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The Nine Circles of Bobcats Hell

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The Bobcats are in Hell.

Not literally. They’re still alive. They still get paid. They’re operational. They’re not tortured with fire.

Other than that, though, yeah, pretty hell like.

The team is on pace for historic levels of failure. It is literally just about as bad as it can get. There is nearly no reason to watch the team, even if your team is playing them. It’s an automatic win. Better to do your taxes or tweeze your eyebrows.

How did it get to this? How did we reach this  level? What makes the Bobcats so absolutely terrible? And is there anything, anything, anything to be hopeful about whatsoever? Maybe by diving in we can move forward from the horror. With that, we present the Nine Circles of Bobcats Hell.
The First Circle: They Are Terrible

Via the NBA.com stats database, here are the rankings of the Bobcats in some relevant categories. Points per 100 possessions: 30th. Points allowed per 100 possessions: 29th. Net points per 100 possesions: 30th. Offensive Rebound percentage: 28th. Rebound percentage: 30th. True Shooting Percentage: 30th. Field goal percentage: 30th. Three-point percentage: 30th. Point differential: 30th. Points in the paint: 28th. Opposing second-chance points: 30th. Opponent effective field goal percentage: 28th.

You get the picture. The point is to illustrate that it’s not “the Bobcats are absolutely terrible in a few key areas.” The point is that outside of at-rim defense and not turning the ball over, they are bad in almost every single category. And not just bad. Horrific.

They can’t shoot. They can’t defend. They can’t rebound. They can’t rotate, close-out, lock down, communicate, obfuscate, irritate or confound. They can’t chase down, track down, corral or snare rebounds. They can’t score at the rim, they can’t score from deep. They’re not bad from 9-14 feet, which would be great if it weren’t one of the least efficient places on the floor? Want to have your eyes on fire? Enjoy this:

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So when we say this team is bad, we mean this team is awful. It is a disaster. It is the kind of combination of players which should never be assembled the same way ever again if for no other reason than to not insult Dr. James Naismith and his efforts to bring a game meant to be fun to the people of this planet.

The Bobcats are terrible.

The Second Circle: They Are So Terrible They Cannot Get Good Return on a Firesale

Tyrus Thomas was acquired for a first-round pick. D.J. Augustin was a lottery pick. Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, two lottery picks. Corey Maggette was a quality scorer at one point. Boris Diaw was a major contributor to a Phoenix Suns playoff run. And you can’t move any of these guys.

If he wanted to, Rich Cho could have moved them, but he couldn’t even get return relative to a yard sale. This isn’t even entirely because of their individual talent. Augustin could help a playoff team or two. Tyrus Thomas is still talented enough to draw offers at some level. Diaw had an expiring. But the overall level of talent meant that, presumably, no quality offers of picks came rumbling through the offices in Charlotte, because collecively, they all dragged the team down.

Moving forward, the team isn’t able to just press the reset button because it’s like if the glitch freeze on your Super Nintendo spread to your carpet, controller, and cerebral cortext. The virus of suck is everywhere. The Bobcats are the basketball verison of a nuclear disaster site, and that’s without any horrific off-court stuff to speak of.

The Third Circle: They Can’t Bring In Free Agents

Something that gets lost whenever a small-market franchise overpays for a player is this simple fact. To convince a player to agree to play somewhere without a level of coolness and weather that springs to the mind thougts of outer Siberia, you have to pony up.

The Bobcats somehow manage to combine the two worst elements facing a team trying to land free agents, and this in spite of the weather actually being quite nice.

It’s not cool to play in Charlotte. I want to state right up front that Charlotte is a fantastic city. There’s a brewery downtown that makes an amber ale that was so good I’ve considered establishing bootlegging lines from there to my house. It’s a beautiful city deep in the heart of beautiful country.

It is also not cool at all.

Chapel Hill is cool. Even Greensboro. Winston-Salem. But Charlotte is not. Charlotte is famous for banking. Banking is not cool. So it has that going against it.

Even worse, though, is that the franchise has no history of basketball to speak of. Selling players on San Antonio, you can mention George Gervin, David Robinson, and the past ten years of Duncan dominance. They have a tradition and history rife with success. Even the Pacers can show 8 points in 9 seconds and the classic Knicks games. There is some level of success there. Charlotte has nothing like that.

You can see that was part of Larry Brown’s thought process when he invoked the short-term, “burn it all just get to the playoffs” approach. At some point you have to set your sights lower than the playoffs and just make yourself considered an actual NBA franchise in the mind of the players. But even that didn’t help and the result is that the Bobcats can’t talk anyone into signing there. Who wants to go to somewhere that isn’t considered cool and lose a bunch of games when you have no emotional or respectful attachment to the team?

