NBA Season Preview: The Charlotte Bobcats

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This post was written by Rob Mahoney.

Last season: 44-38, which was good enough to score the Bobcats their first playoff appearance in franchise history. They’re taking steps forward (talent upgrades, internal improvement), even if they’re marching further into the desert (temporary fixes, financial commitments, bad draft picks) with no oasis in sight.

Head Coach: Larry Brown. The man needs no introduction, but the new and improved LB might. After systematically alienating his players at practically all of his previous coaching stops, it’s been so far, so good for Brown in Charlotte. Maybe his eyes wandered to the open Clippers coaching job earlier this summer or maybe they didn’t, but regardless, Brown’s Bobcats were the top defense in the league last season in spite of some obvious roster limitations.

Key Departures: Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, Raja Bell, Theo Ratliff, Stephen Graham, Larry Hughes, and any semblance of offensive success.

Key Additions: Shaun Livingston, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera, Sherron Collins, and lots of heavy sighing.

Best case scenario: Charlotte makes a move or two to acquire (1) a point guard worthy of a starting job (2) some young talent, all while maintaining or improving their relative place in the Eastern Conference.

For that to happen: Michael Jordan is going to have to charge up that Bluetooth headset I’m sure he has, dial, talk, rinse, and repeat. Over and over and over again. Charlotte needs a trade in a bad, bad way.

The Bobcats were this close to essentially trading Boris Diaw for Devin Harris straight-up (though D.J. Augustin was possibly involved) as a part of the now-dead four-team Carmelo Anthony deal. That acquisition would have given Charlotte exactly what they need for the time being, as Harris is a bonafide building block who would have conveniently filled the Bobcats’ biggest positional void.

Hope isn’t dead, but Charlotte need to do something. Raymond Felton was quite valuable last season, even though he was the clear third-billing behind Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. Augustin isn’t ready to step into that role and may never be, which puts the Bobcat offense — which was already a miserable 24th in the league last season on a per possession basis —  in an impossible spot. They aren’t loaded with talent, and the talented pieces the Bobcats do have aren’t all that straightforward (What’s the best way to utilize Tyrus Thomas? Gerald Wallace? Stephen Jackson?). Now, a point guard who plays like he’s completely lost confidence in himself will have to make the most of it, and I fear that ‘most’ won’t be very much.

If Charlotte is going to take a step up, they’ll have to relieve Augustin of the starting gig he’s clutching with sweaty palms.

More likely the Bobcats will: Que será, será, and Charlotte será tough to watch at times. The offense could easily go from blech to ungghghghg, though the Cats should still be among the league’s elite in free throw rate. Congrats?

It won’t save them. It can’t. They need ball-handling and playmaking fast, and no one should be deluded into thinking that the current backcourt crew is satisfactory. Augustin hasn’t shown the aptitude as an NBA player yet. Giving Jackson free rein shouldn’t even be considered an option. Shaun Livingston is a fine addition to the team, but he’s not steady enough (in either health or production) to play major minutes. Even Raymond Felton’s biggest critics would concede that he’d be a saving grace under these circumstances.

Still, the defense will be there. Even though losing Felton and Tyson Chandler will likely mean the end of Charlotte’s run as the best D in the league, the Bobcats will still be a top five defense next season. On top of that, Wallace will remain very productive and one of the NBA’s most engaging watches. Jackson will continue to pour in the points while picking up a few assists and almost as many turnovers. Tyrus Thomas could continue to find success with the Bobcats, but I won’t for a second presume to know what Thomas will accomplish in any given year. Boris Diaw will fill in the gaps, Nazr Mohammed will have another quietly successful offensive season, and Matt Carroll could even resurrect his career from the three-point specialist graveyard.

There are bright spots in Charlotte, and enough of them to make the Bobcats a current favorite for one of the East’s final playoff seeds. Nothing is guaranteed, though. Charlotte didn’t get any better in the offseason, and with six Eastern Conference teams as locks for April (Miami, Orlando, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta), there isn’t much room for error. The most likely outcome lets the Bobcats slip in the playoff door, but is that good enough? Shouldn’t the Cats be building something from their first-ever playoff appearance last season?

Obviously. This just isn’t their time, and that’s the Bobcats’ ownership and management’s own doing. Playoff appearances mean a lot to a small-market team like Charlotte (and you better believe they mean a hell of a lot to a player like Wallace), but the Bobcats overall strategy isn’t going to take them much further. They can continue to tinker in order to keep their heads above water, but this is what we can expect from Charlotte until they change course. It’s not all that sunny, but it’s playoff basketball.

Prediction: 40-42 and a playoff spot. They’ll fight. They’ll defend. They’ll lose to one of the conference’s elite teams. Hope it sounds cozy, Bobcat fans.

