There are very few things that fans can point to with genuine interest when their team is coming off not making the playoffs and trading away its two best players. After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history the season before, the message sent by the Charlotte Bobcats' front office was pretty clear: we're cleaning house.
And cleaning house meant getting rid of the most popular player in franchise history in Gerald Wallace, and perhaps the best basketball player in franchise history in Stephen Jackson. Wallace and Jackson were as close to being the face of the franchise (Wallace particularly) as any player (save maybe Emeka Okafor) has ever been. And they were certainly the driving force behind the Bobcats' playoff run.
But their exit made it very clear that the Bobcats were going to make changes. And it also meant that in all likelihood the team would be worse this year. The prospect of being worse than a team that missed the playoffs is not an exciting one. But the draft can often provide a ray of hope for fans destined to spend their season schedule watching for attractive opponents coming in town.
When you've got a draft pick, especially one with even a little bit of intrigue, you can look forward to seeing how his first season plays out. You can talk yourself into getting excited to see if his infusion can shake things up at all. Luckily for the Bobcats, they have two such players in Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo.
Both are playing positions that are pretty firmly held down by veteran players. In fact, with Walker playing behind D.J. Augustin and Biyombo playing behind Boris Diaw, the two rookies are backing up the players who played the most minutes of any Bobcat last year, each averaged almost 34 a night. We'll see Walker and Augustin on the floor at the same time, and the same will probably be true for Biyombo and Diaw.
The introduction of Biyombo, the commitment the team has made to Tyrus Thomas and Diaw being the last year of his contract makes for an interesting situation at power forward. There are two schools of thought surrounding Biyombo. The first is that he's a skilled athlete with NBA ready rebounding and blocking ability who's light years away from being a steady contributor on offense. The other is that he's a skilled athlete.
I choose to believe that Biyombo's two proven skills (blocking and rebounding) can and will translate to the NBA and he will be able to contribute this year. (ASTERISK! ASTERISK! Biyombo's contract with his Spanish team is still in dispute. However everything from Biyombo's camp seems to indicate he'll be ready for the start of the season. We'll keep you posted.) But here's the thing about Diaw, he's the most skilled basketball player on the Bobcats roster this year, and maybe since the team has been in the league. He can play all five positions and it's obvious Paul Silas trusts him, so he's going to play, a lot.
I don't anticipate seeing a complete changing of the guard (or forward as it were) but the Bobcats need a lottery pick to pan out. In reality, Charlotte gets a much worse wrap than it should for some of the misfires on draft night. Okafor was a no-brainer to select right behind Dwight Howard. The two moves that should have been made were trading what turned out to be the picks for Raymond Felton and Sean May to move up and grab Chris Paul in 2005. The second was taking Brandon Roy over Adam Morrison in 2006, yes even with the knee injuries.
Other than that, no one can, or should, blame the Bobcats for their draft night moves. The only other choice that would have looked better was Brook Lopez over D.J. Augustin. At the time they had Felton, and adding Lopez would have given them a legit center. But I'm over that, I swear.
Point being the perception of the Bobcats, and to a larger extent Michael Jordan, is of draft night misfires. And taking a chance on Biyombo is still seen as a risk by many. Will that influence anything when it comes to playing time? I wouldn't think so. Biyombo will have to earn his way onto the floor, but he'll certainly be watched until he does.
Thomas was signed to stay in Charlotte and barring injury he will have to see time on the floor as well. And barring injury he should see time on the floor. Obviously Thomas and Biyombo are the athletes that Diaw is not. They are better suited to run from one end of the floor to the other many times in a row...what I'm saying is they're younger, seemingly in better shape (although it's damn amazing Diaw continues to just keep playing and playing...he plays basketball a lot!) and will be able to play a more up tempo style of basketball. I think that will be important this year as the Cats try to put an exciting product on the floor.
But Thomas doesn't seem to be able to stay healthy, so it is likely he'll miss some time. Diaw played in every game last year. When healthy, a three-way split of some sort will likely reduce Diaw's minutes from last season, which could prove to be a positive. I think they'll be able to play Biyombo at center as well.
Bottom line is Biyombo is going to get his shot to play, the Bobcats made a move to grab him in the draft last year for a reason and they'll no doubt want to see what he can do, hopefully they already know. However he'll have to earn his keep.
Diaw is in the last year of his contract, and like I said has really been a stable force and productive for this team. He does just about everything and quite frankly this team isn't flush with talent so he's going to be a leader again.
Reserves D.J. White and Dante Cunningham played well for Charlotte, particularly at the end of last year. Cunningham is a restricted free agent, and the Cats chose to extend him a qualifying offer. Charlotte could always opt to sign additional help I suppose. Kris Humphries would be a great addition to this team just based on production, only production. He's a double-double waiting to happen but something tells me Charlotte might not be his destination of choice, and if I was a contending team in need of boards I might give him a look too.
Josh McRoberts on the other hand seems like someone the Bobcats could take a legitimate swing at. He would certainly add scoring to the position, and in a kinda sorta way reminds me of a younger Diaw. He's a skilled big man who can do a lot of things, and he's a very good athlete. Plus, he made a "White Men Can't Jump" online parody to get himself into the
Blake Show Dunk Contest last year.
Earl Clark would be intriguing. The Bobcats could have drafted Clark in 2009 but Charlotte took Gerald Henderson earlier (another win on draft night if you ask me). Clark has a TON of upside and on a team like this why not take a few shots on guys like that at the right price?
These are educated stabs in the dark. I don't see the Bobcats making a huge splash in free agency this year, and honestly I'm hopeful they don't try. This class is not exactly power packed, and seems to me Charlotte would be better served assessing exactly what it is they have on the roster right now.
The power forward position, with Diaw, Thomas and Biyombo, is one place the fans can look to for success and perhaps some interesting change.