Charlotte Bobcats executives Rod Higgins and Rich Cho had plenty to say in last Sunday's Observer about their team's struggles and what they plan to do, through the draft and salary-cap management, to make things better.
Amid all the cap projections and talk of amnesty and free-agency, you might have read past what Higgins, the president of basketball operations, said about what coach Paul Silas can get out of the rest of the season:
"Once we're healthy - all 15 guys - we'll ask Paul to see that whoever is on the court competes, and then let the chips fall as they may."
Several other times during an interview that lasted nearly two hours, Higgins interjected the word "compete" into the conversation. Higgins said his top priority is finding players with a "fiery passion for the job."
I'm glad that's their priority. I'm just not sure yet how this group of players grades out in that regard.
There is no one way that players deal with adversity. But, to paraphrase Higgins, the front office needs to know by the end of this season which players have resolve and which ones surrender. Eight losses of 30 points or more suggests abundant surrender.
The Bobcats have numerous flaws, most notably a stark talent deficit between them and the rest of the league. But one of the subtler problems is a leadership vacuum. Corey Maggette is trying hard to be a leader, but it's difficult for someone to arrive from another team (Maggette was traded from Milwaukee on draft night) and instantly command the locker room.
What that locker room needs is Gerald Wallace. I'm not going nostalgic. I get the reasoning behind starting over by converting Wallace and Stephen Jackson into draft picks, but Wallace was important in a way that transcended statistics. He would deliver uncomfortable truths to teammates. I remember him calling out Tyson Chandler once; it was edgy, but it also was appropriate.
Being a Wallace-type leader requires gravitas. That comes from two things: Ability and shared experience. Their is really no Bobcat right now who has that. It's not fair to expect it from rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo and I'm not sure D.J. Augustin or Gerald Henderson are comfortable serving as the team's conscience.
Most of the older players like Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas and Gana Diop aren't doing their own jobs well enough to tell others how to play.
I agree with Higgins that the last 30 games aren't just about who can play but who cares enough to play. Which guys will go through the motions or milk injuries? Which ones are in it for the paycheck? Which ones ache over losing, the way Wallace did?
I didn't like this team's body language in Wednesday's loss to the Detroit Pistons, another team headed to the lottery. I'm sure Silas didn't like it. So Higgins giving Silas a mandate to play those who compete and bench those who don't is certainly warranted.