Losses beginning to wear on Bobcats after dropping 13th straight game in Phoenix

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PHOENIX — Before the Bobcats lost yet again in Phoenix on Wednesday, the team’s head coach, Mike Dunlap, was asked to assess the mood of his club as it was dealing with a losing streak that at the time stood at 12 straight games.

“Hearty,” he said. “Good. Learning, because that’s the way we started. We never thought that we were going to start off and not have a stretch [like this]. Certainly we don’t like this stretch, but there’s a certain attitude with the staff and obviously myself, [which] is that we don’t skip a beat with our habits. Keep your habits right, and your communication fresh with your players. So it’s good.”

It appeared to be the opposite after Charlotte lost its 13th in a row to the Suns, and understandably so.

The Bobcats competed legitimately for only the game’s first 12 minutes, before suffering a second quarter scoring drought that ultimately doomed their chances. Charlotte fell behind by as many as 30 points to the Suns, on the way to a 121-104 loss that wasn’t nearly that close.

The vibe in the Charlotte locker room afterward was a somber one, with few conversations taking place and players, for the most part, sitting individually in silent reflection while searching for answers.

Dunlap understands the situation, that this is a process that’s more about development, and less about wins and losses in the immediate future. The challenge, of course, is conveying that to his players, the majority of which simply aren’t used to losing games like this on a regular basis.

“I think it’s just difficult in general,” Dunlap said, when asked if the streak is more challenging to get through while leading a younger team. “Losing, whether it’s one or a string of them, it does’t feel good if you’re a competitor. Plus, we have guys that have national championship rings [from playing on college]. So the identification is, as you recapitulate that feeling, that this is temporary; it’s not forever. But at the same time, are we getting better? And I think people that are following the trail and have watched us for the entire journey can say yep, that guy’s getting better, and that guy’s getting better. It’s noticeable, but we’re not getting our return, and that’s where the frustration is.”

The Bobcats have competed in at least seven of their 13 straight losses, including most recently against the Lakers on Tuesday, and against the Clippers, Warriors, Knicks, and Hawks — all above average teams.

But after a destructive loss like the one that the team endured at the hands of the Suns, the conviction that what the team is doing is actually working is significantly diminished.

“I think we played well as a group,” Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said afterward. “I mean, the fourth quarter especially, we played really well. I mean, there’s good things in this loss, too. It’s not all bad things that we’ll take away from this loss.”

As for the mood surrounding the team during this losing streak, the words MKG used to express the situation were essentially the polar opposite of what was being conveyed by both his tone and his body language.

“It’s a lot of positives,” he said, fairly unconvincingly. “I think it’s a lot of positives. I’m just taking it day by day.

“We’re just young,” he said. “It’s going to be all good down the road, so I’m not worried about it right now.”

Again, on a scale of 1-10, the believability factor in what Kidd-Gilchrist was saying was hovering around a negative-two.

Kemba Walker, while still clearly dejected over yet another loss, delivered his platitudes with far more conviction.

“We’re fine, man,” he said. “We’re fine. We’re a young team. We still feel pretty confident in ourselves, and it’s still a young season. We still have a lot of time. As long as we’re getting better, we’re definitely all just staying together. Good things are going to happen for us; right now, we’re losing but I think good things will happen for us pretty soon.”

After a game like Wednesday’s in Phoenix, there truly aren’t a lot of positives. The comeback mounted by Charlotte’s reserves came, again, after the team was down by 30 and the Suns had essentially already placed this one in the win column.

Dunlap knows that patience is key to a situation like this, but also knows that there will be some pain along the way as his team develops.

“We’re giving them a lot of time, but unfortunately wisdom comes after some nasty experiences,” he said. “There’s no doubt we’re teething.”

Dunlap is a veteran of the coaching game, despite this being his first chance at being the head man for one of the NBA’s 30 teams. He understands the process better than anyone, but some wins will need to be at least sprinkled among all the losses for the players to truly buy in, and trust the process over the results in order to continue to see real improvement over the course of the long, 82-game season.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.