The Charlotte Bobcats open training camp next Tuesday, and this one ought to be different. Fans are interested and curious. They’re prepared, I think, to believe.
The camp with be the 16th for Charlotte general manager Rich Cho, and he says he is as excited as he has ever been. This is a man who came up with the Seattle SuperSonics, which became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bobcats have a new coach, Steve Clifford. But that’s not news. It’s news if they don’t have a new coach.
For the first time they splurged on a free agent, 6-foot-10, 289-pound center Al Jefferson. Jefferson’s moves are so old they’re covered with dust. But when was the last time somebody stopped them?
The Bobcats have a rookie, Cody Zeller, 7 feet and athletic, whom they love. They expect fans to love him, too.
They spent money to retain Gerald Henderson, who continues to evolve as a shooting guard.
They have second-year player Jeff Taylor, the greatest player in Sweden.
They have Josh McRoberts, who was surprisingly effective after the Bobcats picked him up last season moments before the trade deadline. He’s 6-10 and able and willing to pass, and he immediately made the Bobcats better.
Maybe Bismack Biyombo evolves into a defensive stopper with some semblance of an offense. Maybe guard Ben Gordon reappears in a new system with a new coach.
If point guard Kemba Walker improves as much between seasons two and three as he did between seasons one and two, what will he be?
“I’m sure he wants to be an All-Star,” says Charlotte president of basketball operations Rod Higgins. “I’m sure he’s thinking about how he can be a great player. But right now he’s our great player.”
If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist improves as much as Walker did after his rookie season, the Bobcats will have a slashing, attacking and defending starter who is working to add a jump shot. Kidd-Gilchrist has been training with new assistant coach Mark Price, a legendary shooter as a point guard.
Somebody asks Higgins if he can think of a player who, after coming to the NBA, evolved into a shooter. Higgins talks about Karl Malone, the former Utah big man.
Why reach to Utah for an example? Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was a mediocre shooter at North Carolina. He evolved into a good shooter as a pro.
“I’m not touching that one,” says Higgins, pointing his long, former NBA arm, in my direction. “You said that.”
The best team the Bobcats had was in 2009-10, when they made the playoffs. But they were swept by Orlando and they weren’t going to get any better.
This team will. The starters are in their 20s – except for Kidd-Gilchrist, who will be Thursday.
I have no idea how good the Bobcats will be. Could they win half their games? Such a statement would have been inconceivable last season. Maybe it’s inconceivable this season. But they’re young and they’re athletic and they’re deeper than they have ever been. They should be interesting. They could be competitive.
“Sometimes the beauty is the uncertainty,” Higgins says.
The certainty is that Charlotte offers possibilities.
“So let’s lace them up and see how it goes,” Higgins says.