NBA Preview: Charlotte Bobcats

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Last season: Worst. Team. Ever.

Literally, no team has ever finished with a worse winning percentage than the 7-59 Bobcats. That had to sting owner Michael Jordan. They were the least efficient team in the league on offense and defense (they both scored the fewest and allowed the most points per possession in the league). Yes, there were injuries on a team that had no margin for error, but they were destined to be terrible. Usually you try to find positives out of a season to build on, in this case just flush it. Flush it.

Key Departures: Can anyone from that last roster be called key? Anyway, Corey Maggette is gone, as is D.J. Augustin. But nobody they are actually going to moss.

Key Additions: With the No. 2 pick in the draft the Charlotte Bobcats selected Michael Kidd-Gillchrist, the high-energy wing out of Kentucky. A guy whose effort and defense stood out on a team loaded with future NBA players. In the one game Kidd-Gilchrist played in Summer League he looked good and now he’s got a reconstructed jump shot. He should be fun to watch.

They also added journeyman big Brendan Haywood, a reliable starting point guard in Ramon Sessions and they have Ben Gordon coming off the bench with a green light. (Might as well make it green, Gordon is going to shoot no matter the light’s color.) That’s not a playoff roster, but that’s not 12 wins, either.

Three keys to the Bobcats season:

1) Just how good is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going to be? This is a one-year question but rather a multi-year process. He was certainly the right call with the second pick in the draft — he’s a long, pretty athletic wing who can defend and will out work you. The question is how much his jump shot develops (he has already reworked the form) and will his handles get to the point he can create his own shot. In college his athleticism could do that, but he’ll need better handles at this level.

New coach Mike Dunlap was brought in because he can develop players. Here is his first project. Kidd-Gilchrist is going to be a key part of the rebuilding in Charlotte. How key a part we’ll see by how much he develops. He could be a regular All-Star, a guy who can defend on the wing and get you some points. Could. We will see.

2) The Bobcats have to play better defense. And they should — just by adding Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing and Haywood on the paint they have better defensive personnel. Plus they have Bismack Biyombo, who should leap forward as a paint protecting force this season. And finally Dunlap has said he wants to bring in a defensive mindset as well.

The Bobcats can make faster gains with their team and record on the defensive side of the ball. The offense will come along, but get stops and they can win more games. The pieces are there to improve fairly dramatically on this end. Don’t expect a miracle. I don’t even expect them to be average. They just need to not be historically bad.

3) Where does the offense come from? They should be better this season, if only because they can’t really be worse. This is where picking up Ramon Sessions is key — is a solid to good, dependable point guard who can set the table. He played well in the regular season for the Lakers last year, but it was his first ever playoff experience and he seemed overwhelmed by that stage. Still, for the Bobcats he provides a steady presence.

Behind him at the point is Kemba Walker, and Bobcats fans should be rooting for him to take a leap forward with his game.

As he did last year, Gerald Henderson will rack up points (nice fantasy basketball tip). Kidd-Gilchrist will get them some points, but we’ll see how many. I’d like to say Tyrus Thomas will give them more than 14 a game, he has the talent, but I’m don betting on that horse. He just never developed the handle and mental side of his game to go with the skill set.

Plus there is Ben Gordon gunning off the bench. Which is what the Bobcats need.

What Bobcats fans should fear: After you have been to the seventh circle of hell, what could be worse? What is their left to fear? Really, the fear is that GM Rich Cho misses on picks and this team continues to stumble rather than build going forward. Personally, I believe in Cho, I think the organization is acting more professionally, and I think they are moving in the right direction. Slowly, but in the right direction. That said, the fear is that those are really just wheels spinning in the mud.

How it likely works out: The Bobcats are not going to be good. Not as bad as last year, but not good. Still, there are signs of hope — watch Kidd-Gilchrist bring new energy to the team and see his offensive game develop. See if Bismack Biyombo can become a defensive force. See if Kemba Walker can start to look like an NBA starter. Heck, you can hold out hope that the switch flips for Tyrus Thomas if you want. Find a reason to hope. And expect a better season than the last one.

Prediction: 21-62, which means once again a whole lot of lottery balls. They and the Magic may well be competing for the worst record in the NBA, and they are a few years away from the playoffs. But this is the first steps back from the lowest of lows. Don’t expect miracles and find reasons for hope. Find guys you can root for, Bobcats fans.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.