NBA Season Preview: The Charlotte Bobcats

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This post was written by Rob Mahoney.

Last season: 44-38, which was good enough to score the Bobcats their first playoff appearance in franchise history. They’re taking steps forward (talent upgrades, internal improvement), even if they’re marching further into the desert (temporary fixes, financial commitments, bad draft picks) with no oasis in sight.

Head Coach: Larry Brown. The man needs no introduction, but the new and improved LB might. After systematically alienating his players at practically all of his previous coaching stops, it’s been so far, so good for Brown in Charlotte. Maybe his eyes wandered to the open Clippers coaching job earlier this summer or maybe they didn’t, but regardless, Brown’s Bobcats were the top defense in the league last season in spite of some obvious roster limitations.

Key Departures: Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, Raja Bell, Theo Ratliff, Stephen Graham, Larry Hughes, and any semblance of offensive success.

Key Additions: Shaun Livingston, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera, Sherron Collins, and lots of heavy sighing.

Best case scenario: Charlotte makes a move or two to acquire (1) a point guard worthy of a starting job (2) some young talent, all while maintaining or improving their relative place in the Eastern Conference.

For that to happen: Michael Jordan is going to have to charge up that Bluetooth headset I’m sure he has, dial, talk, rinse, and repeat. Over and over and over again. Charlotte needs a trade in a bad, bad way.

The Bobcats were this close to essentially trading Boris Diaw for Devin Harris straight-up (though D.J. Augustin was possibly involved) as a part of the now-dead four-team Carmelo Anthony deal. That acquisition would have given Charlotte exactly what they need for the time being, as Harris is a bonafide building block who would have conveniently filled the Bobcats’ biggest positional void.

Hope isn’t dead, but Charlotte need to do something. Raymond Felton was quite valuable last season, even though he was the clear third-billing behind Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. Augustin isn’t ready to step into that role and may never be, which puts the Bobcat offense — which was already a miserable 24th in the league last season on a per possession basis —  in an impossible spot. They aren’t loaded with talent, and the talented pieces the Bobcats do have aren’t all that straightforward (What’s the best way to utilize Tyrus Thomas? Gerald Wallace? Stephen Jackson?). Now, a point guard who plays like he’s completely lost confidence in himself will have to make the most of it, and I fear that ‘most’ won’t be very much.

If Charlotte is going to take a step up, they’ll have to relieve Augustin of the starting gig he’s clutching with sweaty palms.

More likely the Bobcats will: Que será, será, and Charlotte será tough to watch at times. The offense could easily go from blech to ungghghghg, though the Cats should still be among the league’s elite in free throw rate. Congrats?

It won’t save them. It can’t. They need ball-handling and playmaking fast, and no one should be deluded into thinking that the current backcourt crew is satisfactory. Augustin hasn’t shown the aptitude as an NBA player yet. Giving Jackson free rein shouldn’t even be considered an option. Shaun Livingston is a fine addition to the team, but he’s not steady enough (in either health or production) to play major minutes. Even Raymond Felton’s biggest critics would concede that he’d be a saving grace under these circumstances.

Still, the defense will be there. Even though losing Felton and Tyson Chandler will likely mean the end of Charlotte’s run as the best D in the league, the Bobcats will still be a top five defense next season. On top of that, Wallace will remain very productive and one of the NBA’s most engaging watches. Jackson will continue to pour in the points while picking up a few assists and almost as many turnovers. Tyrus Thomas could continue to find success with the Bobcats, but I won’t for a second presume to know what Thomas will accomplish in any given year. Boris Diaw will fill in the gaps, Nazr Mohammed will have another quietly successful offensive season, and Matt Carroll could even resurrect his career from the three-point specialist graveyard.

There are bright spots in Charlotte, and enough of them to make the Bobcats a current favorite for one of the East’s final playoff seeds. Nothing is guaranteed, though. Charlotte didn’t get any better in the offseason, and with six Eastern Conference teams as locks for April (Miami, Orlando, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta), there isn’t much room for error. The most likely outcome lets the Bobcats slip in the playoff door, but is that good enough? Shouldn’t the Cats be building something from their first-ever playoff appearance last season?

Obviously. This just isn’t their time, and that’s the Bobcats’ ownership and management’s own doing. Playoff appearances mean a lot to a small-market team like Charlotte (and you better believe they mean a hell of a lot to a player like Wallace), but the Bobcats overall strategy isn’t going to take them much further. They can continue to tinker in order to keep their heads above water, but this is what we can expect from Charlotte until they change course. It’s not all that sunny, but it’s playoff basketball.