To put this into comparison, every year kids from inner city areas dream of playing in Lawrence, Kansas. I live close to Lawrence. Lawrence is a supremely nice city. There is no reason why soeone who grew up in Compton should want to spend two to three years in Lawrence, Kansas. But they do, because there’s something about beocming a Jayhawk.

The Bobcats have none of that.

The Fourth Circle: They Are Financially Limited

Even if the free agents were in a position to be wooed, tehy don’t have the operating budget to start slinging around cash. Owner Michael Jordan has gazillions but you don’t run a business by chasing good money after bad unless you’re Daniel Snyder. Mark Cuban kind of did that, but he had a long-term plan and, well, he’s Mark Cuban.

When those numbers about teams losing money circulated this summer about teams losing money, the league’s stated reasoning behind the lockout, it was never stated which teams were involved. They didn’t need to be. The Bobcats were undeniably such a team. Jordan took a bath on buying out Bob Johnson and in the early years of his tenure as owner we’ve seen no indication he’s got the capital invested to turn this thing around. The Bobcats laid off several employees during the lockout and despite attendance figures that aren’t completely horrible, rank 26th in value according to Forbes.

How do you bringin auxilliary comforts if your business is just trying to swing a profit? How do make any momentum if that’s continually your situation?

The Fifth Circle: The Jordan Issue

Jordan has a complicated place in this situation. Does being pitched to by the greatest player of all time carry weight? Absolutely. Is he the one actively pitching? Usually not, and if he is, he’s pitching as the owner of a small market team with no history of winning who was a disaster as GM in Washington. Jordan’s draft history is subject to intense scrutiny, with the feeling being that he tends to swing for guys with established resumes who aren’t always the best talents.

He famously ruined one high schooler in Kwame Brown by destroying his confidence daily. Brown was going to be bad regardless, but what Jordan did in practice is considered legend.

Then there’s the lockout. Jordan was active and infalammatory during the lockout, reportdly very much pushing for harsher and harsher aproaches to the players, which many felt betrayed his 1999 position in which he told the late Wizards-owner Abe Pollin to sit down and that if he can’t afford to run his team to sell it. There were a lot of bad feelings from the players left over that and it remains to be seen how effective Jordan can be in the role of recruiter.

This is all beside the fact that Jordan’s standards are above and beyond, well, anything. Playing for Jordan is intimidating. Many free agents grew up with his posters on their walls, many of the younger ones hearing of him more in myth than reality, and all of them grew up wearing his shoes. It’s kind of a big deal to walk into a losing organization under his eye every morning.

The Sixth Circle: DeSagana Diop

The Bobcats willingly traded for DeSagana Diop in 2009 after signing a six-year, $32 million contract in July of 08. Assuming he activates his option for next year, the Cats will owe Diop $7.37 million for next year. They might be able to use his contract at the deadline, they might be able to get rid of it, but in all likelihood, it will represent one of the worst contracts by any team over the past five years. (The Nets and Johan Petro wave hello). It’s less the fact that Diop was overpaid it was that he was so overpaid, and then acquired by the Cats (though his value was considerably higher at the point of acquisition). That almost makes it worse that the value has dropped so consdirably while his contract value has risen.

It’s representative of the Bobcats. A bad acquisition that somehow gets worse over time. A cash-strapped team trading for a poor player with limited upside on a bad contract. That’s what the Bobcats do, and that’s a reflection of where the franchise is in its development.

The Seventh Circle: Sean May

If Diop reflects the Bobcats’ terrible decision-making in acquisitions, then May reflects their poor drafting acumen. An undersized big man reliant on a large frame vs. elite athleticism and who boosted into the lottery based on his ability at the college level. Here’s the thing. It wasn’t a bad idea at the time.

It just wasn’t. May was considered a legitimate franchise player when he was drafted. Early returns were not disastrous. It took time to understand he was heading in the wrong direction, that he wasn’t going to work out. May averaged 17 and 10 per 36 his first season. 18 and 10 the next season. Then the bottom fell out. He wound up in Sacramento and then faded into the night.

There are those that say that the draft is determined by a team’s scouting, acumen, insight. The Spurs certainly reflect that. But too often a team’s future is decided by the random nature of how picks do or do not develop. The Bobcats were, are damned because every pick they made for the duration of their existance has been an unfortunate run of the cards.

The Eighth Circle: Emeka Okafor

And then there’s this. In 2004, the expansion Bobcats somehow landed the No.4 spot in the lottery. Desperate to move up, they traded with the Clippers to acquire the second pick. The choice was between two legit centers. One was a high school freak of nature who could just as easy go down among the long line of project bigs who never panned out, and a defensive stalwart at 6-10 fresh off being named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player who averaged 17 and 11 in college for a major program.

