By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Sep 22 2011 10:21AM
Michael Jordan probably has mixed feelings about being a bigger star than anyone on his payroll.
On one hand, it's a boost to the ego. A decade after he hung up his sneakers, Jordan still has swag. An entire generation that wasn't old enough to fully absorb the impact of his prime is snatching up his sneakers and anything else with a Jumpman logo. That must be such a rush for Jordan, being able to connect with kids younger than his own.
And yet ... at age 48, being the biggest star in Charlotte says plenty about what's wrong with his basketball team.
The Bobcats haven't found that special player mainly because the Bobcats have failed in the Draft. Adam Morrison, Sean May, Emeka Okafor, really, must we go on? It's a dreadful history. And the Bobcats need to rely on the Draft for their star search, because buying one is completely out of the question for Jordan, known for being tighter than any defense he ever saw (although Jordan has said when he gets a winning team, he'll spend).
Maybe the Draft pattern changes. Maybe Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo develop into the breakthrough players this franchise so desperately needs.
One is a point guard who became a household name for leading Connecticut to the NCAA championship, the other a mystery-aged big man who nonetheless impressed NBA folks with his energy and athleticism. They're the product of Rich Cho, the former Trail Blazers general manager hired last spring to help improve Charlotte's ability to judge up-and-coming talent.
The state of the Bobcats can't be completely laid at Jordan's hi-tops as their Draft misery predates him. Still, his legacy as a team executive is at stake, because the Bobcats as constituted are not only non-descript, they're quickly becoming irrelevant. Paul Silas, the 68-year-old grandfatherly coach, does bring credibility and likeability. And guards D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson are nice players, joined some nights in that regard by athletic forward Tyrus Thomas. But that's it. And those three players may never become stars.
The immediate fate of the Bobcats rests with next summer's cap surplus, which may fetch a decent free agent, but otherwise it is on Walker and Biyombo and whomever they get next June in a deep Draft.
Walker impressed the Bobcats from the first day of camp with his leadership and competitive spirit, things you can't teach. Silas gushes about him with the ball: "He pushes that thing, and his passing is so good."
Walker is coming off a national championship team, and while critics will say the same about May, who flamed out in Charlotte (injuries did play a role), Walker has a work ethic that sets him apart.
"Guys are bigger, faster and stronger," he said. "I've got to get stronger. As long as I keep working hard, things will fall into place for me."
There are some issues, however. Walker is rather small (listed at 6-1) and needs a better outside jumper. Also, he plays the same position as Augustin and you can't see them on the floor together in many if any situations. At some point, the Bobcats must make a choice.
As for Biyombo, his NBA entry was slowed by contractual and legal red tape involving his Spanish team. He just turned 19 (although some think he may be older) and is raw in so many ways, yet was impressive against U.S. select team members in the Nike Hoops Summit and also in individual workouts. He's a physical specimen who doesn't shy away from contact, a nice way of saying he needs time to become the next Ben Wallace.
They're trying to be the first Bobcats draft picks to become All-Stars and more important, the first to give the masses in Charlotte a reason to pack the house. In a previous basketball lifetime, that wasn't a problem in town. The Hornets routinely led the NBA in attendance and the main reason was their draft success. They took Larry Johnson and followed up with Alonzo Mourning and the franchise became an overnight sensation. Then George Shinn's personal behavior took a turn for the worse and, well, you know the rest.
Therefore, the support is there; it's just hiding and waiting for the Bobcats to give the OK to come out. That's something Jordan can't pull off. That's up to the incoming players who are wearing his sneakers and trying to fill those big shoes.
1. Ball, meet basket. Corey Maggette at 33 is the most accomplished scorer on the Bobcats. Let that marinate for a minute. Maggette has 12 years of tread and was mainly a bust in Milwaukee (where averaged a career-low 12 points) and yet the Bobcats want/need him to carry the offensive freight. That says much about the plight of the Bobcats, who lack the punch to win a pillow fight. But if Maggette can get to the line often and the Bobcats can score in transition, they can find a way.
