Al Jefferson was introduced as the newest member of the Charlotte Bobcats on July 10, 2013 at Time Warner Cable Arena. (Photo Credit: David T. Foster/Charlotte Observer)
With the NBA preseason upon us, the Charlotte Bobcats are only two weeks away from their regular season opener against the Houston Rockets on October 30th. So far, the Bobcats boast an even 2-2 record through four games of the preseason, with four games still remaining.
There have been positives and negatives throughout the first half of the preseason, which is expected, but the ultimate goal is to be healthy and ready to go for the regular season in two weeks.
The Bobcats made some significant personnel moves, both by addition and subtraction. Owner Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho are hoping theses moves pay off in order to have their first successful season since 2010, when the Bobcats last reached the playoffs.
Quite possibly the biggest offseason news for the Charlotte Bobcats in the past few months has nothing to do with the on-court product though, at least for this season anyway. Jordan announced just days before the 2013 NBA draft that the franchise was changing its name back to the Charlotte Hornets starting in the 2014-2015 season.
No matter what the outcome of the upcoming season for the Bobcats, the fact that they will soon be the Charlotte Hornets has been accepted by the local community with open arms and has given the team an energy within the Charlotte-area that had been lacking the past few seasons.
Unfortunately, the name change will have no effect on this season for the Bobcats. Instead, they will have to rely on the personnel changes the front office made for this season in order to be more successful than they have been in years past.
Starting at the top, the Charlotte Bobcats now have their sixth new head coach in the last six years. Last season, the Mike Dunlap experiment as the head coach seemed to be a failure. This was an outcome that was highly predictable once the front office hired Dunlap, who seemed to lack the NBA experience that was necessary to succeed coming from his assistant coach position at St. John’s.
The reigns have now been handed over to Steve Clifford, who has a wealth of NBA experience. Clifford has been an NBA assistant coach every year since 2001 when he started with the New York Knicks. Since then, he has been an assistant with the Knicks, Rockets, Orlando Magic and most recently the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
Clifford worked under both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy, where he became known across the NBA as a defensive expert. Clifford also brought in a new pack of assistant coaches to help round out his staff this season, most notable are the hires of Patrick Ewing and Mark Price.
Ewing, who was one of the best centers in the NBA throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, has been hired to work with the big men of the Bobcats, specifically Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller in order to guide the pair of 21-year-old big men in the early part of their careers.
Price, a former point guard and sharp shooter during his playing days in the NBA, has been hired to specifically work with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to develop Walker’s skills as the starting point guard and improve Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot.
All in all, the Bobcats seem to have their best coaching staff in place since coming into the league as an expansion team in 2004 due to the abundance of NBA experience and knowledge that will be on the bench on a nightly basis.
However, as great as it is to have a respectable NBA coaching staff, the Bobcats’ biggest issues the last couple years have been a lack of talent on the court. For this season, there was quite a bit of roster turnover from last year, a positive sign for a team that has only won 28 games over the last two seasons – by far the lowest total by an NBA franchise.
The Bobcats started with using their amnesty clause on Tyrus Thomas, who had been a colossal disappointment during his time in Charlotte. The Bobcats then also parted ways with Byron Mullens, Reggie Williams, and DeSagana Diop.
None of these four players were really significant losses for the Bobcats. Mullens did start 41 games last year, but it became very apparent that he was not someone the Bobcats needed to start half of their games if they wanted to be a successful, competitive NBA franchise on a nightly basis.
There were some players Charlotte re-signed from last year’s team, including Gerald Henderson who signed a three-year, $18-million contract and is expected to be the Bobcats’ starting shooting guard. Charlotte also re-signed Josh McRoberts and Jannero Pargo in order to provide depth in the front court and at the point guard position respectively. The Bobcats also retained Ben Gordon, who picked up his player option and is now entering the last year of his contract.
The two biggest offseason additions for the Charlotte Bobcats were using the number four overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft on Cody Zeller and signing Al Jefferson to a three-year, $40.5 million contract.
Selecting Zeller, the 7-foot tall All-American from Indiana University, drew some criticism from the media and fans due to the fact that many people thought there was better talent available on the board at the time of the Bobcats’ selection. However, Charlotte picked Zeller thinking that the power forward fit with the team, rather than worrying about pure talent. The Bobcats hope that Zeller’s extreme athleticism paired with his basketball skill set will be a perfect complement to the traditional, back-to-the-basket type player that Jefferson is down in the paint.
Jefferson, who came over from the Utah Jazz, immediately becomes the best offensive big man the Charlotte Bobcats franchise has ever had. The 28-year-old center has the ability to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as the focal point of the Bobcats’ offense, something Charlotte desperately needs if they are going to improve from a year ago.
Jefferson did suffer an ankle sprain in his second preseason game with the Bobcats a week ago, however, team officials expect Jefferson to be ready for opening night.
All of these offseason moves have seemed to bring a sense of optimism to the Bobcats’ faithful heading into the season, a feeling that no Bobcats fan has probably felt since their one and only playoff appearance in 2010.
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No one truly expects the Charlotte Bobcats to make the playoffs this season and compete with the top-tier of teams in the Eastern Conference, but it does seem like the franchise is heading in the right direction for the first time in a while.
For as much criticism as owner Michael Jordan has received over the past few seasons for his decisions running the Charlotte Bobcats, it finally seems like he and GM Rich Cho made the right moves this offseason.
Whether it be putting together a solid coaching staff, or getting a big-time free agent in Jefferson to come to Charlotte, there is reason for hopefulness among everyone associated with the Bobcats organization. After taking some of the necessary first steps, this franchise should be ready to compete for another playoff appearance within the next couple of years – as the Charlotte Hornets.