My Bobcats nation--
Excuse me, our Bobcats nation.
Today I speak to you, the proud and obviously masochistic fans (myself included) of Charlotte's only NBA team, on a concern that has been a constant worry for years on end now: the state of the center of the Charlotte Bobcats.
It's always seemed bad in the past, with the most talented center in franchise history after Emeka Okafor being Primoz Brezec. But we are about to experience what bad really is this coming season.
As the roster exists now, only one center is under contract - DeSagana Diop, the injury-prone 7-footer from Senegal.
I am well aware Diop is a nice, hard-working fellow with clear basketball skills. However, he is monstrously overpaid for his production, due just shy of $7 million this season and about $7.3 million next year. It is nearly a forgone conclusion that Diop will be a casualty of the amnesty clause (though Corey Maggette may also be an option) provided in the new CBA (that still has yet to be ratified by the players), in which NBA teams may cut one player from their roster prior to an NBA season, paying the player their full guaranteed contract but without it counting against the salary cap.
The reason for concern here is that Diop is the only true center on the team headed into free agency. Soon to be 30 years old in January, Diop is not getting any younger and injuries will certainly play a big role in his future. He is a defensive-minded center that is nearly completely incompetent on offense. In the past two years, Diop has scored a total of 52 points. His touch on the ball is poor and his shooting is worse. But his defense (and being really tall) is where he makes the big bucks. Though slow-footed, he has the ability to force opponents to change their shots with the threat of his limbs deflecting misguided attempts away from the basket. He's also a decent rebounder, though his offensive rebounding leaves much to be desired.
Yet because he can't stay on the court and has numerous shortcomings in his game, he looks to be the clear-cut leader in the race to be amnestied.
Which would leaves the Bobcats with zero centers under contract.
Now, the team could attempt to play small ball with Tyrus Thomas at center, but he matches up less well against the more physical centers on defense (remember when Andrew Bogut dropped 18 points in the first quarter against Thomas last season? I am aware Tyrus was coming off of an injury, but still, he's not strong enough to handle those centers). Or you could move Diaw to center, which is not a great option except in small ball situations due to his height and reach and lack of athleticism.
If you recall, the Bobcats did draft a power-forward/center in Bismack Biyombo in this year's draft.
Many analysts and fans wonder whether he can even play center in the NBA. I believe he can. He is less than average height as far as NBA centers tend to measure, coming in at 6-foot-9.5-inches in his sneakers (according to Draft Express). A little undersized, perhaps. But you don't block shots with your noggin. His standing reach is incredible at 9 feet, 3.42 inches, which is .08 inches shy of one Mr. Dwight Howard's measurements. I've seen him scratch his knees without bending at the waist. Biyombo is also quite athletic with explosion that sends him into the stratos whenever he jumps. Further, he is strong. Really strong. And nearly devoid of body fat, it would seem. His shotblocking and rebounding are his largest strengths, as well as his pure determination to be the best at each of those.
But it's his weaknesses on the other side of the ball that worry me. His offense leaves much to be desired, to say the least. Lacking good touch, ballhandling and awareness of double-teams based on his play in the ACB (see Sebastian Pruiti's analysis here), he will probably find himself struggling against quick, smothering NBA defenses, forcing himself into bad shots or turnovers. This would especially be the case if he is expected to make the transition to the NBA off of two weeks of training camp before the shortened NBA season.
However, that likely won't be the case because his contract with Fuenlabrada, his Spanish ACB team, is holding him back from coming to America. Fuenlabrada wants the $1.4 million buyout on his contract and with the $500,000 the Bobcats are permitted to contribute, Biyombo must come up with the remaining $900,000. Making more of a problem, FIBA has refused to permit Biyombo with a Letter of Clearance (LoC) as they still see him under contract with Fuenlabrada. And so now Biyombo and his consultants have decided to sue Fuenlabrada for breach of contract, with the court date set for December 19. If Biyombo wins, he is expected to be able to sign with the Bobcats immediately, but even then he would have already missed two weeks of vital training camp preparation. A resolution may not come quickly, so the Bobcats cannot rely on Biyombo being in Charlotte by the start of the season.
The situation for center becomes critical at this junction. There may be zero centers under contract for the Bobcats come December 9. So they must look at their options elsewhere.
Kwame Brown is probably the number one priority for the Bobcats' free agency, with all things considered. He credits Paul Silas and the Bobcats for his career resurgence and finding confidence that he had never had before. Any other year, this could be an easy signing. But with a turbulent shortened free agency period ahead, Kwame could face offers that go beyond what the Bobcats are willing to pay for his talent. Considering their numerous other needs (big point guard, scoring swingman, more centers), they are probably looking at limited spending capacity, especially with the Bobcats in a rebuilding phase where spending for big contracts in down years would not be the wisest option. Young talent and filling holes should be the main focuses for them. If I could give the team any advice, it would be "don't take any big risks." This free agency class is far too weak and thoughts will be far too rushed for rational offers, so don't handicap the future for this free agency.
Other than Kwame, I'm looking at... [scans list of free agent centers]... . Oh God. Um. Hammed Haddadi? Jeff Foster? D.J. Mbenga? DeAndre Jordan would be a nice look, but I expect him to get some big offers from other teams. And the others will undoubtedly get more money that the Bobcats should be willing to pay out. Man, this is a rough list. Maybe even look to see the Bobcats sign some guys up from the D-League.
These are dark times for the Bobcats' men who man the paint, if there are any. Hopefully help will come soon.
Man, I'm glad I'm not Rich Cho or Rod Higgins right now.