The bitter medicine of a long rebuild

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
5:51
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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For me, HoopIdea's tanking kick was born of the conviction that many NBA teams could habitually make better decisions, but don't because there is not enough incentive to make such a thing paramount. While it's certainly true that not every team can have a winning record, no team has to draft Adam Morrison third overall. Nowhere is it written in stone that anyone has to ship out high-value players like Jared Dudley (for ... who'd they get again?). There is no reason 30 teams couldn't be ready and willing to turn Tyson Chandler into a franchise cornerstone, instead of keeping him, dispirited, on the bench.

But under Michael Jordan, the Bobcats have made decisions like that and worse. And the horrible batting average with draft picks, free agency and trades is what has ultimately led that franchise to their current 7-49 record.


I put it to you that there is a lack of respect, on teams like this one, for the very demanding profession that is running an NBA team well. I put it to you that is what dooms some franchises (and not just Charlotte), more than a lack of quality draft picks. In fact, I put it to you that the amazing picks alleviate the need for real front-office professionalism ... where success can't be earned, there's a feeling luck may deliver it.

Consider the comments of some of Jordan's colleagues and friends in a recent Washington Post article by Rick Maese.
“The work he put in to be a great player and the work you put in to be a great executive, those are different things,” said Sam Vincent, whom Jordan hired as his head coach in 2007 less than a year after he became minority owner. “That additional time you spend on jump shots, running, dunking, I don’t know if he puts in that same amount of time as an executive or if he even cares to.”

Owners have the option of delegating their research and decision-making. How is that going? Again, a friendly voice has concerns in the Post article:
“I don't know if he has hired enough people around him who he will listen to,” his friend Charles Barkley, the former NBA star, recently said on ESPN radio. “One thing about being famous is the people around you. You pay all their bills so they very rarely disagree with you because they want you to pick up the check. They want to fly around on your private jet so they never disagree with you.”

All of which is entirely his right as owner.

But if the people of Charlotte are distraught at the losing, it seems a stretch to say the NBA can provide salvation in the form of draft picks. Can a team that gets so many things wrong really be expected to make wins out of the next pick they get, when so many have not panned out in the past. (The evidence suggests they're likely to fail.)

The wonderful news is that the Bobcats seem to have come around, realizing the need for a real long-term plan, one that comes from a proven front office professional, and not Jordan's circle of friends. But even after hiring Rich Cho a year ago the Bobcats may have new strategy, but, thanks to the incentives of the NBA draft, it still does not include winning anytime soon.

There is one guaranteed impact player in this draft, and despite their abysmal record, the Bobcats have just a 25 percent chance at landing the top pick they'll need to get Anthony Davis. Hard to imagine the rebuilding won't be similarly brutal next year, and maybe the year after, too. Cho's model is the Thunder, where he was the assistant GM during the most successful rebuild in recent years. The Thunder kept losing and losing until they had four great lottery prospects to develop, one of whom was Kevin Durant. The Bobcats are high on Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, but it could be many years before the Bobcats have the nucleus of a contender. Until then, and strictly because of how the draft works, losing has strategic benefit, and is likely to be on the menu.

The Post quotes Jeff Van Gundy, who has bad news for those who want to see the Bobcats win anytime soon:
“I think when they hired Rich Cho, who’s really a respected general manager, they charted a course that’s almost the NBA blueprint by a lot of teams now -- even the Wizards,” ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. That formula, he said, is “to get as bad as you can, rather than try to win and be pretty good.”

“You can call that smart management or you can call it a detriment to the NBA. It all depends on your point of view,” Van Gundy continued. “The way they set it up, the way the NBA has basically condoned tanking -- not a game or a stretch of games, but tanking a whole season -- that’s what the fans of teams in Charlotte and Washington have been fed.”

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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