What will the Charlotte Bobcats need most to attain sustained success? A point guard? A center? A scorer?
I’d say the thing they need is luck. It plays a bigger role in NBA success than many want to acknowledge.
The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are considered two of the best-run franchises in the league. But all the quality planning and scouting those franchises represent would mean little had good fortune not befallen them.
The Spurs had the NBA’s third-worst record in 1997, but leap-frogged into the top draft pick via the lottery. That allowed them to select Tim Duncan, now a lock to go to the Hall of Fame. There were some decent players available in ’97, including Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. But no one else who came close to the title-winning impact Duncan has had.
The Thunder ended up with the No. 2 pick in 2007. Greg Oden was considered the consensus top pick that year, a can’t-miss center from Ohio State. Only Oden did miss, due to a series of injuries, and isn’t even playing this season. Durant is arguably the NBA’s greatest offensive weapon right now and the centerpiece of a team that won the Western Conference last season.
My point: As smart as the Spurs were to find Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as savvy as the Thunder was in drafting Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, those complementary players don’t count for much without Duncan in San Antonio and Durant in Oklahoma City.
I think the Bobcats have gotten their act together. They acquired three veteran players last summer – Ramon Sessions, Brendan Haywood and Ben Gordon – and each one has improved this roster. They drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor, both of whom start.
But all those surgical moves will count for only so much without a star. It’s a reasonable assumption the Bobcats are a long shot to sign a megastar free agent; Charlotte just isn’t a glamour market. So the star will likely have to be home-grown and that means the draft.
Specifically, lottery luck.
I get why, after suffering through a 7-59 season, Bobcats fans felt frustrated, if not cheated, when the lottery didn’t supply the top pick and Anthony Davis. But I don’t favor doing away with the draft lottery.
I’ve heard commissioner David Stern’s argument, and it’s valid: Once every five to 10 years, there will be a player so game-changing that the league has to guard against the perception a franchise is tanking to get him. That’s how much more a LeBron James or Durant impacts basketball.
The encouraging thing is if San Antonio and Oklahoma City are model franchises, then the advantages intrinsic to a Los Angeles or New York aren’t insurmountable. It can still work in Charlotte.
But not without that stroke of luck that so far has evaded them.
Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:
• Ex-Bobcat Raymond Felton was fantastic in that Thursday night blowout of the Heat in Miami. Can’t imagine anyone I’d be happier for. Raymond is classy and kind and charitable: A classic product of good parenting.
• Charlottean Stephen Curry, who plays here Monday with the Golden State Warriors, never got too big for Davidson College. That’s pretty classy, too.
• Assuming reaching the playoffs this season is a long shot, the Bobcats staying out of the basement in the Southeast Division would represent progress. So a road game in Atlanta Thursday, followed by a Saturday home game against Orlando, could be big before the first West Coast trip.
• A scheduling oddity: By the end of this month the Bobcats will have already played 16 of 30 total games this season against the Western Conference.
• I imagine Friday practice was pretty animated for the Miami Heat after that pounding they took from the Knicks. Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t offer any “just one game’’ quotes after that one.