Prediction: 40-42 and a playoff spot. They’ll fight. They’ll defend. They’ll lose to one of the conference’s elite teams. Hope it sounds cozy, Bobcat fans.

CJ McCollum, Bismack Biyombo to headline 2017 NBA Africa Game this summer

Portland Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum pumps his fist during the final moments of their 127-123 overtime win over the Boston Celtics in an NBA basketball game in Boston Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The NBA is going back to Africa.

The league and the National Basketball Players Association announced Saturday that NBA Africa Game 2017 will be held on Aug. 5 in Johannesburg. It’s the second time the NBA is playing on that continent, after a sold-out event there in 2015.

Among the players planning to take part so far are Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo, Portland’s CJ McCollum and Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay.

The game will have a Team Africa vs. Team World format and will support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says going back to South Africa “is part of the league’s continued commitment to bring the authentic NBA experience to fans around the world.”

Report: Nuggets received $2.85 million from Trail Blazers in Mason Plumlee-Jusuf Nurkic trade

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee is congratulated after making a basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Denver. Plumlee was appearing in his first game for the Nuggets since being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers for center Jusuf Nurkic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic and the Grizzlies’ first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a second-rounder — a deal that didn’t appear to provide Denver enough value.

But it seems we omitted a key piece of the Nuggets’ return.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Teams rarely trade that much in a single transaction. They’re capped at both receiving and sending out $3.5 million this season.

But this is the advantage of an owner willing to spend. Paul Allen is allowing Portland to assemble a more-talented roster.

Denver still got the best player right now in the trade, and Plumlee will upgrade the bench and maybe even fit OK starting with Nikola Jokic. But it’s hard to overlook owner Stan Kroenke’s cash influx.

Rumor: Kings reignite trade talks for DeMarcus Cousins; Cousins agent denies

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JANUARY 23: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on while playing the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on January 23, 2017 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Sacramento won the game 109-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Sacramento Kings may be looking to move center Boogie Cousins. Stop me if you’ve heard this rumor before.

According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kings management has reportedly engaged in talks during All-Star Weekend to move the talented, fiery center.

If moved, Boogie would be the biggest player dealt thus far this season.

Via Twitter:

It didn’t take long for Cousin’s agent to try and kill those rumors.

That Cousin’s agent denies it doesn’t make it false, however, this move would be a huge change of directions for the Kings organization.

It may also be one they may need to consider. The Kings have said they would offer Cousins the “designated player” max extension (likely around at $213 million over five seasons), and Cousins has said he would sign it. If the Kings really wanted to make him happy, they could do a Russell Westbrook style renegotiation of his contract for the coming season, then have the extension kick in after that (Boogie would sign that, too). However, do that and they have no cap space to bring in players around Cousins, they stay the same team they are right now for years.

The Kings have been reluctant at times to even engage in discussions with teams, in part because owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to move the big man knowing they will go a decade before getting a player that talented on the roster again. The Kings were frustrated when former coach George Karl was insistent on moving him, and they dismissed interest from both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But there’s also been recent talks around Boogie and the Phoenix Suns, and the situation from an outside-of-California view seems to be ripe for a split.

Cousins, for as good as he’s been, has not shown he’s enough to take the team into the playoffs. Kings management, meanwhile, has been an absolute disaster during his time there and has not done much to compliment him. The relationship seems to have soured, even as owner Ranadive has backed Cousins.

Whatever the outcome, if Cousins gets traded by the Feb. 23 deadline it will go down as one of the biggest mid-season moves this season. It’s going to be hard for Sacramento to move on from a franchise player like Boogie, but perhaps it’s time to look for a different path. For Cousins, a breath of fresh air and a little help might put his career in a new perspective as well.

Report: 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor because they were close to Trail Blazers trade

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Thunder defeated the 76ers 103-97. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor for two games last week, openly acknowledging they were discussing trading him. Then, they played him in their final game before the All-Star break.

That prompted speculation that no deal fell through, but that Philadelphia was bluffing being close in order to drum up interest.

But maybe there actually was a near-trade.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

On the surface, this makes sense. We know the Trail Blazers were interested in a cost-controlled center, because they traded for Jusuf Nurkic.

But that trade also makes Portland perfect cover if the 76ers are just trying to deflect from a gambit gone wrong. Not only were the Trail Blazers plausible trade partners, they already made their deal. So, there will be no questions about revisiting discussions.