Charlotte aimed for a mediocrity, and it's paying off

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Thumbnail image for Brown_Jordan.jpgThe “right way” to build an NBA franchise is from the ground up. Clear out contracts. Draft well. Sign value free agents to smart deals. Stay young and stay flexible, in the hope that one day an elite player will finally fall into the team’s lap. Unfortunately that’s not a blueprint most small-market clubs can afford to take, as the pressure to reach a certain level of commercial success ends up superseding the actual team-building strategy.

That financial reality coupled with the fact that there are only so many franchise centerpieces to be had makes it quite common to see teams shooting for playoff berths rather than championships. Though bad management is surely to blame for a lot of the NBA’s bad contracts, the impact of small market difficulties should not be discounted. It’s something franchises like the Lakers (and even the Knicks, despite the troubles they’ve had over the last decade) never face, but there’s a legitimate and unfortunate motivation for teams in smaller markets to overpay for second and third tier talent.

The Bobcats are such a team, as evidenced by their willingness to take on Stephen Jackson’s absurd contract via trade, as well as Boris Diaw’s. Now, Charlotte isn’t responsible for committing huge amounts of money to either of those players, but they did sacrifice financial flexibility in the process of acquiring them. Not because anyone with the Cats thought that Diaw or Jackson would legitimately push the team into the conference’s top tier, but because they needed to get better, contracts and roster limitations be damned.

It didn’t matter that both players have definite flaws in their games that prevent them from being focal points of a championship-level team, even if they’re being paid as such. Charlotte needed talent to make a jump (even if it wasn’t the jump), and they went out and got it. In the process, it may have crippled their hopes of really elevating the quality of the team in the near future, but y’know what? It’s paying off. In terms of their bottom line, anyway.

From David Scott of the Charlotte Observer (via Tom Ziller of FanHouse):

The Bobcats, who reached the playoffs for the first time in their
six-year history last spring, have renewed 91 percent of their season
ticket holders and sold 1,575 new season tickets for the 2010-11
season, which begins in October.

Both those numbers are in
the top 10 in the 30-team league, according to Bobcats president Fred
Whitfield, who got the news at a recent NBA executives meeting. The
Bobcats have never been in the top 20 of the league in either of those
categories, Whitfield said.

So what if Charlotte barely even has a point guard anymore? Raymond Felton walked because the ‘Cats weren’t in a position to pay him, and yet the most successful season the Bobcats have ever had (one that saw them swept in the first round of the playoffs, mind you) was very much dependent on Felton’s talents. Stephen Jackson was the catalyst and Gerald Wallace the team’s heart, but Felton’s defense and ability to run the offense (even if Charlotte’s operation on that end is far from pristine) were quite valuable.

Apparently none of that matters. Butts are going into seats, and more dollars in the Bobcats’ name. Charlotte may not be on the up-and-up, but they live to fight another day, and that’s something. It’s not the direction any fan would want their franchise to go, but not every small market team can be the Spurs. Most face a lot of hardship, both on the court and off of it, and as a result, approaches like Charlotte’s — good in the short-term, not so much in the long-term — aren’t as uncommon as they should be. 

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.