Every league has them. In the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have worn the “Factory Of Sadness” title since they came back to town in 1999. The Kansas City Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985. And in the NBA, since their induction in 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats have been the NBA’s doormat, a sad, sorry excuse for a team-turned fascinating case study in Michael Jordan’s ability to tolerate losing.
After years of toiling away, though, that glaring ineptitude might be circling down the drain. A solid off-season has left the Bobcats with a shiny new front-court: fourth overall pick Cody Zeller and free agent Al Jefferson. Both represent remarkable upgrades over the Josh McRoberts-Bismack Biyombo-Byron Mullens trifecta that Charlotte was implementing last year, and not just because they aren’t the aforementioned players.
Jefferson has long been an elite low-post machine, excelling at getting buckets inside. And Cody Zeller – though young – projects to be a big in the mold of LaMarcus Aldridge: capable of playing all around the floor, more than comfortable at taking the mid-range shot. The two should complement each other perfectly.
Combine that with a developing backcourt in Kemba Walker, 23 years old, averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.7 APG with an 18.86 PER last season, and Gerald Henderson, still only 25; averaged 15.5 PPG with a 16.48 PER. There’s 19 year-old small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who didn’t score a lot last year, but everyone knew it was going to take a couple of years for his offense to come around. For all intents and purposes, MKG still has to be considered one of the best two-way prospects in basketball.
Put all those factors together and, whadayaknow, the Bobcats will be trotting out their best starting lineup ever come opening night. And don’t take that as a snarky way of saying they’re just good by Charlotte’s standards, either; this is a team comprised of five above-average starters. And if those Monta Ellis rumors come to fruition? Even more talent for a team perpetually lacking in that department.
A trip to the postseason is far from guaranteed, but for the first time ever, the Bobcats are fielding a squad capable of winning more often than losing. But before we collectively gasp at the prospect of Charlotte losing to Miami or Indiana in the first round, we have to wonder if a playoff run is really what the franchise needs right now.
Blame erratic ownership or inconsistent coaching, but the biggest thing that Charlotte has lacked since they entered the league is a young superstar. All of those lottery years have failed to yield the Bobcats the kind of player that teams can build around for 5-10 years.
Whether it be bad luck (losing the 2012 Anthony Davis sweepstakes to New Orleans despite owning the highest chances of winning the lottery; just missing out on Chris Paul or Deron Williams in 2005) or poor player evaluation (picking Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy in 2006; picking DJ Augustine over Brook Lopez in 2008), the Bobcats have had a spectacularly awful draft history over their decade of existence.
But a superstar is still everything in the Association, even if the frustrations of losing have gotten to MJ and the Bobcats’ ownership. Sure, they might make the playoffs – but at what cost? Their current ceiling – assuming the young players on the squad grow and develop together – seems no better than those Atlanta Hawks teams of the mid-2000s, always good enough to make the playoffs but never good enough to top the Celtics, Cavaliers or Magic.
Maybe Zeller, Walker and MKG develop at a much quicker rate than all of us project, and maybe Charlotte develops into one of the best teams in the East in the next two-to-three years. But I can’t help but think about what a player like Andrew Wiggins would mean to a franchise like the Bobcats.