ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Charlotte Bobcats

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Last season: Remember when the Bobcats started the season out 7-5 and we all kind of did a double take? That really happened, there was a moment where we wondered if this team wasn’t as terrible as we all thought. Then reality hit. The Bobcats went 14-56 the rest of the season. Charlotte had the worst defense in the NBA (allowing 108.9 points per 100 possessions) and their 28th in the league offense wasn’t going to make up for that. It was ugly.

Signature highlight from last season: Byron Mullens throws it down all over LaMarcus Aldridge (in a highlight that starts in a very Bobcats way).

Key player changes: Charlotte has been terrible for five straight years, so with the best, deepest draft in a decade next year they will continue that trend to finally get rewarded, right?

Wrong. Charlotte signed Al Jefferson to a three-year, $40 million deal (the third year is a player option). This is clearly the biggest free agent signing in the Bobcats short and turbulent history. I personally like this signing because Jefferson is a guy they can sell makes them better… but not that much better. Not out of the lottery better.

The Bobcats drafted Cody Zeller at No. 4, and while that had a few of us shaking our heads at the time Zeller showed a good outside game for a big at Summer League, he could be a stretch four to balance Jefferson on the block. Anthony Tolliver was added as a free agent.

As for guys who are gone Byron Mullens left for the Clippers, Tyrus Thomas got amnestied and Reggie Williams is now with the Rockets.

One other key change: Mike Dunlap is out as coach and Steve Clifford is in.

Keys to the Bobcats season:

Can Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist develop more reliable jumpers?

Charlotte’s offense will not be a complete abomination this season, the addition of the rock-solid Jefferson in the post guarantees that. But with him in the post they need to space the floor — Ben Gordon helps with that and Gerald Henderson has his moments. However that is not going to be enough. It will take the two most athletic Bobcats — Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — knocking down jumpers consistently to make the other team pay for packing it in or doubling Jefferson on the block.

Walker is the guy with the ball in his hands and he made some big strides forward last season, but he needs to make more. He can be a very creative playmaker, an underrated one, but he needs to be able to stretch the floor with better shooting from three. Last season he took most of his threes from above the arc and hit just 33 percent of them, that number needs to go up.

Kidd-Gilchrist had the ugliest jumper in the NBA and has worked with Mark Price to correct it. The fact is for all the intangible things he does right he doesn’t have the handles to create looks and he shot 29.6 percent from the midrange. He has to improve that number, if not Jeff Taylor looked good at Summer League.

Can the Bobcats stop anyone?

Charlotte had the worst defense in the NBA last season, and now they added Al Jefferson as a cornerstone — a guy who admits he’s not very good at defense. Their defense could be on a course to get worse, which will stymie any progress the offense makes. This is where new coach Steve Clifford is going to have to earn his money. He has to put in a system then get his team to fully buy in, otherwise Charlotte will play matador defense all night. The Bobcats have a couple good defenders on the roster — Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo — but this has to be a team effort.

Frankly, it’s hard to expect much improvement.

Why you should watch Bobcats: Because it’s the last season ever of the Bobcats — next season they are rightfully the Hornets again. Those Bobcats unis will be collectors items (just not in Charlotte where the fan base hates the name). Charlotte also has some good young players who could blossom — Zeller, Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Taylor — and this will be your last chance to see any of them in a Bobcats uniform.

Prediction: 31-51. That’s a 10-game improvement over last season — their offense will improve but it can’t make up for that defense — but one that leaves them still comfortably in the lottery (just with not as good of odds as Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Utah most likely).

Pistons claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks waived Christian Wood late last season to ensure avoiding the luxury tax. The Pelicans claimed him. Wood had played well in limited minutes with the 76ers, Hornets and Bucks and in the NBA’s minor league since going undrafted in 2015.

New Orleans gave him his biggest opportunity yet. In 24 minutes per game over eight games, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds.

But the Pelicans filled their roster for next season and waived Wood.

Detroit will take advantage.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons announced today that the team has claimed forward/center Christian Wood off waivers.

Wood’s $1,645,357 minimum salary is unguaranteed until the regular season. So, Detroit could still waive him before the season. But it seems he’ll at least go to training camp and get a shot at a regular-season roster spot.

The Pelicans also could’ve kept him through the preseason then waived him before the regular season. They seemingly did him a favor of allowing him to get somewhere he has a realistic chance of sticking.

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will start in the frontcourt for the Pistons. Markieff Morris and Thon Maker appear to be first in line is backups.

But don’t be surprised if Wood earns playing time. At minimum, the 23-year-old should provide nice depth at both power forward and center.

The Pistons have also now acquired four members of last year’s Bucks – Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Tim Frazier and now Wood.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.