I answered the best I could, noting the importance of making strides after being infamously and historically impotent for two seasons, yet also making sure to stress that it would ultimately be worth little if the season's success could not be fostered into a longer period of playoff contention. Still, ascertaining what value the playoffs could have a month before the Bobcats clinched a playoff seeding was difficult and abstract.
Now that the Bobcats have actually sealed themselves into postseason play with a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, putting them over .500, it's become a bit easier to find the pulse on the value of the playoffs.
Perhaps the easiest way to see the value is to juxtapose the current season with the one just two years ago.
Two years ago on this day, the Bobcats lost their 47th game of the season, a 20-point drubbing by the Atlanta Hawks. Ivan Johnson, who currently plays in China, was their second-best scorer that night, dropping 17 points on Charlotte's foul defense. Byron Mullens and Cory Higgins combined to take 34 of the Bobcats' 81 field goal attempts. Mullens alone had about a quarter of the Bobcats' shots, finishing with 17 points on 7-for-19 shooting. The Bobcats would go on to lose every game following this one.
Due to the lockout, that season was shortened to 66 games. The Bobcats' lost nearly 90 percent of their games that season and the one above was just one of the 24 losses by a difference of 20 points or more. That's right, they lost more than a third of their games in the way of embarrassing blowouts. Every game was over by the first half, if not before then. If the Bobcats hadn't been the butt of most NBA jokes in the years before the lockout season, they certainly took the crown back after that year.
Whatever goodwill and bon mots they got for their 2010 playoff spot was subsequently destroyed in brisk fashion as their shortsightedness bit them in the ass. The team collapsed under a surly Hall of Fame coach who felt the team's front office wouldn't cooperate with his desires, though he himself had left them with few, if any, options to work with. The only player to ever be an All-Star for the Charlotte Bobcats was dealt the following season for cap space and draft picks. Everything fell apart, both on the court and in the locker room, and the Bobcats had little choice but to shred the roster where they could for future assets.
During the two seasons that followed, playoff basketball in Charlotte was nigh on impossible to imagine. I mean, at one point the Bobcats started Kemba Walker, Matt Carroll, Derrick Brown, Tyrus Thomas and Byron Mullens. The simple fact that the Bobcats' front office had to seriously ponder if it should invest in Byron Mullens to be a building block for their future says it all.
Yet, here we are two seasons and two coaches later. With so much roster and coaching turmoil, I'm not sure anyone predicted the Bobcats to come out on such solid footing. To have come out of that rock bottom situation as they have has been a sight to behold.
I'm still not sure how to assign value to a playoff spot, but I feel it's worth a great deal to me, and in my interactions with the Bobcats' fan community, to a lot of other folks.
This has been one hell of a ride, watching the Bobcats wrap up their existence with perhaps the best Bobcats' team they've ever had.
The new Bobcats have a vibrant pulse that many have taken note of, yet they still fly a little under the radar as a lower seed in the Eastern Conference, notorious for its weak competition in comparison to the West's. But therein lies the thrill: The Bobcats have improved month-by-month on offense (via John Schuhmann), adding a more balanced offensive show to a talented defense orchestrated by first-time head coach Steve Clifford, who has blazed onto the scene so brightly that ESPN has him ranked as a top-10 coach in the NBA. They're making their crescendo at the best time, poised to play their best basketball in the postseason.
The sheer thought that the Bobcats are playing exciting basketball in 2014 with room to grow is so incredible in the context of their recent history that even without a playoff spot, I'd be thrilled. But for them to be relevant after the regular season ends just adds to the value of this season.
I can only speak for myself here, but this season has been my favorite as a Bobcats' fan. The 2009-10 Bobcats may have been better, but this team has so much more going for it. They have a better post-All-Star break record and are much-better set for the future beyond this season.
Their stunning turnaround has been a delight to watch, especially in that they've improved as the season's gone on. Al Jefferson's footwork on the block and pump fakes make me giddy. Kemba Walker's crafty crossovers are stunning both to me as a viewer and to opponents. Josh McRoberts' versatility as a passer and shooter adds another dimension of fun to a team that's come to be much better at passing. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's defense, and the team's as a whole, is their foundation and deftly frustrates their opponents. Put all together, the Bobcats have developed over the course of the season into a team that's very fun to watch, even if their fate is not destined to last long in the postseason. You know what, Milhouse? Fun is fun.
There are still plenty of question marks abound, of course. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's development needs to make bigger strides if he is to make an impact beyond just defensively. The Bobcats have draft picks and cap space to utilize in their future but Al Jefferson is 29 and as a cornerstone of their team, will be tough to replace as the years add up. Rich Cho's skills as General Manager are much better in the way of trades and fiscal management than his return on draft picks. Make no doubt about it, the Bobcats' future is not all cloudless sunny skies, but such is the case for pretty much any team.
However, the Bobcats have plenty of future assets to add to the current team in the form of future cap space and draft picks, including possibly two this year if Detroit's falls outside of the top eight picks. If not this year, the Bobcats could even get a better pick next year if the Pistons are even worse as the pick protection loosens next year.
They could have ridden out another season of bottoming-out basketball, trying their luck for a great draft pick while giving plenty of playing time to young players in flinging metaphorical pencils into the foamboard ceiling tile to see what sticks. I would have been fine with that, given the talent that's headed for the draft this summer. But I'm not making the decisions for the Bobcats and after a few seasons of putting your job performance behind the probabilities of a ping-pong ball-machine, maybe it was time to shift gears.
Ultimately, we might not be able to see the full value -- for better or for worse -- until after this season runs its course and the impact unfolds. And that's OK.
There's something poetic about the Bobcats ending their "Bobcats" existence on a franchise high note. Being a Bobcats fan has been confounding and frustrating at times, but that's part of the ride that gives us the value we derive from the team each year. Aside from the geographical ties and excitement in sports, we find ourselves forming bonds with teams because we might see characteristics in the team that we also see in ourselves: the highs, the lows, the transitional periods.
As the Bobcats metaphorically die making their farewell tour before being resurrected as the Hornets this summer, they are determined leave us on a high note.
The odds are not on their side. They have holes in the roster that teams with more talent will likely exploit and they will probably fall and their season will end and the team known as the Bobcats will be no more and that's how life is sometimes.
That's the way it goes. But the value in sports isn't based solely on championships. There is much to be said, and has been said, for the value of the journey rather than the destination, and for that I have found this Bobcats season to be worth so much.