Bobcats hope Jefferson helps change losing ways
Bobcats first-year coach Steve Clifford hopes the addition of veteran center Al Jefferson and the continued development of what he considers "a competitive core of young players" will help change a losing culture in Charlotte and restore the franchise to a competitive level.
How soon that will be is up to how quickly the players mesh together.
The Bobcats are 28-120 over the past two seasons, the worst record in the NBA. But Clifford believes better times are ahead for Charlotte.
"I think we have a better player at the top of the roster, which is where it all starts," Clifford said. "There are five guys on the floor and it always starts with which team has the best player on the floor."
Although never an NBA All-Star, Jefferson gives the Bobcats a proven NBA talent they haven't had since Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, as well as a true low-post presence. Jefferson averaged 16.4 points and 9 rebounds per game over his first nine seasons in the league with Boston, Minnesota and Utah.
The Bobcats got minimal scoring last year from big men Brendan Haywood, Gana Diop, Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens, who preferred to do most of his shooting 20 feet from the basket.
Clifford also believes Jefferson will make those around him better.
He expects Jefferson to attract double teams in the low post, which would help free up more open looks for Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, the team's top two scorers last season, and Ben Gordon.
Of course, first Jefferson has to actually get back on the court.
He sprained his ankle during a preseason game against the Miami Heat when he landed on Chris Bosh's foot and has yet to return to action. But the 28-year-old Jefferson said he expects to be ready to roll when the Bobcats open the season Oct. 30 at Houston.
What the addition of Jefferson means to the Bobcats remains to be seen.
Nobody in the Bobcats organization — players, coaches or management — is predicting a playoff run.
But there is a sense that things are on the right track in Charlotte.
"I honestly don't know how close we are to being a playoff team," said Walker, the team's point guard. "Anything can happen this year. It's possible, of course. But I can tell you this team is better and more talented" than last year.
Here are five things to watch for this season with the Bobcats:
CORE DEVELOPMENT: The Bobcats are banking on their young core of players — point guard Walker, small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffrey Taylor, center Biyombo and rookie power forward Cody Zeller — taking big strides this season. All five players have been in the league two seasons or less. "I think what we have is competitive guys, good quickness, speed and aggressiveness, as well as individual toughness," Clifford said. "From that, you can build the right kind of culture."
HENDERSON's HOOPS: Henderson had a solid season last year, particularly down the stretch averaging 23.9 points on 47.5 percent shooting in his final 21 games. The Bobcats are hoping Henderson can become one of the league's top scorers after re-signing for $18 million over three years.
The BIG HANDSOME: The Bobcats took plenty of criticism on draft night — even from their own fans — when they selected Zeller with the fourth overall pick in the draft. But nobody is laughing now. Zeller, who'll be used as a "stretch four," proved in Summer League ball he can play at the next level and now the big question is whether the athletic 7-footer can carry it over to the regular season.
DEFENSE: The Bobcats have the NBA's best defense this preseason, allowing just a league-low 82.7 points per game. They're the only team to hold their opponents under 90 points in every game. That's encouraging to Clifford, but he's quick to add "We haven't seen Chris Paul for 38 minutes a night either."
REBOUNDING: Clifford's biggest concern entering the season is his team's rebounding ability, something which has plagued this franchise for years. Adding Zeller and Jefferson should help but Clifford said "we can be better on offense and better on defense, but it won't matter if we don't rebound."