Friday, February 25, 2011

Gerald Wallace and the Bobcats' special need

I'm not an expert on the NBA. You probably know by now that I'm not an expert on ANYTHING -- the old line goes, journalists don't know anything, they just know how to find out.

If you want expertise on the Gerald Wallace trade you should to go to Rick Bonnell or Tom Sorensen or Scott Fowler, or pretty much anybody else. I'm just a casual Bobcats fan -- I watch on TV every once in a while and go to one or two games a year. So understand that going in.

Here are a few things about the Bobcats that seem obvious to me.

1. They weren't going anywhere this year. Even with Wallace they were 25-32, a game and a half out of the playoffs. Even if they did make the playoffs they'd get killed by Boston or Miami or Orlando.

2. Not many people were coming to the games anyway. Against Toronto the other night, scads of seats in the lower bowl were empty. People who want to come see the Lakers or Celtics are going to come regardless of the Bobcats' roster. I'm not sure how many people bought tickets because Gerald Wallace played here.

(I should stop here and say that Wallace was my favorite Bobcat -- he was good at a dozen different little things and always hustled. I'm just talking about him as a ticket draw.)

3. The Bobcats need stars -- not just to draw fans, but to win titles. My buddy Joe talked about this the other day in the context of Carmelo Anthony going to the Knicks. It's been more than 30 years since a team won an NBA title without one or two of the top players in the league. Wallace was one of our two best players. Stephen Jackson is the other. I'm not sure either one would start for any of the six or seven best teams in the league. It's not 100% clear that Wallace is even going to start for Portland, which is 32-25 and seventh in the West.

4. No top free agents are going to come here. This might be the hardest to swallow for the diehard Bobcats fan, who dreams of seeing Dwight Howard or Chris Paul in the home team's uniform. But the Bobcats play in one of the smallest markets in the NBA, with one of the quietest home crowds, and no history of winning. Even a maximum contract wouldn't lure a truly great player here.

Those four points naturally lead to a fifth: The only chance the Bobcats have is to build through the draft. That's why the Wallace deal makes sense -- it brings two first-round picks in return. No question the Bobcats will be worse in the short term. But the absolute ceiling of the current team -- even with Wallace -- was winning a game or two in the first round of the playoffs.
That team wasn't worth saving.

But I think there's more to it than just taking the best players in the draft. The Bobcats have to be looking for a certain kind of player -- someone with the talent to be a star, but the personality to be happy in Charlotte.

Their role model should be the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have been a relevant NBA team for the last 25 years because of two draft picks: John Stockton and Karl Malone. Neither was a high pick -- Stockton went 16th in 1984, Malone went 13th in '85. But together they created one of the greatest two-man combos in NBA history.

They became stars who commanded huge salaries and could have played anywhere they wanted. But at the core, both were small-town guys -- Malone played college ball at Louisiana Tech, Stockton at Gonzaga. They knew they had a good thing in Salt Lake City. The Jazz kept their core, and filled in around them with role players. That Jazz team never won a title -- thank the Bobcats' owner for that -- but they went to the Finals twice, and Utah has kept winning even after Stockton and Malone retired.

San Antonio took Tim Duncan -- from Wake Forest, via the Virgin Islands -- with the first pick in 1997. He was immediately a star and could have gone anywhere. He stayed and the Spurs have won four titles.

That's why the worst moment in Bobcats history was taking Adam Morrison with the third pick in 2006. He was the right kind of guy, I think -- a quiet kid from Gonzaga (Stockton's old school). Only problem was, he couldn't play. A team like the Bobcats can't afford for any first-round pick to flame out.

The team has drafted better recently -- D.J. Augustin is a solid NBA starter, and with Wallace gone, we're about to find out if Gerald Henderson is, too. Michael Jordan, as owner of the Bobcats, has so far been all about saving money -- the Nazr Mohammed deal shows that. But it makes sense for now. Who's he going to spend it on? A couple more players who will get the Bobcats from average to decent? The big free agents who don't stay home are going to Miami or Boston or L.A. -- places with warm weather or free-spending owners or lots of history.

But you can still win in the NBA from the bottom up. The Bobcats' only chance is to keep adding picks, and keep drafting the right kind of guys, and hope. It seems like a mess right now. But there's a pony in there somewhere. And the Bobcats have to find it.


