Mike Dunlap has done a tremendous job as a first-year NBA coach. He got the Charlotte Bobcats into a system that fits their skills. He spent the summer refining young players Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens. He demands defense as this teams first priority.
But the question frequently asked last week How did Dunlap win six of 10 games with a team that went 7-59 last season? is flawed. This isnt the team that went 7-59. Not close.
There are five players on this roster who werent here last season. Each one is in the rotation and contributing. So maybe the front office President of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins and General Manager Rich Cho is a bigger factor in the early success than is generally being credited.
They never signed some big star. That was never a realistic goal. The Bobcats were coming off the worst season in NBA history and Charlotte, for all its family-friendly charm, isnt New York or Miami as a free-agent destination.
So roster moves had to be more surgical in nature. Find a small fix here, an under-valued asset there. Spend money wisely and draft better than this franchise has in the past. While the sample size is small, so far all five have been hits for Higgins/Cho.
Consider, in chronological order:
Trading for Ben Gordon (June 26)
What was at stake: Theyll pay Gordon $12.4 million this season and $13.2 million next season, considerably more obligation than the $10.9 million they owed Corey Maggette, who went to Detroit in this deal.
Hows it working out? The Bobcats were the worst offensive team in the NBA last season, by almost any measure. Gordon can score in bunches; hes already had a 34-point game (vs. New Orleans). Is he worth everything the Bobcats are paying him? Thats debatable, but remember the Pistons also owe the Bobcats a future first-round pick as a result of this trade.
Drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (June 28)
What was at stake: They drafted the youngest player in the NBA for the second straight season.
Hows it working out? Kidd-Gilchrist hasnt been as spectacular as first pick Anthony Davis with New Orleans or sixth pick Damian Lillard with Portland. But hes brought versatility and energy to a team in need of both. Dunlap calls Kidd-Gilchrist a line-filler, as in he gives you points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals. He needs a more consistent, refined jump shot to complete this picture.
Drafting Jeff Taylor (June 28)
What was at stake: How to best use the top pick of the second round.
Hows it working out: Very well, considering Taylor was the 31st pick. Dunlap says Taylor will end up a Bruce Bowen-type, as in an elite defender and a dangerous jump-shooter. The chance to start and play heavy minutes while Gerald Henderson is injured has sped Taylors development.
Signing Ramon Sessions (July 13)
What was at stake: A total $10 million in salary over two seasons.
Hows it working out? If this continues, Sessions is easily the best free-agent signing in franchise history. He brings a lot a speed dribble, 3-point shooting, a feel for tempo and the ability to defend bigger players. But the biggest thing Sessions provides is fearlessness; hell take the shot that wins or loses a game without hesitation. The Bobcats havent had that since Stephen Jacksons departure.
Acquiring Brendan Haywood off amnesty waivers (July 14)
What was at stake: A total $6 million over three seasons.
Hows it working out? For all the talk last season about the Bobcats bad offense, they were just as flawed defending at the rim. It was commonplace for them to give up 50 points a game in the lane. Haywood provides a cost-effective post defender and starting center. Hes limited offensively, but his savvy and size are a big part of Dunlaps upgraded defense.
Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:
• The NBA acknowledged a foul should have been called on Kidd-Gilchrist at the end of Wednesdays one-point victory over the Toronto Raptors. Watching that game, I thought, The same team got five shots in the last possession. All misses and never a foul was called. Thats rare.
• Bernie Bickerstaff went 4-1 as interim coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Nice to know the Bobcats first coach/general manager still has it.
• If Andrew Bynums injuries linger, that Los Angeles-Orlando-Philadelphia trade will be a major sore spot for hard-to-please 76ers fans.
• The way John Calipari keeps recruiting lottery picks-to-be, Im surprised NBA teams dont just rent corporate apartments in Lexington, Ky., for their scouts. It would be cost-effective.
• The Bobcats schedule gets dramatically more challenging starting Monday night in Oklahoma City.