NBA Analysis: Michael Jordan Using Mavs as Template for Bobcats?

| by David Berri

The Charlotte Bobcats are currently 9th in the Eastern Conference standings. And since only eight teams make the playoffs, this means the Bobcats are currently scheduled for a date with some lottery balls in May.

Although the Bobcats would not be in the playoffs if the season ended today, the team is fairly close.The Bobcats are currently only one game out of the 8th spot. Given how close this team is to a playoff appearance, one might expect the Bobcats to be doing everything in their power to get better. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

About two weeks ago the Bobcats sent Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trail Blazers for two first-round picks (conditional pick from New Orleans this year and a 2013 pick from Portland), Joel Przybilla, and Dante Cunningham.  

What did Wallace mean to the Bobcats? From 2004-05 (the Bobcats first season) to 2009-10, Wallace produced 70.0 wins and posted a 0.226 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. This season – as the following table indicates – Wallace is again an above average player (average WP48 is 0.100).

In fact, Wallace leads the Bobcats in Wins Produced.  And when we look at the entire cast of players employed in Charlotte this season, Wallace is one of only five players to post a WP48 mark that is above average (average WP48 is 0.100).

Of these five, Derrick Brown was waived on February 24 (to make room for the players brought in at the trade deadline).  Tyrus Thomas has missed most of the season due to injury; but he may return soon and take the place of D.J. White, who has been above average in the 102 minutes he has played this season. 

The other above average player is D.J. Augustin.  Not only has Augustin posted the highest Wins Produced on this team (after Wallace), with Tyrus Thomas hurt (and Derrick Brown off the team), Augustin is the only player left on the roster who has played more than 102 minutes and posted a WP48 mark above 0.100.  And with a mark of 0.110, Augustin is only slightly above average.

With so little production left on the roster, we should not be surprised that the Bobcats have lost five consecutive games by a combined margin of 91 points.  Yes, just when Charlotte should be driving for the playoffs, they are playing some of the worst basketball – from any team in the NBA – we have seen all year. 

Of course, Jordan says that this all part of the plan.

In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Jordan said “I love the trade” that sent the former All-Star Wallace to Portland. While the backup center Przybilla was the only likely rotation player Charlotte got in return, Jordan says it gives his club “flexibility” to make future moves because it acquired two first-round picks and cleared salary-cap space.

“I think it’s one of the best trades,” Jordan said.

Jordan said he’s not content with jockeying for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. He believes the deal puts the franchise in better shape ahead of perhaps a lower payroll ceiling in the next labor deal as he tries to build a contender

“We don’t want to be the seventh or eighth seed,” he said.

Jordan appears to be doing his best to get his wish. Even if Thomas comes back and produces, the Bobcats are going to have a hard time making the playoffs.   And even if the Bobcats make the playoffs, there is little chance this team could advance against the top teams in the East.

So what is the plan?  The Bobcats sent their most productive player to the Blazers for two non-lottery first round picks and two players who don’t have contracts beyond this season.  Jordan says he is going to take this salary cap space and draft picks and go acquire players who can move the Bobcats past the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Given that this is the person who drafted Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, this seems like a dubious plan.

Then again, maybe Jordan is simply trying to learn from Mark Cuban. Cuban recently confessed that once Dirk Nowitzki retires he expects the Mavericks to lose, and, if he gets his way, they’ll lose badly.  In other words, Cuban is arguing that the Mavericks success under his ownership is mostly about Nowitzki (not sure that is entirely true, but the Mavericks success is certainly not – as we just saw this past weekend – about Adjusted Plus-Minus). So the Cuban plan is to be very, very bad and then hope to build your team through lottery picks and salary cap space.

We should remember that Jordan completed the Wallace trade before Cuban’s comment.  But the thinking seems quite similar.  And the thinking – for fans of the Bobcats – is that Charlotte is better off giving away their most productive player for some chance to acquire productive players in the future. 

Who are these productive players?  We don’t know. 

Will Jordan know these players when he sees them?  The past doesn’t give fans of this team much hope, but that is what fans of this team are being sold. 

Yes, Wallace was traded for a vague hope for tomorrow.  As the Bobcats struggle to win games across the last month of the season, fans of the team should keep this vague hope in mind.

- DJ