herrmann. Herrmann shined late last season filling in as an emergency power forward as the injuries piled up yet again, but he’s now faced with lengthy stays on the bench as Charlotte stocked up the wing positions this summer. It also appears that head coach Sam Vincent thinks it’s best to start Emeka Okafor at power forward alongside Richardson, Walace and either Primoz Brezec or Ryan Hollins at center, and we can only hope that it won’t take long for him to realise that it would be best to play Okafor at center with Wallace and Herrmann as the forwards. Walter needs his court time, dammit, if us neutrals are to have any interest in watching Charlotte this year.
The Bobcats are weak at the centre position though, in spite of their improved depth, and Jeff McInnis is the full-time back-up point guard. But it’s not really that important: the back-up point guard spot has never been important enough to be able to sabotage an entire season. After all, the San Antonio Spurs just won a title without a backup point guard worth a damn. By the way, someone (namely me) ought to point out the irony of waiving Brevin Knight for reported chemistry issues and locker room divisiveness, then re-signing Mr Chemistry 2007 McInnis to take his place. A strange one, that.
Nonetheless, the Bobcats plugged other gaps. To make the playoffs, the Bobcats only realistically need about eight more wins. Is adding a 20-point scorer for no real cost good enough to do that, especially when you factor in all the other stuff outlined above? Probably.