There are no guarantees in sports, but you have to admit the Bobcats have positioned themselves to be one of those teams that could sneak up on the rest of the NBA after arguably the best offseason in franchise history. So when basketball operations president Rod Higgins and general manager Rich Cho met the Charlotte media on Tuesday, there was a reason to be optimistic.
Granted, there is only one way to go but up for a beleaguered team that has won just 28 times in the last two seasons. There is a new head coach with a very accomplished group of assistants and the roster makeover appears, at least on paper, to be light years ahead of anything the Bobcats have put on the floor since re-joining the league back in 2004.
“This is my 16th training camp and I’m excited as I have ever been,” said Cho. “Between bringing in the new staff and coach (Steve) Clifford, drafting Cody (Zeller), signing Al Jefferson and (Anthony) Tolliver as free agents and re-signing Gerald (Henderson), Josh (McRoberts) and (Jannero) Pargo, I think we are all excited to get the season going.”
The two biggest additions, figuratively and literally, are 7-foot-0, 240 pound Cody Zeller, the team’s first round pick in the last draft, and Al Jefferson, who at 6-foot-10 and 289 pounds will provide the necessary bulk down low. Zeller showed in the summer league he is NBA ready and Jefferson is a proven commodity as he enters his 10th season. More importantly, the Cats have depth and versatility.
“The one thing that Rich and I always try to do is think how we can make this team better,” said Higgins. “So when you know there are certain players that are going to be available in free agency you try to brainstorm to see if that player can fit in with us.”
Specifically, Higgins was talking about Jefferson who addresses so many needs like being able to post up to draw a double team then be able to kick the ball out to one of the shooters. With an improved three-point threat that should lead to more scoring.
“Once we decided to amnesty Tyrus Thomas ownership gave us the green light for us to go out and find a difference maker and we feel that Al is that kind of player,” said Higgins about the money the team committed to him, a reported $13.5 million just edging out Ben Gordon as the highest paid. “[Jefferson] is also a mentor. That’s a plus for us with our young players.”
Neither Higgins nor Cho wanted to address what they would consider as the number of wins to be a good season except to say they just want the team to get better. That has been the mantra the last few years, but it seems to be within grasp now as they enter the final season as the Bobcats before being re-christened as the Hornets.
“Sometimes the beauty is the uncertainty because we, obviously, have had some trying years,” said Higgins. “But now making the changes we’ve talked about and the uncertainty of not knowing who we are, I would presume we are going to be much improved, that would be my opinion, but who knows what can happen with this team. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Training camp opens Oct. 1 at UNC Asheville and the first time the home crowd can see their team is on the 17th when they host the 76ers at the Time Warner Cable Arena.