Since their inception in 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats have been the laughing stock of the league. Only once in the past 10 years have they won more than 36 games, and that one season happened to end quickly with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic. Then, there’s the 2011-2012 season, the one in which they won just seven games and set a record that basically made them the worst team in NBA history. And the sad news doesn’t just end there. The franchise’s all-time leading scorer happens to be Gerald Wallace – a one-time all-star, but a man who’s known for anything but his scoring ability. In fact, if you look at the rest of their franchise records, names like D.J. Augustin, Walter Herrmann, Nazr Mohammed and Emeka Okafor pop-up, none of whom are exactly ideal poster child’s for your pro basketball team.
All in all, the past 10 years have been full of a lot of losses and not a lot of winning. But perhaps the most frustrating thing has been that, despite those 502 losses, not once did they get the golden ticket from David Stern – a first overall pick. Year after year, they walked into Draft night with hope, but resentment. A lottery pick is nice, sure, but because the lottery balls didn’t bounce in their favor, they missed out on some big names; Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis to name a few. Instead of building their team around a franchise changing talent, they were left with scraps, many of which have either found success elsewhere in the league in reduced roles or have since taken their talents to the other side of the ocean after failing to make a name for themselves in the big league.
Nevertheless, time moves on. Dwelling on the past helps nobody, especially for the fans in Charlotte who had to suffer, watching their team lose game after game by astronomical figures. Without much help from the draft, they were left without much choice but to retool, be patient and hope that luck came knocking on their door sometime soon.
Luckily for them, that moment came this summer with a pair of new signings. First, Al Jefferson, who came barging through their front door with a ton of mileage and a scoring repertoire that the franchise had never seen before. Then, a rookie coach by the name of Steve Clifford, who boasted an impressive résumé of coaching at the NBA or collegiate level for 28 years. And with that experience, he imposed his will from day one, forcing a team of no-names to commit to the defensive end of the floor, and so far, it’s lead to great results.
After 55 games, the Bobcats look like a completely different team, one unlike any of the cellar dweller’s we have grown accustomed to seeing over the past years. They are currently owners of the sixth most efficient defense in the league, according to ESPN. The only teams ahead of them happen to be household names: Pacers, Bulls, Warriors, Thunder and Spurs. And for comparison’s sake, the Bobcats ranked dead last in the league during the 2012-2013 season.
Times sure have changed.
They aren’t quite as efficient offensively. In fact, most advanced stats will tell you that they’re pretty terrible on that end of the court. But Clifford has done a great job of masking their inefficiencies by building up a ball club that takes care of every possession, rarely turning the ball over and not overcomplicating matters. It may not always been pretty, but it’s kept them in ball games and has made them a competitive team each and every night.
As for Al Jefferson, well, he’s been his normal self. Despite missing some games at the start of the season due to a bum ankle, he’s elevated his game and put the team on his back. While the likes of Kemba Walker, Josh McRoberts and Gerald Henderson do their fair share on the offensive end of the court, it’s Big Al who sets the tone on a nightly basis, and he’s sure stepped up to the plate. Since the New Year, his 23.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game have resulted in a 13-12 record for the Bobcats, which included some signature wins against tough Western Conference foes like the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers.
As it stands now, the Bobcats have the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference. Not only that, but they have a nice, 4.5 game lead over their biggest threat, the Detroit Pistons. While they’ve got a tough three-game road trip against the Spurs, Thunder and Heat coming up, they have an easy schedule to end the season, which could just carry them back into the promised land. But the most telling stat isn’t that their record could be good enough for them to make the Playoffs for just the second time since becoming the Bobcats. It’s that, with 26 games remaining on their schedule, they’re just one win shy of tying the amount of victories they recorded over the last two seasons.
If anything, that’s what we’ve all been waiting for: a sign of improvement.
Making the Playoffs is always nice, especially for a fan base that has endured so much pain and suffering over the last 10 years, but the likelihood of the Bobcats making any real noise is very slim. Quite simply, this team isn’t good enough to rival the likes of the Pacers, Heat, Raptors and Bulls. Not yet, anyway. But that’s okay, because there seems to be something brewing in the streets of Charlotte nowadays. Maybe it’s excitement that their basketball team is finally relevant for the first time in what seems like forever. Maybe it’s hope that they can continue to develop and maybe – just maybe – take a stab at this ‘being good’ thing. Or maybe it’s that the Bobcats are finally rewriting the narrative. Whatever it is, at least there is something.
It sure has been a while since the Bobcats were recognised for anything but being terrible, and this last hoorah is a hell of a way to usher in a new era.