Posted Jun 22 2011 6:33PM
As yet another Draft approaches, the problem for the Bobcats is ongoing. They still haven't found anyone to beat Michael Jordan; not in Jordan's prime, but right now.
Yes, at age 48, Jordan could probably take on Stephen Jackson (wouldn't you love to hear the trash-talking in that one?), the best player on the roster, and that's why the Bobcats won 34 games last season. Their owner looms larger, in so many ways, than anyone currently in uniform.
The best and most economical way to find a star is through the Draft, and while the Bobcats have often selected high in the past (four times in their first four years they drafted at No. 8 or higher), they never hooked that franchise player. They went for scorers (Adam Morrison), bigs (Emeka Okafor), point guards (Ray Felton), local favorites (Sean May) without getting anyone worth building a team around. And so, the Bobcats have had to make due with ringers obtained through trades and free-agent signings, players good enough to keep the team mired in mediocrity.
As Rich Cho, the new general manager, said: "One of the worst things you can do in this league is be a middle-of-the-road team."
They're still stuck in that regrettable rut, unable to go deep into the postseason or snatch a high pick. As a result, they're holding the No. 9 pick in a Draft that doesn't appear loaded with star potential. From where the Bobcats stand, it's a matter of waiting to see who falls and hoping for an unexpected and lasting surprise.
Hey, it happens. Kobe Bryant went 13, you know. Tony Parker lasted until 28. And on and on. A team must get lucky, and circumstances play a role. But yes, the Bobcats can find a keeper at No. 9. They're due.
While Charlotte is in no position to be choosy when help is needed everywhere on the roster, in a best-case scenario they'll wind up with someone who can fill it up. The Bobcats were next-to-last in scoring, which became a major challenge once Gerald Wallace was sent to Portland in mid-season (a deal created by Cho, then the Blazers' GM). With Jackson approaching middle-age, the urgency becomes even greater now, especially since there are no big scorers on the free-agent market.
The prime candidates, then: Klay Thompson of Washington State, who isn't bashful; Alec Burks, who brings a feathery touch from Colorado; and Kawhi Leonard, who sparkled at a basketball powerhouse known as, ahem, San Diego State. Any of these players would bring promise and fill a void; it's up to circumstance (which one is available at No. 9) and smarts that will dictate what happens from here.
The last time the Bobcats went for a scorer, Morrison became a tremendous flop, and for that reason you can forgive the Bobcats if they shiver before considering Jimmer Fredette, the BYU star who might still be on the board at No. 9.
"We need some athleticism," said Cho.
They also need a presence on the glass, which made it even more uncomfortable when they watched ex-Bobcat Tyson Chandler devour rebounds for the Mavericks in the postseason and NBA Finals. If one of the big Euros, Jan Vesely or Jonas Valanciunas, takes a tumble, then the Bobcats must seriously consider going for size and wrestling with the team scoring issues some other time.
Once again, Jordan's legacy as a basketball executive is on the line. That's why the Cho hire has significance. With a heavy background in academics and numbers-crunching, Cho is the geek the Bobcats didn't have before in the front office. He'll work closely with Rod Higgins, the president of basketball operations, and of course Jordan, who ultimately has final say on all matters of importance.
Jordan has said in the past he won't spend heavily on free agents unless the Bobcats are in position to challenge for a title. That makes sense, because unless there's a realistic run at a championship and/or a filled arena on a nightly basis, it makes no economic sense to have a $17 million-a-year guy. Therefore, it starts with the Draft. It starts with finding a building block and then surrounding such a player with help through free agency and trades. Once that vision is realized, only then will the Bobcats have someone other than the owner to put on a billboard.
"It's not going to happen overnight," Cho said.
Cho was a junior executive with Seattle/Oklahoma City when that club was in transition from the Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton era, and the Sonics/Thunder got lucky when the Blazers took Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant. And that's exactly what needs to happen in Charlotte but didn't in 2004, when Orlando took Dwight Howard at No. 1 instead of Okafor.
Eventually, something has to give. A star will finally arrive. Or Jordan will get too old to beat any of his players 1-on-1.
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