NBA Preview: Charlotte Bobcats (Part 1)

Tonight, the NBA season starts. It will be the Charlotte Bobcats' fifth consecutive losing season. Barring a major roster overhaul, failure is the team's most likely outcome.

It didn't have to be this way. Some simple history illustrates the folly of the Bobcats' roster management, and I won't even go into detail about how much they've overpaid various players.

In the NBA's modern era, there have been exactly 4 teams, out of more than 50, that made it to the Finals without a clear-cut no-doubt Hall of Fame talent leading them. Those teams were:

1998-99 New York Knicks -- Technically, Patrick Ewing led them to the 8 seed, but he was injured at the end of the season and missed the entire playoffs run he succumbed to an Achilles injury after the second game of the Eastern Conference Finals and is mainly remembered for missing the rest of that series and the NBA Finals. It was also a lockout-shortened season, so the final season results aren't as informative about those teams' relative abilities.

1999-00 Indiana Pacers -- Reggie Miller was past his prime, and while Rik Smits was really, really, good, he was also at the end of the line and would retire after the season due to foot injuries. Jalen Rose was also pretty good that season, but none of them played like Hall of Famers that year.

2003-04, 2004-05 Detroit Pistons -- This recent incarnation of the Pistons dynasty had three players who will get Hall of Fame consideration when all is said and done, and a fourth perennial All Star candidate. Chauncey, Rasheed, and Rip will go down as the trio that took down the Lakers Super Team, and Tayshaun will be known as the perfect sidekick for them, perpetually underrated. They are the only team in modern NBA history that actually succeeded with the Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts strategery. Of course, those parts were ridiculously good at basketball to begin with.

The Bobcats do not have a transcendent player. They have three players who, under the right circumstances, might have an outside shot at playing in an All Star Game: Okafor, Richardson, and G-Force. Just for reference, last season, only one playoff team did not feature an All Star, and that team, the Philadelphia 76ers, had Andre Iguodala playing out of his mind, a shockingly effective Andre Miller, an emerging Louis Williams, and a steady Samuel Dalembert. In other words, the best a team could do without an All Star was the 7 seed in the significantly weaker conference. The year before, Chicago and Golden State made the playoffs without an All Star on the roster--in retrospect, those were two hugely overachieving teams, even accounting for Baron on GS.

Seems like the first step to making the playoffs is obtaining a perennial All Star. As crazy as it seems, teams are generally unwilling to give up two or three good players for that one great player that could lead them to the playoffs, and, potentially, a championship. If it takes giving up Jason Richardson (easy, because he has a bad contract) and Gerald Wallace (tough, because he's the heart of the team and has a good contract) in order to get the likes of Carmelo, you do it. I'm not saying I know exactly how to get it done, or if it has been on the table, but once you get one All Star, half the work is done, because either another All Star or a solid supporting cast puts the Conference Finals within sight. Get both, and you're a title contender. But it all starts with an All Star.

That's the super-simplified explanation for why the Bobcats' season will be miserable yet again. Okafor and Mohammed is a reasonable front court. Wallace, Richardson, and Felton is a reasonable back three. But the team's best lineup is small, going Felton, Carroll/Dudley, Richardson, Wallace, Okafor/Mohammed, in order to take full advantage of Felton, Wallace, and (somewhat) Richardson's abilities off the dribble. Sean May might find a place somewhere in there, when healthy, but I'm not optimistic. There is little use for Adam Morrison.

Everything is so damn reasonable, but nothing the Cats can show will be exceptional. If nothing is exceptional, then they are, by NBA Playoffs definition, an also-ran. By definition, the season will be miserable.

They will not improve upon last year's performance. I predict a 32-50 record.

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