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In My Opinion

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Bobcats playing too well to tank

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

There are two ways the Charlotte Bobcats can go.

They can tank, lose games they ought to win and get a guaranteed lottery pick. I believe in karma (for people other than me). I believe that because of the Bobcats’ consistently abysmal lottery luck they will, if they get in, win a higher pick than their record suggests. The 2014 draft is vast. It looks like a reward.

When I say tank, Rod Higgins, Charlotte’s president of basketball operations, looks as if he was stricken by a sudden disease.

Of course, the Bobcats aren’t going to lose intentionally. You can’t ask a starter such as Kemba Walker or a reserve such as Jeff Adrien to give less than they have. You can’t ask anybody on the roster, any player or coach or executive. They didn’t make it to the NBA by going at half speed.

But there are ways to subtly slip into the lottery. As the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches, the Bobcats could draw in instead of reaching out for a player who can lift them.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said before the Charlotte-Dallas game at Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday that Charlotte’s actions will depend on “who’s available and what makes sense.”

At halftime, Higgins says he can’t put a percentage on the likelihood of a trade.

“But the thing you should know is we’re definitely shaking the tree,” he says.

Higgins wants to trade. He wants to improve.

He goes so far as to say that he hopes “a trade pans out.”

Higgins is tired of losing. They all are. They won fewer games in 2011-12 than some teams win in two weeks. They won seven. Last season they won 21.

The Bobcats’ impressive 114-89 victory against Dallas gave them 23 victories. They’re in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and 1½ games behind seventh-place Brooklyn.

Obviously, they don’t want to finish eighth or seventh and open against Indiana or Miami. They’re six games below .500. Going into Tuesday’s games, only four teams in the conference were above .500. Atlanta was one game above and Toronto three.

With center Al Jefferson (30 points Tuesday) playing like an all-star and the Bobcats creatively and consistently and, against Dallas, beautifully finding ways to get him the ball, they can be pretty good.

Of course the Bobcats can’t give up a player and undermine the progress they’ve made.

But how long do they wait? The season is their 10th. They made the playoffs once, and they were guests, swept by Orlando. And they made the playoffs only because of two veterans who, as talented and as versatile as they were, had peaked. They were never as effective again.

The Bobcats are (said to be) interested in Philadelphia’s 6-foot-7 Evan Turner. Give him room, or the opportunity to create it, and watch him work. He averages 17.4 points, six rebounds and 3.7 assists. He shoots 43.1 percent from the field. (He’s not a 3-point threat; he shoots 28.7 from deep.)

In the last 10 games, however, Turner and his team have gone into the – sorry, Rod – tank. In that span Turner has averaged 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He’s shot 37.8 percent from the field.

The Bobcats presumably are offering Ben Gordon, whose contract expires after the season, and a first-round pick. But which pick? They own Portland’s, which will be late, and Detroit’s, which will be good to decent.

Turner’s contract also expires at the end of the season. He might want max money and he’s not a max player. But by joining Jefferson and Walker and Josh McRoberts, who had 13 assists all by himself Tuesday, he would get opportunities he doesn’t now.

A wing that can score is an interesting concept.

So is trading not to move up in the draft but to win.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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