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Bobcats 08-09 Preview

Team Name:Charlotte Bobcats
Last Year's Record:32-50
Key Losses:Sam Vincent (head coach), Jeff McInnis (both losses were actually addition by subtraction
Key Additions:Larry Brown (head coach), D.J. Augustin, Alexis Ajinca

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

In case you missed it above – the Bobcats switched head coaches, going from Sam Vincent, of zero NBA head coaching experience, to Larry Brown, of near infinite NBA experience (ok, mild exaggeration – but this is big).Maybe Larry Brown is not a perfect match for the Bobcat's roster, but at least he knows what he is doing; as long as that does not start to include sabotage, the Bobcats come out ahead on this move.

Besides bringing in LB, the Bobcats made sure that Emeka Okafor did not wind up playing for Memphis (or Greece). With a 6 year, $72 million extension, Emeka is here to stay. And that is a good thing – but do not expect it to become a great thing. Because Emeka is solid but no more – expect another year of 14 points and 11 rebounds (and myriad blocked shots – opponents and his own).

In addition to these major moves, the Bobcats resigned Ryan Hollins and signed Shannon Brown, Andre Brown, and Justin Williams. At least one of those names will be gone by the start of the season. That sums up how integral these guys are and why that is the end of their discussion in this section.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Relative to last season: Having an actual backup point guard. Having (fingers crossed) an actual power forward (please stay healthy Sean). Having a real coach. Almost having a semblance of depth, with viable backups at 4 of the 5 positions (the 4 excluded).

But relative to the rest of the league: That gets a little trickier. So, how about this? If Gerald Wallace bounces back to playing a more well rounded game with Larry Brown in town, the Bobcats will boast 3 players who are borderline All-Stars with Jason Richardson, Gerald, and Emeka Okafor (someone besides Dwight Howard has to be a center in the East). I guess those 3 players are each individually strengths of the team, in that they are the 3 best players. How great a strength…well, note the border-line part.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Their backs, knees, heads, etc…In general, the health of their players is a major weakness. The question seems to be when (and how many), not if, games will be missed by certain key players, including Sean May, Emeka Okafor, and Gerald Wallace. While Emeka did manage to play in every game last year, that was a first, and seems unlikely to be repeated.

Another weakness is team defense (and defensive rebounding). The Bobcats were in the bottom third of the NBA last year in defensive efficiency, in part due to giving their opponents so many second chances: The Bobcats gave up the 3rd most offensive rebounds in the league. While Larry Brown has been preaching better effort on defense and rebounding, that only goes so far. With the only major help in that department coming from possible contributions from Sean May…well, we are going to have to continue to call that area a weakness until proven otherwise.

4. What are the goals for this team?

One goal: To make the last 10 games of the season count. Whether or not they make the playoffs, they need to be in contention for a spot all season long. The franchise has only been around for 4 seasons, yet it is already a punch-line around the league and Charlotte is largely apathetic about it. Being even mediocre would be an improvement and might help generate more interest among fans.

How likely a goal is playoff contention? Perhaps more so than you think. The Bobcats ended last season going 13-12 over their last 25 games, with an efficiency differential of -0.4 points per 100 possessions. Basically, over the last third of the season, they were about a .500 team. It is no coincidence that the team no longer employed Jeff McInnis by that point – they were better off without him. Guess what? He is not back this year – D.J. Augustin is, and that is an almost certain upgrade. The other major upgrade that was previously mentioned in Larry Brown also makes hope for this season seem reasonable.

Predicted Record: 40-42

Projecting a .500 or better record seems a bit much for a team that has yet to get within 10% of that goal (yes, really: In their best season, they won 40% of their games). But a semi-respectable tally of 40-42? It is doable. Maybe it is closer to a Best Possible Record than Expected Record, but this is the off-season, where hope reins eternal (unless you follow preseason games). Can the Bobcats finish above Miami, Atlanta, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Milwaukee, and Indiana? Does Larry Brown still have it? Can Sean May stay healthy and help Charlotte to the playoffs like he carried UNC to a title (it gets harder to remember just how dominant he was in that tourney run every year)? Will Gerald Wallace bounce back with a big season after a bit of a drop? Will Raymond Felton fend off D.J. Augustin for the starters spot all season, or is he gone by the trade deadline? The answers are coming and it should be interesting to watch – though hopefully interesting like seeing a skyscraper built, not you-tube videos of groin shots.

For more in depth previews of particular players, check out the following:
Raymond Felton
Jared Dudley
Matt Carroll
Gerald Wallace

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