The first pick was Dwight Howard.

The second pick was Emeka Okafor.

It’s not that Mek was a bad pick, he really wasn’t. He played well for the Bobcats, and later for the Hornets. He was Rookie of the Year with Charlotte. He is one of the better defensive bigs in the game.

But another ball comes up and the Bobcats get Dwight Howard and we’re talking about Howard possibly leaving Charlotte but at least the franchise is legitimate. The Bobcats’ first and most important draft is one in which the fourth pick was Shaun Livingston, and the second best player in the draft drafted at either 7 (Luol Deng) or No. 9 (Andre Iguodala). (Or Josh Smith at No. 17, Kevin Martin at No. 26, or Al Jefferson at No. 15.)

That’s the life of the Bobcats.

The Ninth Circle: The Hornets

Once, long ago, there was a franchise.

A franchise that had sold out arenas. A franchise with an upstart group of youngsters in a talented power forward and a near-lunatic center who blocked everything imaginable. Versus the damned history of the Bobcats, the franchise had the rookie center nail a three to knock off the mighty Boston Celtics in the most improbable fashion.

It was a franchise of contention and excitement. It made the playoffs seven of its fourteen years in the city. And just like that, it was gone.

George Shinn alienated the city, alienated the fans, alienated the everything. And in response, fans stopped coming. Shinn responded by demanding a new arena. He didn’t get it. He moved the franchise.

Professional basketball has never recovered.

The NBA has a lot of warts. George Shinn showed all of them to Charlotte and it never forgot. Carolina loves basketball, more than any state in the union. It is basketball incorporated. But the damage done has been irreparable, and the Cats continue to see the karmic effects.

The worst thing to happen to Charlotte with regards to pro basketball isn’t the Bobcats. It’s why the Bobcats were necessary.

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But lo, as it was with Dante, the river will be crossed.

The Bobcats have bottomed out. Management, ownership, coaching seems to understand what has to happen. Rich Cho was hired and the plan is clear. He has prioritized getting draft picks. The Bobcats’ pick owed to Chicago for the Tyrus Thomas trade is lottery protected. They picked up a protected pick from Portland. The future isn’t bright, but it’s uncertain. That’ an improvement.

There’s a philosophy which says that Hell is simply the absence of God.

In basketball, hope is the most mighty force you can have. It’s what allows fans to keep coming back. We’ve taken you through how the Bobcats reached this point, but where are they going?

Kemba Walker has nights. There are holes, but he has nights. D.J. Augustin will likely get good value on the market. Tyrus Thomas, when healthy, can contribute. Bismack Biyombo is something. There are good things to be found. Not many, but some. Gerald Henderson looks like a legit wing in the making.

And despite all this, the Bobcats are professional. They’re terrible, they’re awful, they have no reason to do anything resembling effort, but there the effort is. You can mock them, you can deride them, you can crush them. But every night those guys walk on the floor and play, knowing they’re going to get crushed and they still show up for work. That’s more than a lot of people in this country do.  It’s better to try and be horrible than to not try and be mediocre. That’s why it’s easy to say the Bobcats are in a better position than the Wizards. Their star player isn’t underperforming because he doesn’t exist. There’s freedom in how low they are.

It’s going to take a long, hard journey. But all it takes is one look back for the Bobcats to realize it can only get better from here.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Russell Westbrook’s 5th straight triple-double lifts Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks ahead of New Orleans Pelicans forward Terrence Jones (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Oklahoma City won 101-92. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook became the first player with five consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989 and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 101-92 on Sunday night.

Westbrook finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. The Thunder have won all five games during Westbrook’s triple-double stretch. It was Westbrook’s 10th triple-double of the season and the 47th of his career.

Enes Kanter had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Oladipo added 15 points for the Thunder.

Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, had 37 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans. Buddy Hield, who led nearby Oklahoma to the Final Four last season, scored 16 points in his first game back in the state.

Oklahoma City led 49-41 at halftime. Westbrook had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists at the break, and Davis kept the Pelicans in it with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Westbrook threw down a vicious right-handed jam on a drive down the middle in the third quarter that gave Oklahoma City a 57-47 lead. He clinched the triple-double on an assist to Kanter for a dunk with 2:14 left in the third quarter. The Thunder took a 78-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

Hield drained a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to four with just under two minutes to go, but Westbrook’s 3 with 51.3 seconds to go bumped the Thunder’s lead back to 99-92.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Hield got a standing ovation when he checked in late in the first half. … G Jrue Holiday started for just the third time this season. He missed the first 12 games while his wife, former U.S. women’s national team soccer player Lauren Holiday, recovered from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

Thunder: Made 14 of 15 2-point shots and missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the first quarter. … C Steven Adams sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and did not return. … The Thunder missed all 15 3-point attempts in the first half, then made 6 of 13 in the second. … Westbrook leads active players in career triple-doubles. … Thunder are 26-2 the past two seasons when Westbrook has a triple-double.

