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. 

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.

 

LeBron James’ playoff streak ends at 13 years

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.

LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.

But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.

That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.

Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.

That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.

If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.

Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.

Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:

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There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.

Which is more than LeBron can say.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.