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

Doc Rivers, Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue and Paul George
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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.

Report: 76ers focused on Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni in coaching search

Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers and former Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni are 76ers candidates
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The 76ers appeared focused on Mike D’Antoni in their coaching search.

Then, Doc Rivers surprisingly became available.

The former Clippers coach met with the 76ers and is now in the center of the conversation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For the Sixers now, the focus is on Rivers and D’Antoni, a source told ESPN. A decision is expected this week.

Rivers would be an easier fit with this roster than D’Antoni, whose style doesn’t appear to work as well with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers also looks like he’d help Philadelphia take the next step.

But that seemed like it’d be true with the Clippers and wasn’t.

Tyronn Lue’s candidacy with the 76ers has clearly faded. Could he join the Clippers, Rockets or Pelicans? If Philadelphia hires Rivers, maybe D’Antoni still lands with the Pacers?

Rivers’ availability has definitely thrown a wrench in the coaching carousel.

Victor Oladipo denies trade rumor he wants out of Indiana

Victor Oladipo
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It was a trade rumor that kind of came out of nowhere — maybe more as a thought exercise for Celtics fans hoping to move on from Gordon Hayward — but it got traction: Victor Oladipo reportedly wanted out of Indiana.

Not true, Oladipo said.

Oladipo jumped on Instagram Live with rapper Fat Joe and shot down the rumors (hat tip Clutch Points):

“I’m a Pacer. I’m a Pacer…

“Those rumors on the internet, I don’t know where they’re coming from, I’m just focused on getting my knee right for next year.”

He said later in the interview he wants a ring, he wants “hardware” because that is needed to show you are one of the greats, and he would consider leaving the Pacers to get it. But that wasn’t a short-term thing. (Also, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Elgin Baylor and a lot of other guys would like to talk with you about that attitude.)

Oladipo returned mid-season from his knee injury to a Pacers’ team that finished as the four seed in the East but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.

Oladipo never quite returned to his All-NBA form after coming back from injury and averaged just 14.5 points a game in the 19 regular season games he did play. Oladipo is owed $21 million next season, the last year of his current deal.

Whether he wants out of Indiana or not, at $21 million and with questions about just what level of player he is post-injury, there is not much of a trade market for Victor Oladipo. Indiana more than likely runs it back under a new coach — who has yet to be chosen — and banks on a healthy Oladipo helping the team make the next step.

Adam Silver: Goal is to start next season in January, in team arenas

Adam Silver
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The NBA bubble — which has worked and gotten the league to the NBA Finals — may be a one-off.

The goal for next season is a January start with games being played in team’s arenas, even if fans are not yet filling the buildings, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in his annual address before Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wednesday.

“As for fans in seats, it’s certainly our goal, but it’s dependent on some additional advancements. Rapid testing may be the key here,” Silver said. 

Silver refused to be locked down to any details — most people around the league expect a February start, or later — and said the league might have to return to a bubble, or hybrid-bubble, for part of next season. However, he hoped testing and technology would allow NBA games in NBA buildings, with players going back to their homes at the end of the night.

This is dependent on rapid testing and where the virus is in our nation as we get into December and January than it is on a vaccine.

“Based on everything I’ve read, there’s almost no chance that there will be a vaccine, at least that is widely distributed, before we start the next season,” Silver said. “So I do not see the development of a vaccine as a prerequisite.”

The other part of starting next season is figuring out the league finances and setting a salary cap. The league’s revenue took a serious hit with around 20% of home games canceled, then the playoffs delayed and moved to a bubble. Silver said salary cap and other negotiations are taking place between the NBA and the players’ union. The league has set a date for the 2020 NBA Draft — Nov. 18 — however, the start of free agency, training camps, and the tip-off date for next season are still open and being discussed.

“I don’t have expectations of labor issues… I think while no doubt there will be issues and difficult negotiations ahead, I think we’ll work them out as we always have,” Silver said.

Those are the future. For now, Silver was clearly proud that the bubble worked and that there could be a lesson there for the nation.

“The basic protocols that we’re all following are working,” Silver said. “I mean, the testing is only needed to demonstrate that at this point. By wearing a mask, by exercising appropriate protocols, hand washing, appropriate cleanliness, et cetera, by maintaining physical distance… that’s what’s working.”

Also of note from Silver’s press conference, he was asked about there being just four Black head coaches in the NBA right now after Nate McMillan (Indiana), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), and Doc Rivers (L.A. Clippers), all were let go (there are currently six open coaching jobs around the league).  Silver said he has had talks with teams that have had openings, making sure a diverse field of applicants is considered, but added the NBA has not thought of adding a “Rooney Rule” to the hiring process.

“I know we can do better,” Silver said.