It’s only fitting that the Bobcats era ended like this — a four-game sweep at the hands of the reigning champions, losing each game by an average of 9.8 points (the worst of the 16 teams that managed to extend their season). The last 10 years have been miserable, filled with an unhealthy amount of losing and barely a sliver of hope along the way to help soften the blow. Wrapping up their final season as the Bobcats with a fight they had no business being in seemed like the only appropriate way to finish this chapter. After all, the Heat had the Bobcats’ number in the regular season, winning all four contests by a large margin. At best, this was going to be a “gentleman’s sweep,” which, ironically, would’ve gone down as a treat seeing as they’ve never — not once — tasted the sweetness of a playoff victory. In the end, when LeBron James robbed them of their final chance in franchise history to win a playoff game, it was a reminder that no matter how far they’ve come over the last six months, they’re still ways away from locking the deadbolt on their dark past.
However, we were left with a cliffhanger. Even though they were smacked across the face with Pat Riley’s broom, their season was far from a disappointment. They more than doubled their win total from the previous season, from 21 to 43, and for only the second time in the franchise’s short-history, they finished with a winning record. But unlike the first time they got over the .500-hump, their roster is yet to reach its peak. They’re young but surprisingly mature. They’re offensively stunted but wildly efficient on the defensive end. Al Jefferson is the franchise player they’ve been yearning for since the franchise’s inception in 2004, and adds an inside-out option Brendon Haywood, Bismack Biyombo and Kwame Brown shockingly — not really — weren’t able to provide. For all his shortcomings offensively, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gives them a defensive anchor, one who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the opposing team’s most dynamic player. Watching him shoot a jump-shot is what nightmares are made of, but watching him fight through screens, only to force an elite scorer into taking a what-should-be-routine-but-isn’t-now shot is poetry in motion. Kemba Walker is a bulldog and the perfect quarterback for a team that needs an edge to get the best of their opponent. His shooting numbers are a bit of a downer, but he makes up for it with a level of controlled aggression that few in the Association can match. As for the icing on the cake, the team has a some nice complementary pieces in place, a handful of draft picks to indulge in this summer and cap room that is coming out of their ears.
Following their early first-round exit, Fred Whitfield, the president of the team, told the Charlotte Business Journal about how their playoff run felt “completely different” from the one in 2010 — the one when they lost in four straight games to Florida’s other team, the Magic. Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that while it appeared as though the series was heavily one-sided, the outcome certainly wasn’t as one-sided as it looked. According to Elias, the Bobcats outscored the Miami Heat when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James were out there, sharing the court together, by 12-points (191 to 179). And while they didn’t achieve quite the same success when LeBron was all by his lonesome — he hunted the Bobcats down all by himself with his bare hands, skinned them and roasted them over an open fire for his teammates to feast off of while he went out to get more food — they were dealt a gut wrenching blow in Game One when Al Jefferson strained his plantar fascia, leaving them with a hobbled version of the man who carried them through the trenches in the regular season.
While it’s still unlikely that they would’ve struck any sort of legitimate fear in the eyes of the Heat had he been fully healthy, they certainly could’ve made the series more interesting. But either way, the Bobcats put themselves in a position to win each of the four games against the two-time NBA champions, and that’s not only a testament to how well developed this young squad already is, but a hell of a step forward for a franchise that won seven games just two years ago.
The other reason why this sweep to a championship-calibre team wasn’t as bitter as the last is because, even with their loss, they have all the momentum they need moving forward to build something special in Charlotte; something the city has never had before. Their is still progress to be made, sure, but there is a solid foundation to build on. And really, after all the pain and anguish that has been dealt to Charlotte over the years, it’s only fitting that the Bobcats era ended this way.
Through all the trials and tribulations, this is what we’ve come to: after 10 rugged seasons, the Charlotte Bobcats have buried their heads deep in the sand to never rise again — because, you know, they’ll be the Hornets next season. So with that, let us join hands and say, “May you rest in piece, you pesky little Bobcats.” It hasn’t been pretty, but you sure have worked hard. Even though you’ve been the laughing stock of the league for a long time, you’re finally ready to flip the script, and we applaud you for that. You’ve earned your rest. Enjoy it. And while you will be missed, you won’t be mourned for long.