Charlotte aimed for a mediocrity, and it's paying off


Thumbnail image for Brown_Jordan.jpgThe “right way” to build an NBA franchise is from the ground up. Clear out contracts. Draft well. Sign value free agents to smart deals. Stay young and stay flexible, in the hope that one day an elite player will finally fall into the team’s lap. Unfortunately that’s not a blueprint most small-market clubs can afford to take, as the pressure to reach a certain level of commercial success ends up superseding the actual team-building strategy.

That financial reality coupled with the fact that there are only so many franchise centerpieces to be had makes it quite common to see teams shooting for playoff berths rather than championships. Though bad management is surely to blame for a lot of the NBA’s bad contracts, the impact of small market difficulties should not be discounted. It’s something franchises like the Lakers (and even the Knicks, despite the troubles they’ve had over the last decade) never face, but there’s a legitimate and unfortunate motivation for teams in smaller markets to overpay for second and third tier talent.

The Bobcats are such a team, as evidenced by their willingness to take on Stephen Jackson’s absurd contract via trade, as well as Boris Diaw’s. Now, Charlotte isn’t responsible for committing huge amounts of money to either of those players, but they did sacrifice financial flexibility in the process of acquiring them. Not because anyone with the Cats thought that Diaw or Jackson would legitimately push the team into the conference’s top tier, but because they needed to get better, contracts and roster limitations be damned.

It didn’t matter that both players have definite flaws in their games that prevent them from being focal points of a championship-level team, even if they’re being paid as such. Charlotte needed talent to make a jump (even if it wasn’t the jump), and they went out and got it. In the process, it may have crippled their hopes of really elevating the quality of the team in the near future, but y’know what? It’s paying off. In terms of their bottom line, anyway.

From David Scott of the Charlotte Observer (via Tom Ziller of FanHouse):

The Bobcats, who reached the playoffs for the first time in their
six-year history last spring, have renewed 91 percent of their season
ticket holders and sold 1,575 new season tickets for the 2010-11
season, which begins in October.

Both those numbers are in
the top 10 in the 30-team league, according to Bobcats president Fred
Whitfield, who got the news at a recent NBA executives meeting. The
Bobcats have never been in the top 20 of the league in either of those
categories, Whitfield said.

So what if Charlotte barely even has a point guard anymore? Raymond Felton walked because the ‘Cats weren’t in a position to pay him, and yet the most successful season the Bobcats have ever had (one that saw them swept in the first round of the playoffs, mind you) was very much dependent on Felton’s talents. Stephen Jackson was the catalyst and Gerald Wallace the team’s heart, but Felton’s defense and ability to run the offense (even if Charlotte’s operation on that end is far from pristine) were quite valuable.

Apparently none of that matters. Butts are going into seats, and more dollars in the Bobcats’ name. Charlotte may not be on the up-and-up, but they live to fight another day, and that’s something. It’s not the direction any fan would want their franchise to go, but not every small market team can be the Spurs. Most face a lot of hardship, both on the court and off of it, and as a result, approaches like Charlotte’s — good in the short-term, not so much in the long-term — aren’t as uncommon as they should be. 

Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up roster if they fall short this season

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers
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The Clippers have gone 56-26, 57-25 and 56-26 the last three years – clearing the commonly accepted 55-win bar for championship contention.

But they’ve also won only zero, one and one playoff series in that span.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

I disagree with Rivers.

It’s so hard to assemble a roster that can win a title, and the Clippers absolutely have one. If they fall short this season, they’ll probably still have a title-contending roster the following year. They shouldn’t throw that away just for the sake of change.

Paul (30), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) are young enough for the Clippers to remain patient.

Rivers makes a good point later in Lowe’s article:

“You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”

The Warriors were the NBA’s best team last season, but they also got plenty of breaks. That’s why they won the title.

The Clippers might need more luck to win a championship, but it wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount. The better a team is, the less luck it needs. The Grizzlies can probably win a title with all the right breaks, but they need more than the Clippers.

It’s about being good enough to win with the right breaks.

The Clippers are that. They’ll probably be that unless they do something drastic.

Unless a lopsided trade comes around, I’d stick with Paul, Griffin and Jordan until they really prove they can’t win together. That would take years. A team not winning a title is not proof it can’t win a title. Every year, multiple teams can win a championship. Obviously, only one does.

Rivers has it good with his big three. This shouldn’t be a make-or-break year for them.

51 Q: Which coaches start the year on the hot seat?

Lionel Hollins
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Going into every season, there are a few coaches under pressure to perform or risk losing their jobs. This season, the operative word there is “few.” Looking around the NBA, most coaches are either new on the job or aren’t in any real danger of losing theirs. There are five brand-new coaches: Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), Michael Malone (Denver) and Scott Skiles (Orlando). The coaches they replaced were mostly the ones whose names often came up in these discussions. Practically everywhere else, there is either a long track record of success or clear signs that ownership is happy with the job the coach is doing. Coaches who are actually on the hot seat are few and far between. But here are a few who might find themselves in trouble if their teams underperform:

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): Two years ago, Hornacek was a Coach of the Year candidate for taking a team that was supposed to be one of the league’s very works and making them into almost a playoff team. Last season was another near-miss. This season, the Suns are once again on the bubble of being a playoff team — there’s a chance they could grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference, if a lot goes right. Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for their sooner-than-expected success. The only reason he’s on this list is the potential for a chemistry disaster on this roster. Between Markieff Morris‘ situation and another attempt at a two-point guard lineup (this time with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight), there’s a lot that could go wrong, and if the Suns fall out of playoff contention. Hornacek could find himself in a little hot water. But that’s unlikely.

Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets): Hollins has always felt like something of a short-term solution in Brooklyn. The Nets tried going young at the head coaching spot with Jason Kidd, who clashed with management over control before leaving for Milwaukee. This Nets roster is middling at best — some solid veterans, not a lot of young talent, no future hope to speak of unless they land a marquee free agent next summer. Their ceiling is the eighth seed and a first-round exit; their floor is a lot worse than that. It would take a catastrophic start to the year for Hollins to lose his job during the season, but there isn’t exactly a lot of long-term security in his position.

Derek Fisher (New York Knicks): It’s hard to see Phil Jackson firing his protege less than two years in, but the Knicks enter the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and a lot of potential to be worse than that. Don’t rule out James Dolan stepping in.

Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford’s chances of losing his job during the season basically disappeared when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out the entire season. Without their best perimeter defender, the Hornets’ expectations are a lot lower than they would have been. Now, it’s hard to see them competing seriously for a playoff spot unless Jeremy Lamb makes a huge leap and proves himself capable of being an NBA-caliber starter. If they’re even competitive, it will be an enormous credit to Clifford, who is well-regarded around the league. The story would have been different if they had entered the season with a healthy roster and underperformed, but the MKG injury likely buys Clifford a year before this conversation starts up again.