The Charlotte Bobcats have not yet made the playoffs in their short franchise history, but last year they came close until they limped to a 1-7 finish in their final 8 games. The 35 wins marked a high for the team though improvement in a tougher Southeast division this season provides a challenging climb into the top 8 of the Eastern Conference. The major off-season move was the trade of former number two overall pick, Emeka Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for athletic big man Tyson Chandler. I don’t know if this was a wise decision beyond the real reason for the trade (finances). Tyson Chandler when healthy is a great defensive player and solid rebounder, as is Okafor, however, Chandler is not as good of an offensive threat especially in creating shots for himself. An athletic big man and a guy who can provide a true center is nice, but on a team that ranked dead last in scoring, the deal doesn’t make the team much better if at all.
The lineup to begin the year looks a bit up in the air right now. Point guard Raymond Felton re-signed with the Bobcats for one year and looks to be the starter ahead of DJ Augustin. However, at the two guard veteran Raja Bell has recently injured his wrist and could miss the entire season or a great deal of it. So with Bell out what will the backcourt of the Bobcats look like? In the preseason Coach Larry Brown has experimented with a Felton/Augustin combination at the 1 and 2 spots, the obvious flaw in this lineup is the size issue with both players being just over six feet tall. So enter Flip Murray who signed from Atlanta and rookie Gerald Henderson, to be the apparent shooting guards. Just one problem Murray is also injured at the moment and it is unknown how long it will take him to get back healthy. I expect to see more minutes for Henderson to start the season and gauge how many minutes he will continue to get based on his progress.
At the small forward the Bobcats are solid with Gerald Wallace, who is the best player on the roster. He is an athletic headache for opposing squads and will serve as the number one option on a team lacking scorers. The only knock is that while he is a very good player he is not in that elite class of player needed to be the top guy on a playoff team. Don’t get me wrong Wallace is a beast but would be better served as the number two option to a superstar. Backing him up is Vladimir Radmanovic, a solid role player and shooter off of the bench.
Boris Diaw will anchor the power forward position and be expected to contribute even more offense this season than the 15 points a game he chipped in after he was shipped to the Bobcats from Phoenix last season. He is a versatile player though at only 6’8″ undersized at the 4 spot, he will put up bigger offensive numbers this year but don’t expect much more rebounding than the 6 a game he had last year. Derrick Brown was drafted by Charlotte to play the four position but with Larry Brown’s history on playing rookies I’m not sure if he will be able to get a spot in the normal rotation.
The starting center will be Tyson Chandler, 8-12 points a game with lots of boards and blocked shots. The Bobcats do have some depth at this position with Nazr Mohammed as another big man that might allow some lineups where Chandler plays power forward (maybe) and DeSagana Diop. Mohammed and Diop can contribute serious minutes if needed though Mohammed is the only one of the three with much of an offensive repertoire.
The starting five should look something like this opening night:
With contributions off the bench by:
Maybe more minutes from these guys due to injuries(assuming they make the roster):
The injury of Raja Bell has significantly hindered the Bobcats chances of making the playoffs this season, even with him it is a slim chance but without him I sincerely doubt they will. The opening 10 games of the season feature a bevy of improved squads and teams that made the playoffs last season, so without their starting shooting guard and possibly Flip Murray depending on his health it might not be a pretty start for Charlotte and in the East every game counts. If by the trade deadline the season is going quickly down the tubes and Bell has come back he might be shipped out to a contender willing to take a risk on his services. Felton is around probably for this season only and Chandler has one season left on his contract after this year, it could quickly become another rebuilding effort if Larry Brown cannot find a way to steer the ship through injuries. What this team will provide is plenty of tough defense, they finished 9th in the league in points allowed last season. They seem to get up for major opponents so don’t be shocked if they continue to win against the big boys, if they can get some more scoring consistency there is still a chance they could wind up in that 8th spot in the East. I think they will be in the 35-40 game win area and in last place in the Southeast, just looking outside the playoffs again. It really all depends on the health of Raja Bell.