I need answers, for without them I'll wither and die. Tonight I was talking to a friend on the phone when out of nowhere he started berating me for having ever talked up the Bobcats. Seems that, between myself and some guy who actually comes from Charlotte, he'd been expecting notable observations from this thoroughly enriched, Jordan-owned squad. From top to bottom, they've got all the makings of a team rife with both quality and quidity: the maverick Wallace, franchise point Felton, endearing worker bee May, cerebral post player Okafor, and vaguely mysterious vet Brevin Knight. And as much as I despise Adam Morrison, he should be a useful sixth man once he stops trying to pull the same shit that worked for him at the college level. Yet somehow, the team is positively abysmal. This despite the fact that the organization has done everything in its power to responsibly build a roster through the draft, getting credible, experienced players to fit together like clockwork. In five years, this roster could be a contendor. Now, though, it's looking like a failed experiment—that is, if you think it's enough of vision to qualify as an experiment.
Compare this with the Hawks, the other great outpost of cult basketball, who are now undergoing unprecdented pangs of accomplishment. They've been mocked for a decade for their unorthodox, or just plain stupid, draft picks, and their somewhat pathetic attempts to woo free agents. The 6-8 Mafia of last season is a long-forgotten hoax; let us not, however, lose sight of the fact that this current team was built by hording small forwards, breaking the bank on a "complementary" star, refusing to draft a point guard, and somehow picking up the one seven foot Euro that no one ever cared about. I can't quite say why things are working for them now, or why their haphazardly assembled team shines while the Bobcats falter. Unfortunately, I'm forced to say that it comes down to Joey Johnson; for all of Charlotte's thoroughness, they lack that single, definitive presence who has seen the game and is capable of ruling it. I think that, for some reason, they thought Morrison could be that. But at best, he'll be able to score. What Johnson brings is not just the ability to produce points, but the larger-than-life willingness to take over games, strap the team on his back, and inspire others with his higher-levelness.
JJ wasn't a household name when he came to ATL, and plenty of fools thought that the franchise had buried itself once and for all with that signing. Still, anyone who had followed him knew that the skills were major, and that at very least he could be a multi-faceted dazzler of a scorer. The best Charlotte can do is Okafor or Felton, both of whom have a ways to go before they can reliably play that role. As much as it disgusts me to say, teams need veteran leaders; as much as it might upset some other sorts to hear, things work even better if the featured creator is also that guy. I have no idea how any of this relates to the Baby Bulls, who once made playoff runs with a team perenially suffering from Bobcats-syndrome. They were deeper, I guess, though there should be a lot of middle ground between abject failure and underdog musk. I also worry that Emeka and Raymond are destined for a Gordon, Hinrich, or Curry-like purgatory, capable of great feats but never substantial enough to earn stripes.
Maybe the real kernel here isn't that the Hawks have stumbled upon something, because most likely they haven't. It's that the Bobcats could have been so repsonsible, failed to turn up a single bust thus far, and yet still stink like soil in wartime. There are innumerable ways for a young team to make that leap, or for youth to allow a mired squad to break free. Landing LeBron, Chris Paul, or Melo, sticking Dwight Howard into a line-up of competents. . . each season, so many wanderers find their way to the gates. Yet the Bobcats would seem to be going about this the only surefire way possible, judiciously picking their pieces and assembling a stable of future safe bets who don't all play the same position (as long as Morrison stays on the bench). That they have seen so much woe shouldn't be a surprise, but to see them not even laying the groundwork for chemistry and order is more than a little disturbing. You'd think they were the Celtics or something.