Solving Problems: Bobcats Jettisoning Vets
The title of this article is misleading. It suggests that jettisoning veterans is, in fact, the Charlotte Bobcats’ problem, and I suppose that it can’t really be denied that by giving away guys like Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, win totals are inevitably going to drop. But really, in the big picture of the franchise, dumping long-term contracts in favor of younger guys and draft picks is a much friendlier way to rebuild.
While you can make the playoffs behind guys like Wallace and Jackson, it probably would only ever happen as a seven or eight seed, and even then you’re most likely looking at a first-round loss.
When that happens, when a team is only good enough to barely miss the lottery, just sneak into the postseason, and then immediately lose, there’s simply no way to get better. You can’t win a ring, but you also can’t draft top rookies. Unless you get lucky with a late pick or a trade, there’s no way you’re ever going to slip out of that basketball purgatory unless you do something dramatic.
Something like, say, trading away all of your best players.
It’s really the only way for a team to truly rebuild. Sometimes, the only way to get better is to get worse.
In Charlotte’s case, that’s exactly what they’ve done. A year ago they made their first playoff appearance in franchise history, and within twelve months they had traded away the best player in their franchise’s history (Wallace) for Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, Joel Przybilla, the draft pick that would eventually turn into Tobias Harris (traded to Milwaukee as part of the deal that shipped out Jackson and brought back Corey Maggette and Bismack Biyombo), and a 2013 first-rounder. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t.
So why make the deal? Two reasons—first, they’re hoping Biyombo and whomever they get with that 2013 pick play a huge role in this rebuilding process. Secondly, they’re hunkering down to be bad for a few years so that they can stockpile a few more lottery picks and put together a core they can move forward and grow with.
Despite whatever talent they currently have on the payroll, the only ones that appear to be part of this long-term plan include Biyombo, fellow rookie Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Tyrus Thomas. If they’re bad enough in 2011-2012, and there’s no reason to think that they can’t be, they’ll have a shot at top-tier guys in June’s draft, as well. Anthony Davis, Quincy Miller, Harrison Barnes, and Jared Sullinger all are guys that could help alter the fate of a franchise, and that ’12 draft class has plenty more guys that could bloom into perennial all-stars as well.
A group built around the four current Bobcats listed above, plus Davis or Barnes, plus two more first-round picks in 2013 (maybe—eventually they’re going to have to give up a first-rounder to Chicago from the Tyrus Thomas trade) will be plenty young, but will also feature plenty of big-name talent from three or four consecutive draft classes.
That’s perfect for Charlotte, because in their current financial standing it’s ideal for their best players to be on rookie deals, anyway. Considering that literally every other big veteran contract on the book (Maggette, DeSagana Diop, Boris Diaw, Matt Carroll, and even D.J. Augustin should they decide to let him go) will expire either this coming summer or in the summer of 2013, the ‘Cats look like they’re in pretty good shape to be more or less where they want to be in two years’ time.
The real challenge—and this sounds odd, I know—is playing poorly enough in the meantime to contend for the draft picks they really need. They must resist the temptation to play the vets and instead give the younger players a full opportunity to learn and grow. If they can do that, then rebuilding will go much more smoothly, at least for the long-term.
It’s not going to be pretty in the meantime, but these types of things rarely are. What matters is that the organization drafts well, steers clear of any big veteran contracts, and lets the next generation of Charlotte Bobcats come into their own. If they can do that, they’ll be all right. Eventually.