2. Paul Silas must be patient. This is Silas' first full season in Charlotte and he isn't exactly handling a deck full of aces. He must mix rookies and young players with veterans and create a comfortable blend that can be competitive most nights. Mostly, he needs to develop a future star, someone who'll be turning the corner by March and April. With expectations running on empty in Charlotte, Silas can conduct his business without much pressure.
3. Play some D and slow it down. The Bobcats became a respectable team in the wake of Silas' hiring last season because they stuck to the basics, meaning, they slowed the tempo and played defense. That's really the only way this team can stay in games, make it close and give itself a chance at the end. Until the Bobcats find or develop ago-to guy, a collective effort on both ends is the only way to go.
1. This may be the least attractive roster in basketball. There are no All-Stars, first- or second-team All-NBAers, statistical leaders, trend-setters or game-changers. The Bobcats don't have anyone who scares anybody, not a single player that you'd pay to see. And you wonder why owner Michael Jordan was a hard-liner who wouldn't have cried if the season was lost to the lockout?
2, Attendance may become an issue. Unless the Bobcats do something totally unexpected -- like, win plenty of games and play 48 minutes of entertaining basketball -- big crowds might be hard to come by at home. There's much work to be done by the resident pro team here in college basketball country, in an area hit hard by the recession.
3, Can Jordan repair his image with players? More than a few of them (mostly under their breath) called Jordan a sellout during the labor negotiations, which was silly because Jordan made it possible for today's players to enjoy nice paydays. Anyway, will the Jordan Brand feel a backlash? The hunch: Not even.
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LAST YEAR: 34-48, 4th in Southeast
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
D.J. AUGUSTIN, POINT GUARD
14.4 PPG | 6.1 APG | 2.7 RPG
Augustin had a solid season as the Bobcats' starter and finished 18th in total assists. He could see his role diminished with the addition of Kemba Walker.
GERALD HENDERSON, SHOOTING GUARD
9.6 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 1.5 APG
With Stephen Jackson traded to Milwaukee, Henderson should see his minutes rise. Charlotte has to hope he improved his outside shot as he made just seven 3s in 68 games.
COREY MAGGETTE, SMALL FORWARD
12.0 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 1.3 APG
Maggette joins his fifth team and should give Charlotte some scoring punch. A telling stat: he's averaged 20 ppg in seven of his 12 seasons, but he's been to the playoffs once.
BORIS DIAW, CENTER
11.3 PPG | 5.0 RPG | 4.1 APG
Woefully out of position, and perpetually out of shape, Diaw nonetheless is the most skilled big man on the roster.
TYRUS THOMAS, CENTER
14.4 PPG | 5.7 RPG | 1.1 BPG
A reliable shot-blocker and rebounder must develop consistency, rather than reeling off a few highlights.
|Kemba Walker||6-1||175||G||Led UConn to a national title; leading 'Cats will be tougher.|
|Eduardo Najera||6-8||235||F||Veteran journeyman is a gap-filler, but can't play 25 minutes a night.|
|Bismack Biyombo||6-9||230||F||Bobcats hoping impressively built rookie big can block some shots.|
ADDED: G Kemba Walker, F Bismack Biyombo, F Derrick Brown, G Reggie Williams, F Corey Maggette, F-C Melvin Ely, C Byron Mullens
LOST: C Kwame Brown, G Stephen Jackson, G Shaun Livingston
TYRUS THOMAS, FORWARD
Tyrus Thomas is an example of someone rewarded for what he might be someday. He played only one year at LSU but was the fourth overall pick anyway because of his springy athleticism and impressive NCAA tourney. And then after four years of spotty results with the Bulls, the Bobcats traded for him and gave him $40 million over five years. NBA scouts just can't help themselves when it comes to 6-10 athletes, whether these players can (a) actually demonstrate some pure basketball skills and (b) show a dogged work ethic. With career averages of eight points and five rebounds you wonder if Thomas will ever wow anyone before he loses his athletic gifts and gets compared to Stromile Swift. Remember, Thomas is now 25. Now is the time.