Posted Sep 7, 2012 9:42 AM
This is the last in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. For the other 13 teams, see "Related Content," at right.
Believing in a Charlotte Bobcats renaissance requires ignoring the recent history of the franchise and focusing solely on the future.
Forget about all the mistakes, on the court and off it, over the years. Look ahead!
That's easier said than done for fans of a franchise that has flirted with success (that playoff trip at the end of the 2009-10 season) only to follow it up by finishing the 2011-12 season as the worst team (winning less than 11 percent of their games) in NBA history.
No franchise in the league has a longer road to travel to respectability right now. There is no sugarcoating that fact.
That journey begins with baby steps for the Bobcats and owner Michael Jordan.
The Bobcats finished 2010 with a Hall of Fame coach (Larry Brown) and a core group of Stephen Jackson, Tyson Chandler and All-Star forward Gerald Wallace, the first All-Star in Bobcats history. They were swept by Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, but making the postseason for the first time was what was most important.
There are only shreds of that team remaining (Gerald Henderson was a rookie then and has grown up considerably since). The Bobcats have gone through countless roster twists and turns since then, culminating in a disastrous lockout-shortened season last year. A 16-game losing streak early in the season was followed by a franchise-record 23-game losing streak to end the season, pushing the Bobcats into their infamous record as the worst NBA team ever.
Adding insult to misery, the Bobcats went into the Draft lottery with the best chance to win the coveted No. 1 pick and the right to pick Anthony Davis ... but lost out to the Hornets. The silver lining for the Bobcats came in the form of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the versatile swingman who played alongside Davis on Kentucky's NCAA title team and the man Bobcats fans are hoping can have the same sort of impact on his new team that another No. 2 overall pick of recent lineage (Kevin Durant) has had on the Thunder and Oklahoma City.
The acquisition of veterans like Brendan Haywood, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon won't send fans rushing to the box office to buy tickets. But the Bobcats needed to add seasoned pros to their mix if they are going to begin the process of shedding their baby teeth for grown up fangs.
Henderson is one of the holdovers, along with second-year point guard Kemba Walker and big man Bismack Biyombo. All three former lottery picks remain works in progress, with Henderson being the most experienced and having made the greatest strides so far. Little else is left in the cupboard for new coach Mike Dunlap.
The biggest challenge for Dunlap (and, more importantly, Jordan and the Bobcats' brass) is to rid the franchise of the losing culture that has become the status quo the past eight years. The Bobcats used to be able to lean on the fact that they were an expansion franchise. Those days are over.
There is also a pressing need to identify leaders in the locker room and make sure that they are allowed to mature, on and off the court.
It's hard to tell exactly where the Bobcats are headed when so much of who and what they can become rests on the shoulders of men we've yet to see operate on the NBA stage.
Kidd-Gilchrist isn't an offensive dynamo by any stretch -- he's still a teenager -- but he's potentially an impact player on both ends of the floor and was considered by most everyone in the know to be the catalyst of that star-studded Kentucky team that romped through the NCAA Tournament.
As anxious as folks are to see what becomes of Kidd-Gilchrist in this environment, Dunlap is even bigger mystery. Kidd-Gilchrist was projected by all the pundits to be the second pick in the Draft no matter who wound up at No. 2. Tabbing Dunlap to lead this team, on the other hand, was a move no one saw coming.
There's no external pressure on the Bobcats to grind their way out of the lottery mud this season. So operating without the weight of unreasonable expectations is something that should work in the favor of Dunlap and the newcomers on the roster.
Still, if the Bobcats find a way to stay out of last place in the East ... well, baby steps first.
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