Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Charlotte Bobcats Will End Their Existence As A Playoff Team

Big Al, Big Win
Tonight in Cleveland, one of the NBA's worst all-time franchises ensured that they will make the playoffs in their final year under that name. The Charlotte Bobcats, behind the sneaky MVP season of big man Al Jefferson, are going to the dance.

A small aside about the acutal game: something of a perfect thing, this. It sticks a further fork in the 8 seed hopes for a team that's just painful to watch, in terms of talent that refuses to work together, and I'm very happy to see Daniel Gilbert still not getting any playoff revenue. It also means Spencer Hawes doesn't get to console himself with playoff dates, and Spencer Hawes is my personal hate object. An overtime home loss to the 'Cats on a night where Jefferson wasn't the best player on the floor for vast stretches of the game is all kinds of tasty.

Now, this really isn't a big deal, mostly because the 'Cats are just 39-38 with 5 games left in the regular season. They could easily qualify with a losing record, but that would involve loses to the Celtics and Sixers, both of whom are doing everything they can to lose games these days. They are likely to finish seventh, which will give them either Indiana or Miami in the first round. They are a combined 1-7 against those teams (0-4 against the Heat), 13-17 against the vastly superior West, and just not good enough to author an upset. As fun as Big Al's offensive game is, as amusing as Kemba Walker can be, as hard as they try, the talent's just not there. And aren't they stupid to even try! Seriously, Michael Jordan is the worst, right?

Here's the problem: a team that has been a doormat should never be chastised for making the playoffs. The Association is already dangerously close to telling their fans that the regular season doesn't matter for anything more than home court advantage; of the 16 playoff teams, the only one that seems actually surprising to me is Phoenix, and they might not even make it. So the Bobcats are unashamed, and good for them.

As an aside, how many people remember the other time? It involved Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Boris Diaw, and should go on Larry Brown's Hall of Fame plaque, right up there with the time he got the Stanley Roberts Clippers into the playoffs. (They got rolled with speed, of course.) Plus, if you make the classic mistake of thinking that March matters, you can talk yourself into the idea that they have a puncher's chance against the suddenly struggling Pacers.

Here, of course, is the problem with the modern NBA. Signing Jefferson and putting him in a system for maximum effectiveness -- the Bobcats play at a slow pace and give him as many touches as he can manage, with his under-the-rim sneaky post moves having damn near unique value in the D-and-3 Association -- is a recipe for, well, 7th place in the East and a .500 record. They don't have the fifth gear to take on Miami, Indy when they are going well, or any of the West's best. They aren't going to get any better, because their future picks will be middling, and Jefferson has already peaked. If they were going to become a high level team, it's going to be with Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist becoming elite guys, and, well, they aren't. That's just not how the Association works; you don't step up from fungible to ferocious.

So, if you want to root for something truly revolutionary? Root for the 'Cats to somehow take out the Pacers in the first round (yes, I can't figure out how either), and maybe even make some noise in the second round, too. Have people remember that Memphis went deep a few years ago with under the rim big men, too. (And, um, also a killer defensive presence, which the 'Cats don't have. Sigh.) Because if everyone plays dunks and threes basketball, the game gets a lot less fun, and eventually the league will make the arc even longer, which is going to be impossible for that baseline three that everyone wants to shoot.

(Or, um, root for them to lose and keep enjoying the Michael Jordan Is Stupid Era. I'm kind of OK with that, too.)

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