Offseason In Review: Charlotte Bobcats

November 5 2013 at 12:05pm CDT By Luke Adams

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Cody Zeller (Round 1, 4th overall). Signed via rookie exception.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

If you want to make an argument against the benefits of tanking in the NBA, pointing to the Charlotte Bobcats would be a good place to start. Despite finishing in the bottom three of the NBA standings four times since 2004/05, the Bobcats haven’t had much luck in the draft lottery or the draft itself.

After winning 18 games in ’04/05, Charlotte landed the fifth pick and drafted Raymond Felton immediately after two other point guards (Deron Williams, Chris Paul) had come off the board. In 2006, the Bobcats nabbed the third pick and selected Adam Morrison, one spot after LaMarcus Aldridge was drafted. Charlotte set an NBA-record for futility in the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season, but missed out on consensus first overall pick Anthony Davis and settled for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 2. Most recently, the 21-win Bobcats used the fourth pick in the 2013 draft on Cody Zeller.

This brief trip through the team’s recent history illustrates in large part why the Bobcats’ rebuilding process has been long and laborious. The team has been neither lucky nor particularly shrewd when it comes to the draft, having narrowly missed out on several franchise-altering players, and passing on others. It has left the team in a tough spot — there’s plenty of young talent on the roster, including players like Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, and others. But none of those guys are likely to develop into stars, meaning the club will face some tough decisions on exactly how much to pay to keep those players when their rookie contracts end.

On the plus side, while the Bobcats haven’t been entirely successful in the draft, the club is at least reducing the number of bad contracts clogging its cap. DeSagana Diop‘s deal finally came off the books this summer, while Tyrus Thomas‘ was forcibly removed (via amnesty). The team still has one year left on Ben Gordon, who will earn $13MM+, but that was the price Charlotte paid to obtain a Pistons first-round pick that could ultimately become very valuable.

The absence of those overpriced contracts and the abundance of rookie deals on the Bobcats’ cap meant that the team had room to make a splash this summer. It’s unclear if there was a deal out there for Charlotte similar to the one Utah made with Golden State, which landed the Jazz a pair of first-round picks along with a pair of bad contracts (Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins). But if there was, it’s not hard to figure out why the Bobcats didn’t choose that path. For a team that has spent the last several years getting unlucky in the draft lottery and waiting for overpriced players to come off the books, the idea of doubling down by taking on more toxic contracts and acquiring more draft picks probably looked less appealing than pursuing free agents.

The Bobcats’ pursuit of free agents led them to Al Jefferson, who immediately becomes the biggest offensive threat the team has ever had in the low post. The price for Jefferson – $13.5MM annually for three years – was a little high, but I imagine it had to be to lure him to Charlotte. The Bobcats were also able to make a couple other solid buys in free agency, bringing back Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts for fair prices. In the draft, the Bobcats passed on Nerlens Noel‘s upside in favor of Zeller’s ability to contribute right away, another decision that reflected the club’s desire to improve in the short-term.

Still, while the acquisition of Jefferson and continued improvement from Charlotte’s young players should add up to more wins in 2013/14, this still doesn’t look like a playoff team, which likely means a spot in the NBA’s no-man’s land — somewhere between a postseason berth and a top-five pick. Depending on how the Bobcats, Pistons, and Blazers perform this season, Charlotte could have as many as three first-round picks in 2014, which is good news, considering how strong the draft is expected to be. But the addition of Jefferson means the club is probably just good enough not to be involved in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, which could leave the Bobcats where they’ve been for the last several years: Narrowly missing out on the opportunity to draft an impact player.

It’s hard to blame the Bobcats for not deliberately tanking the season, especially after owner Michael Jordan publicly suggested it’s not a strategy he believes in. But after a couple seasons among the NBA’s bottom-dwellers, the timing of the decision to improve now is unfortunate. There are several prospects projected to be difference-makers in the 2014 draft, meaning that even a team with the fourth or fifth pick could land a star. In other words, if there was ever a time to have a bad season, this is that time.

On a move-by-move basis, you could make the case that the Bobcats had a strong offseason. Jefferson is probably a bit overpaid, and Zeller was a surprising pick at No. 4 overall, but the Bobcats added and retained more talent than they lost, and will be better this season than they were a year ago. Although the club’s summer approach may not be in its best long-term interests, the strategy wasn’t surprising, considering how the last several years have played out in Charlotte.

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