JAT said...

Let's get this straight: It is NBA Finals or bust for CLT's NBA franchise?


When I came to CLT in 1978 I had to dive into the agate type of The Charlotte News for standings, results, and -- holy of holies -- the occasional box score. I stayed up past and THRU Mike McKay and Those Were The Years on WBTV for TAPE DELAYED NBA Finals. I'm no NBA hater.


The NBA has become AAU ball with mega-millions in place of swag; agents in place of shoe hustlers.

It is not enough to try to put a competitive, entertaining team on the floor -- the near year-in, year-out playoff team we were told was the solution to the Bobcats' local malaise WAAAY back in 2010.

Now it is swing for the fences, hope the ping-pong balls bounce right, hope that some agent sees a margin in your deal, hope that the 19-yr-old you draft on potential alone can really play; don't engage the fanbase with service details, dazzle them with supasta' hype. Provided the superstars come -- and if they do not?

I honestly do not get it. I was contemplating spending good money to go see a Bobcat game this year. Not now.

And as near as I can tell, I am being told not to bother until the Bobcats have at least three certified All-Stars on their roster.

When that happens, drinks are on me big guy.

Bonus Word: Contraction.

Anonymous said...

Tommy this your best op ed yet. I'm glad someone else in this city has sense because the average band wagon fan has been screaming murder since 4pm yesteday. I love Gerald but he was the classic case of buy low sell high. I think we made a smart move especially when he might have had only another 3 or 4 years of injury prone basketball left.

tommy tomlinson said...

Well, let's play it the other way, then. The other direction is this: You keep GW, take a little saved money and pick up another B-level free agent. So does that team ever even make it to the second round of the playoffs? If so, are you satisfied with that? And more to the point, will enough fans ever come to see that team?

Not without a Muggsy, they won't.

I'm with you on the service details -- it sounds like MJ is really working the business side, trying to add some value to people who buy tix. The other night they were upgrading tickets for people who followed on Twitter. All that's too the good. But the buzz of just having an NBA team is long gone. The only thing that will draw fans long-term (aside from Jordan putting on a uni) is winning.

And the reason they have to build through the draft is exactly because of what you said. It's an AAU league and the top franchises can build dream teams. The Bobcats can't compete when it comes to buzz or weather or history. Neither can about 20 other NBA teams. I don't think the Bobcats can aspire to multiple titles, but they can aspire to be at the top of that non-LA, MIA, BOS, ORL tier. Get up there and you can do some damage.

I guess my question is, do you want to watch an OK team that will never be much more than OK, or a below-average that has a chance to one day be great? The Bobcats have to know they'll take a hit on tickets in the short term... but if they cash in, they REALLY cash in. And if they whiff, they get back to the current level and start over again.

That's pretty much all pro sports now, right?

And by the way, I watched those tape-delayed playoffs in the '70s, too. Fond memories of Billy Ray Bates at 11:30 p.m....

Eric Frazier said...

I agree with a lot of what you're saying Tommy, but I'd feel a LOT better if those two first round picks were higher (I hear they're around the 20th pick). The Bobcats have messed up much higher picks than these. Seems like hoping against hope to think they'll pluck top-flight players out at No. 20. I'd like to be wrong, but...

Cedar Posts said...

I've sat a few games next to Chief Monroe (nice seats) and a couple on the other side of the court first row, this year. As with last year I wasn't impressed.

The view is great but TV cables to trip over and lack of any real perks would keep me from laying out the big bucks to entertain clients.

The food is better than last year but only slightly.

One game (Miami) in the sky box was nice but not if you want to experience the game.

The cable box is dark and seedy, although the thug crowd has declined its still not family entertainment.

Sure an "all star" team would drive sales but value would fill the seats with a team that played with heart.

I've also spent time in the straight up there seats and while the view is nice its so far from the action it might as well be on my 54" Sony.

I have no idea what made the Hornets fill the old place to the rafters but it was awesome!

Maybe we need teal uniforms?

Anonymous said...

To build thru the draft you must be able to evaluate talent.....come on Tommy.....who are we talkin about....lets not kiss up here....this team needs a GM ... this team needs a has nothing

MichaelProcton said...

"Declined?" Hell, the "thug crowd" (and most of my college buddies) are priced out of anything but watching what look like ants from the rafters.