Rufus on Fire 2011-12 Season Preview (Perfect timing, eh?)

Ed. note: I know this seems pointless with the postponing of training camp and cancellation of exhibition games and the lockout still very much alive, but bear with us as we take a look at the Bobcats' outlook on the upcoming season.

Team Name: Charlotte Bobcats

Last Year's Record: 34-48

Key Free Agents: Starting center Kwame Brown is an unrestricted FA and former third-string point guard Garrett Temple signed overseas with an Italian team

Team Needs: Hoo boy. We need a center and a third-string, big defensive-minded point guard. Oh, and a guy who can gather many many point things. It would be good if he could put the ball through the hoop more often than the other team. A basketball robot built to make shots would be ideal, but it appears the Celtics already have him.

1. What are Charlotte's biggest needs this offseason?

First and foremost, this team needs offensive firepower. The team was already pretty weak on offense, relying on incredible defense with the playoff team consisting of Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, et al. And now that they've both been traded, there's a huge hole in scoring. Corey Maggette will partially fill this, but unless the other guys step up, there's a major scoring liability in this offense at nearly every other position besides the point guard.

The Bobcats also need a competent starting center. Kwame was great filling in last year after trades and injuries decimated the team's frontcourt. But he's just not a feasible solution for the Bobcats' need at center. He's a decent rebounder and mediocre scorer that is big. But for right now, that's all Charlotte needs. The Bobcats have no room to spend all willy-nilly on free agents. Kwame is an affordable and competent piece that wants to be in Charlotte to play for Paul Silas. With the Bobcats in rebuilding mode, they can't sign a big deal that anchors them down in the future, so Kwame's a fine fit.

As for the first option, the Bobcats don't have many options there either, unless they make some trades to free up cap space. Basically, Charlotte needs to find marginal, cheap NBA talent to fill the holes since they can neither afford the best free agents nor could those free agents launch the team to become a playoff caliber squad.

2. What are the Bobcats' biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths - They have some talented young players in D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas and the rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo (if his contract is indeed bought out).  They're not a bad defensive team and a defensive duo of Tyrus and Bismack may make opponents wet themselves, considering how insanely athletic and good at blocking shots they are. Augustin is a good point guard that isn't afraid to take the ball to the hole himself and is extremely cautious with the rock. He's not an outstanding playmaker and can't break opponents down like his new teammate Kemba Walker can, though. Walker has yet to see a single minute in an NBA game, but he's a speed demon, capable of changing direction with sharp cuts and he has great leaping ability which allows him to be a good finisher at the rim. Gerald Henderson is another one of the team's bright spots as one of the up-and-coming excellent defenders. Boris Diaw is, well, Boris Diaw. He's inconsistent but often a triple-double threat. 

Weaknesses - Corey Maggette is the team's best scoring option. Tyrus Thomas has a history of injury concerns. Boris Diaw doesn't play to his strengths. There are bad contracts by the bushel. The team is loaded with mediocre talent, some of which is still being developed, and the rest on the downslope. And they're young, so they'll probably make plenty of mistakes as the rookies feel out the game. Defending point guards is going trouble.

3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?

This is a tricky question because I don't know how contracts work in the event there is no season. Will Boris Diaw's contract expire as expected or will it expire after the next season? What happens with the draft? We don't know. If contracts end as expected, Diaw, Eduardo Najera and Dante Cunningham come off the books, leaving about $13.6 million more in cap space. That's the good thing. The most glaring negatives are that rookies will lose out a whole season when they should have gotten experience against NBA caliber teams and who knows how some of these players will react to a lockout that lasts so long. The Bobcats would at best be marginally better if the young guys work to develop their game, but that's so limited because players can only go so far without actual NBA competition to guide their progression.

4. If I could make one change in the CBA, what would it be?

Only the Bobcats are given the choice between drafting LeBron or Kevin Durant at league minimum salary.

OK, realistically, I want legitimately sustainable, healthy revenue sharing. The Bobcats need it to survive in their market until the fanbase can come together around a team built for success in the long run.

5. What would I do with Boris Diaw?

Diaw's in a neat spot right now with his expiring contract. The Bobcats could keep him, thereby releasing $9 million in salary from the books at the end of the year. They could trade him before the season. They could wait to see if he plays at a higher level (it is a contract year after all) and try to get more value in a deadline deal. Or they could re-sign him, but I just included that option because, hey, it's the Bobcats and anything's possible.

I'd probably keep Diaw and just let him expire. All things considered, unless he becomes LeBron-esque and averages near a triple-double, we're not getting much in return for an inconsistent 11-5-4 power forward. If we can get a late first round pick and only take on a contract that lasts one more year, I'd probably do it. But I just don't think that's happening. It's not worth giving up the cap space to get a second round pick while taking on $9 million for a one or more seasons and I can't see any team giving up a really talented youngster for a salary dump or a 'playoff push' deal that keys on Boris Diaw.

Another possibility is trading Diaw coupled with another Bobcat, but it would have to be a young player to bring back additional value. No team is stumbling over each other to get expiring Diaw and Gana Diop or Matt Carroll's contracts. But if you offer one of the younger guys, you may be able to get a decent draft pick out of it and possibly a contract you can stomach.

Barring feats of extraordinary talent and irrational offers, I'd just let him go. We'll need the cap space later.

Prediction

This team won't be very good. They're too young and just don't have the talent to compete yet. Without real scoring punch, they'll face constant offensive weakness.

But that's OK. These are the growing pains that come with rebuilding a team. This team had to get worse before it gets better. The development of the young players will be most important as the Bobcats need to figure out which players are in their long-term future and which aren't.

Assuming a full season, I'm guessing the Bobcats will be somewhere around 25-57. 

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