The Charlotte Bobcats approached Wednesday night with two agendas – winning right now and setting themselves up to win more often in the future.
The first mission was emphatically accomplished, as Charlotte blew past Detroit for the second night in a row, 116-98. The Bobcats have returned from the all-star break honed in and hustling, and they obviously care more about getting to the playoffs than the Pistons do.
The second mission? That remains to be seen. The NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline on Thursday looms.
Charlotte hadn’t made a deal as of late Wednesday. I would like to see them make one.
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It’s not over. By unofficial NBA rule, a few hours before that deadline is when the prices get realistic.
The Bobcats – who would be in the NBA playoffs if they began today, but just barely – need another scorer. But how badly do they want one?
Enough to give up Ben Gordon’s expiring contract (a $13.2 million cap value)? Certainly. Enough to give up one of those future first-round picks owed to them by Portland and Detroit? Maybe, if the player is right.
Why should the Bobcats make a trade? The team as currently constructed has some good pieces. Its effort is outstanding. But it remains five games under .500. It needs more firepower.
But renting a player like the Lakers’ Pau Gasol for 27 games until his contract runs out doesn’t make sense. Orlando shooting guard Arron Afflalo would have made a lot of sense, but reports are that the Magic aren’t going to move him. There are other scorers out there, though.
The thing is that for one of the few times in their decade-long existence, the Bobcats have a chance to do something. They’ve made the playoffs only once in a mostly sad existence. They have never won a playoff game.
That could change with a team that has strong players at basketball’s two most important positions – point guard and center. When big man Al Jefferson (29 points, eight rebounds Wednesday) and little man Kemba Walker (24 points and a career-high 16 assists) are both on as they were for two nights in a row against Detroit, the Bobcats can play with anybody.
To put it in last week’s terms, Jefferson is the Bobcats’ snowplow. Walker is the team’s ice.
Jefferson has been quietly playing as well as any big man in the league for the past month. Walker will continue to be underrated until his team wins more, but he’s as slippery as Independence Boulevard was the first day it snowed.
It’s still not enough, and the casual sports fan knows it. Wednesday night the Bobcats played a home game against one of the teams they will compete with for the season’s final third for a playoff spot. The stands were about a third full when the game started. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan turned 51 this week, and he remains dogged by the fact that his tenure in the front office has produced no NBA championship rings to go along with the six he earned as a player.
If the Bobcats are ever going to catch Indiana and Miami in the Eastern Conference, they have to be aggressive. The Bobcats probably aren’t going to win the NBA lottery anytime soon. Even if they happen to get in it this year, they won’t have enough ping-pong balls. That means days like Thursday are huge for Charlotte.
The Bobcats don’t have a game Thursday.
They have something better: An opportunity.