 

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

Serge Ibaka lifts Magic over Pistons 98-92 in return of Reggie Jackson

Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka, left, and Jeff Green (34) celebrate against the Detroit Pistons in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Orlando won 98-92. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — For about ten minutes on Sunday night, it appeared the Detroit Pistons had solved the Orlando Magic’s lock-down defense.

Like the rest of the NBA, they will have to keep searching for answers.

Orlando gave up 27 points in the first 9:30 but then shut the Pistons down in a 98-92 victory.

“I’m proud of our guys, because that team was averaging 118 points their last three games, and that was on the road,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “We held them to 92, and most of that was our second-half defense. They were at home, and they got 42 points on 37 percent shooting in the second half.”

Serge Ibaka scored 21 points and blocked four shots, while Nikola Vucevic added 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Magic have held 10 of their last 11 opponents under 100 points.

“We just changed our mindset,” Ibaka said. “We knew we could play defense, and now we’re playing for each other on offense. We knew we could play this well. We just had to keep working.”

Pistons guard Reggie Jackson made his season debut after missing Detroit’s first 21 games with knee tendinitis. He had 18 points in 23 minutes. Marcus Morris led Detroit with 21 points.

“I felt good out there, but I wish we could have gotten a win out of it,” Jackson said. “I think there might have been a little rust, but I was able to do everything I need to do. I wouldn’t be out there if I was going to be physically limited.”

Orlando won for the third time in four games while Detroit had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“We were terrible on defense,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Our offensive numbers were good enough to win, especially against that defense, but we didn’t guard anyone. We just didn’t want to put in the effort.”

On Jackson’s first possession, the Pistons went to their bread-and-butter play – he and Andre Drummond running a high pick and roll. Jackson came off the screen and hit a 3-pointer, bringing a cheer from the small crowd. Jackson played the first 5:50 of the quarter as Detroit built a 16-10 lead.

Morris had 14 points in the first 7 minutes but didn’t get much support from his teammates. The Magic scored 35 points in the second quarter to take a 58-50 halftime lead. Orlando shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the half to Detroit’s 51.2 percent and only turned the ball over four times.

“We’re starting to see the value of the pass on the offensive end,” Vogel said. “If we pass with good timing, good intent and good delivery, it will help us shoot the ball, and we’ve got good shooters.”

The Magic led by 11 late in the third, but the Pistons narrowed the gap to 78-73 at quarter’s end. Orlando moved the margin back to double figures with nine minutes left, with the Pistons struggling to get open looks against one of the NBA’s best defenses.

Ibaka ended a Pistons run with a 3-pointer to make it 90-80 with 5:32 to play, then blocked Drummond’s dunk attempt at the other end.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to pull the Pistons within 95-90, but Jeff Green clinched the game with a turnaround jumper.

TIP INS

Magic: Former Piston Jodie Meeks had seven points in 15 minutes in his second game of the season. Meeks only played three games last season for Detroit due to chronic foot problems.

Pistons: Jackson spent most of the game matched up against D.J. Augustin, the main player given up by the Pistons in the three-team trade that brought him to Detroit in 2015.

TROUBLE FROM THE LINE

The Pistons were 0 for 5 from the free-throw line in the first half, with Drummond missing four in a row. He came into the game shooting 47.4 percent from the line after setting a league record at 35.5 percent in 2015-16.

RARE STREAK

The Magic have won two straight road games for the first time this season. They beat the Philadelphia 76ers 105-88 on Friday.

ONLY A SINGLE-DOUBLE

Vucevic fell two rebounds short of his seventh straight double-double. He had a nine-game double-double streak in 2012-13.

 

Brilliant dig: Knicks fans chant “Derek Fisher” as Kings’ Matt Barnes inbounds ball

Sacramento Kings' Matt Barnes (22) reacts during an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in New York, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Photo/Andres Kudacki)
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I had hoped never to write of this again, but alas… remember when Matt Barnes got in a fight with then Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher over the latter spending time with Barnes’ estranged wife? It cost Barnes a couple of game suspension.

Barnes is playing well for the Sacramento Kings this season, who were making their annual stop in Madison Square Garden Sunday. As Barnes was inbounding the ball in the fourth quarter, some Knicks fans started a “Derek Fisher” chant.

It’s not original, some Pacers fans had done it before. But it’s still a Cameron Crazies worthy ploy.

The Knicks got 20 points each from Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose to get the 106-98 win, despite 36 from DeMarcus Cousins.

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*