Charlotte Hornets

Productive offseason will be worth a dozen wins for Charlotte Bobcats

Last season I wrote that the Charlotte Bobcats would win 21 games. Took a lot of criticism early; many readers thought that after winning seven games the previous (lockout-shortened) season, 21 was too ambitious. The Bobcats won 21 anyway.

I’m not going to brag. I’m not even going to take credit for the pick. Mere human beings don’t pluck magic victory numbers out of the air. I believe a lower-level deity spoke through me. Hope to hear from him, her or it again.

Now would be a good time.

There’s more interest in the Bobcats, who will revert to Hornets next season, than there has ever been. There’s more talk, more excitement and more long-term potential.

For the first time in franchise history the Bobcats signed a big-time free agent in big Al Jefferson. When Jefferson puts on an old-school inside move I expect the television screen to revert to black and white. As old as they are, the moves work. And the Bobcats shooters who lurk on the perimeter will be the beneficiaries.

Kemba Walker evolved into a leader last season, his second in the league. Despite Jefferson, this is still his team. Charlotte proved it is serious about competing by making the necessary move and retaining shooting guard Gerald Henderson.

Rookie Cody Zeller, who is not shy about his ability, would not have been my draft pick. But if you watched the exhibitions you often saw him beat everybody, not merely big men but guards and forwards, down court. You saw him instinctively rotate on defense.

At 7-0, he’s not a banger. But he is an athlete. And if general manager Rich Cho is accurate, Zeller will hit mid-range jumpers, go to the basket and force big men to wander outside to guard him.

Small forward Jeffery Taylor is the greatest player in Sweden, and he does all right in the U.S., too. The star of the Swedish FIBO EuroBasket team, Taylor is athletic and versatile. I can’t think of anything he does exceptionally. I can’t think of anything he doesn’t do well.

I like power forward Josh McRoberts. He made such a beautifully subtle impact last season that the team was able to jettison 3-point specialist Byron Mullens. I’m not sure how many of you realize this, but Mullens purchased a banjo not long before he left. He plays for the Los Angeles Clippers now. Banjos are not big in L.A.

Passing is, and always will be, one of the least appreciated facets of basketball. McRoberts is 6-10, sees angles and is a deft and willing passer. I am so glad Charlotte retained him.

I’m curious to see how Ben Gordon plays. Cast aside and abandoned last season, he ought to be the team’s best shooter.

Maybe Bismack Biyombo evolves into a consistent defensive and rebounding specialist. They’re valuable; they can influence a game without requiring the ball.

The evolution of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who turned 20 last month, will be interesting to monitor. When he shoots his jumper, parents near courtside instinctively cover their children.

While a big man such as Biyombo can afford to be a non-shooter, a small forward such as Kidd-Gilchrist can’t. I like his drive and I like his defense. He loves to go to the basket, and he’s good at it. But defenders will wait for him until he forces them to respect his shot, which seems to come in two parts, when it comes at all.

Maybe assistant coach Mark Price, once one of the NBA’s best shooters, will improve Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting. But Price grew up with his shot. And Kidd-Gilchrist grew up with his.

The Bobcats have a new coach. Someday, I’m going to write a column that does not include that sentence. They made a mistake with Mike Dunlap, who lasted only last season. Steve Clifford is an NBA insider, a dues payer who doesn’t think he knows all there is to know and proved it the way he filled out his staff.

There will be nights when the Bobcats struggle to consistently hit a jump shot or grab a rebound. But they’ll hustle, they’ll play defense, they’ll give up the ball and they’ll entertain.

The most recent over-under number in Las Vegas for Bobcats’ victories was 26.

Maybe the lower-level deity is using me for sport. But I don’t think lower-level deities are like that.

They win 33.

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