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.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.