October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Charlotte Bobcats
2011-12 Record: 7-59
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should get plenty of time to learn on the job this season. (Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire)

From Washington to the early years in Charlotte, Michael Jordan had set a pattern that, for whatever reason, was not working. They had run things on kind of a shoestring budget with a very small staff. The first suggestion to me that the Bobcats were going to do things differently was when they hired [former Trail Blazers general manager] Rich Cho [in June 2011]. It said maybe they are serious about approaching this the right way, instead of just "I'm Michael Jordan and [Bobcats president] Rod Higgins, we're former players, we know what we're doing." It said we are taking a more professional, analytical approach to the basketball operation.

The next step is to allow Rich and his staff to develop a blueprint and allow them to make decisions without being overruled. And all indications are that Jordan will cede the basketball decisions and no longer meddle.

For the Bobcats to be good, Gerald Henderson is going to need to be their third- or fourth-best player. He got thrust into a prominent role last year and it was a little bit of a sink-or-swim situation. The team badly needed scoring and leadership. He tried to be a leader, but for a third-year player to be put into that situation, and especially as bad as the team was, it wore on everyone.

What Henderson did show last year was the ability to run off screens and make open shots. His strength runs along the lines of using his athletic ability and getting to the basket, but his ability to knock down mid-range shots has developed to the point where defenses don't just play him to drive. There's a confidence there that borders on being chippy. Some of that you can equate to toughness, which the Bobcats need. We're not looking at an All-Star, but the team has to be encouraged that it at least hit on a rotation player, if not a solid NBA starter.

I don't think you can expect that a rookie such as No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can come in and become your leader; that takes its own course. If they had gotten Anthony Davis, they could make the argument that that's the guy you build around. There wasn't anyone else like that in the draft. Just because he's the No. 2 pick doesn't mean he's a franchise player. The more fair expectation is that Kidd-Gilchrist becomes a key piece of their core, a starter.

[Rob Mahoney: Why Kidd-Gilchrist is a player to watch this season]

I see Kidd-Gilchrist as more Jeff Green than Kevin Durant. His versatility is going to be his strength: his ability to defend, to play up and down, to make teammates better and to score when called upon. I don't know what his go-to offensive move is -- he's not a low-post player, he's not a jump shooter, he's not really a pick-and-roll guy. Scoring is going to be largely based on effort for him, off of offensive rebounds or slashing to the basket for a dunk or a layup. You're not going to be running a lot of plays for him, at least at the beginning. But I get the impression he is a driven, motivated player who is going to want to get better.

In Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo, you have guys other players may eventually follow in terms of their effort and their willingness to do the dirty work and the things that help win. They have a keeper in Biyombo, who showed he can be an impact defender -- especially around the rim -- and rebound. He's raw, but he has great feet, great balance and an athletic body. There are a lot of guys who are athletic; what sets Biyombo apart is a willingness to be a great defender. He'll probably never be a big scorer, although he could be more of a threat than a guy like Ben Wallace. But he plays the game in such a way that I think it rubs off on teammates, and that positive energy is one of his greatest strengths.

This is a great situation for Ben Gordon [who was obtained in a trade with Detroit for Corey Maggette]. This team needs scoring in the worst way, so Gordon can get all the shots that he needs, although he doesn't do much else. He has one more year on his contract than Maggette, whom the Bobcats acquired last year to do what they acquired Gordon for this year. But this was a low-risk investment for the Bobcats to get a guy they could count on night in and night to score.

Ramon Sessions has been a terrific backup point guard everywhere he's been. But he's always proved to be a stretch as a starter. Sessions is not above average in anything. He's a little like Jameer Nelson in that he's a bit more scoring-oriented than a guy who's going to create, which is what the Lakers found out pretty quickly [after trading for him last season]. He can offer a scoring boost, but he isn't necessarily making guys better. But Charlotte needs that. You don't sign him to be your long-term starter. He's a short-term fix to get insurance behind Kemba Walker.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Bobcats this season]

Coming off Walker's rookie year, I don't think anyone outside of Charlotte is convinced he is a point guard. To be fair, he did not play point exclusively at UConn, so that was a transition -- and one that generally most guys can't make. On top of that, he was being called on to score when Maggette couldn't do it. So between the responsibilities of being point guard and the Bobcats' need for someone to do anything offensively, he was stretched. It showed in his play, his field-goal percentage (36.6) and his decision-making.

One of the Bobcats' big struggles was just getting into their offense because they really didn't have competent point guard play. Point guard is a role you have to have a feel for, and a big part of it is knowing when to pass, when to shoot and how to get your team into things. It's one thing to play there as a rookie; it's another to play there when it's not your natural position. Kemba may end up being a good player, but there is development that needs to be done.

Brendan Haywood will be a key to their frontcourt. He's a solid NBA center in a league where there are not a lot of true centers anymore. Haywood can defend the post and the rim and really understands the game. He gives them a big body that can match up with the Sixers' Andrew Bynum or the Lakers' Dwight Howard. Younger guys like Biyombo and Byron Mullens need guys like that to learn from.

[Paul Forrester: Southeast Division preview]

Tyrus Thomas is the perpetual tease. He came into the league with amazing athletic ability and showed an ability to score a little, block shots and rebound. Now I don't see the same explosiveness. He's not as quick off his feet and he does not explode to the rim and finish the way he used to. Last year he really wanted to play more on the wing. They gave him the chance to play small forward and he showed no ability to handle it. His skill level wasn't good enough and he did a poor job in terms of getting open on the wings and then doing something with the ball when he got it. Now he's strictly a role player, and though he'd be an amnesty candidate in a lot of people's minds [because he has three years and $26.1 million left on his contract], it's hard to cut bait if you think there's still some talent there.

At this point in their organization, you can see why coach Mike Dunlap appears to be a fit. It's not the typical NBA hire, but you're not bringing in Phil Jackson. And you're not going to pay millions for a coach after having the worst team in history [based on winning percentage]. You can only assume that the Charlotte front office saw from Dunlap's college background that he would be player-development-oriented coach, a guy who would make young players better.

The first thing you hear about Dunlap from other coaches who have worked with him or against him is his incredible intensity. He is going to teach, but at the same time not relent and be satisfied with just doing OK. There's the stereotype of the college coach to worry about, but it should be less of an issue with a young team. It does beg the question: Will he be the guy who passes the baton once you get better?


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