When the shortened NBA regular season started, most analysts predicted the Bobcats would finish near or at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. No one thought this team would sniff the playoffs this season, or beat any of the league’s best. It would be a rebuilding year, to be sure. Develop the young players, make a good early selection in the draft, and continue to build around young talent. After the Bobcats beat the Bucks on the road on opening night, following that effort up with a close loss to the Heat, I felt some optimism that maybe this team would be competitive and win more games than expected. I’m not sure anyone predicted the season would go this poorly, or that the team would have a chance to make history, and in embarrassing fashion.
If the Bobcats are unable to win any of their remaining six games, they would finish as the worst team in NBA history by winning percentage, overtaking the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers who finished 9-73. This would unfortunately be the most notable ‘feat’ for the franchise to-date, which in its short history has just one playoff appearance. Certainly not something you want your franchise to be known for. With each poor performance, each one more baffling than the one before it (67 point outing against New Orleans being the latest), the culture of losing builds, something that won’t change overnight with a high draft pick.
While the Bobcats will likely have a top-3 pick in the 2012 draft, there’s no guarantee the team will land Kentucky star Anthony Davis with the top pick. In the last 10 years, only twice has the team with the league’s worst record actually landed the #1 pick in the draft that same year, a somewhat alarming stat for any Bobcats fan banking on seeing this young star in the Queen city in the coming years. While Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson aren’t poor consolation prizes, I don’t see them creating a buzz that would draw fans quite like the NCAA tournament MVP.
What kills me most about all of this is seeing some of the former Bobcats and could-have-been Bobcats succeeding on other teams. Tyson Chandler being in contention for Defensive Player of the Year for the Knicks, Ray Felton on playoff runs with the Nuggets in years past, even Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson getting significant minutes for the top-seeded Spurs out West. Draft picks that could-have-been such as Brook Lopez (taken right after D.J. Augustin in 2008- Sidenote, I remember the Bucks passing on Lopez and thinking, ‘hurray- the Cats just found their new starting center for the next decade!’ Only to see them pass on him for D.J. who has been solid, but quality NBA centers don’t come around often), Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy (taken after Adam Morrison in 2006), somehow not even having a first round pick in 2010, etc…
What I’ve realized while watching all this losing is that in the last 4 years since I moved to the Charlotte area, I’ve become a fan of this team. A handful of players on this Bobcats team are who I would consider ‘keepers’ at this point, and the list is small. I’ve enjoyed Gerald Henderson’s mastery of the mid-range game, Derrick Brown’s athleticism, Kemba Walker’s quickness and fearlessness, Bismack’s shot-blocking ability and even more shot-blocking attempts (I’d add Byron Mullens, but he doesn’t play defense). However, it’s embarrassing to follow a team that ranks among the worst of all-time. It’s terrible for the fans, and losing for the sake of a top pick (which may or may not pan out) is no fun at all. It turns people away completely, something that won’t change with one great draft pick.
So that brings me to the title of this post more-like-rant. Let’s hope the Bobcats don’t make history in this negative fashion, and instead move forward into the offseason and make good basketball decisions, as well as not trade away fan favorites such as Gerald Wallace, etc… I am firmly in the ‘tanking is not necessary to succeed’ camp. The Indiana Pacers have rebuilt without a pick higher than 10 in 2010, and just two seasons ago were competing with the Bobcats for the East’s final playoff spot. The roadmap is 1) Let your bad contracts expire, or try to trade expiring contracts for positive assets 2) Make solid draft picks on known entities or guys that you perceive to have a good ‘value’ for the spot you are picking 3) Don’t overspend to get players who surely will not be long-term parts of the teams’ future.
The Bobcats can avoid being known at the worst team ever with just one more victory in their last six games. When the Cats take on the Bulls without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng this evening, I’ll be hoping the Cats pull off the upset.