We've been stopped on the street and harassed for not showing enough wanton love to the Bobcats, by far the weirdest, most sick and twisted team in the postseason. As brave and futuristic as the Thunder are, trying to even make a bandwagon out of them is like getting married to your iPhone. What's more, while Kevin Durant was busy getting man-handled by Ron Artest and the Thunder's slippery line-up crushed by Andrew Bynum, Gerald Wallace was grabbing rebounds over Dwight Howard.
We had figured that, like something built with instructions xeroxed from The Anarchist's Cookbook, this team would either fizzle, burn off the hair of all involved or make its owner very, very dangerous. Orlando may have won the battle, but the war is on. When Stephen Jackson promises an upset, and Gerald Wallace states nonchalantly that "We will keep going at him. If he blocks 20 shots, he blocks 20 shots,'' Charlotte is one single win away from throwing these whole playoffs into disorder -- however briefly.
Thus, in advance of being given something to believe in, here are THE BOBCAT CHRONICLES, your guide to the team too convoluted to even be colorful. A team so motley that Larry Brown gets lost in the mix. The Bobcats hardly seem real, and yet, if they steal a game, it will be time to break out those eye-patches and ragged mouth guards, take to the streets, and start talking with your friends about how the best giant-killers aren't small, they're strange.
Seriously, if ever there were a time to put on extra shirts, this would be it.
Ajinca, Alexis: French seven-footer who would have been a lottery pick if he'd been born three years earlier. When he falls asleep at night, Ajinca aspires to be a taller Boris Diaw. Then he turns around and sees the real Boris Diaw and gets really scared, since your shadow is supposed to be bigger than you, and also a shadow of you, not better than you. Larry Brown has suggested therapy, but the language barrier makes Ajinca think he's telling him to go to a spa. That's why he spends all that time in D-League. It's somewhere in between the two. (BS)
Augustin, D.J.: Brown tried to trade Augustin for T.J. Ford at the deadline, so that tells you all you need to know about the state of this young point guard. Augustin has yet to learn that the way to Coach Brown's heart is through punching opponents; he won't make the leap now, not with Jameer Nelson and Jason Williams glowering across the court. It remains to be seen whether Augustin will transform into Jerryd Bayless if a teammate were to bop him on the head harder than necessary. (Tom ZIller)
Brown, Derrick: I go months confusing Brown and fellow rookie James Johnson. Then LeBron destroys the latter on prime time television, and everything is illuminated. (TZ)
(BS: I like to think of him as the reincarnation of Kedrick Brown, most notable for being drafted right after Joe Johnson by the Celtics, but not getting the chance to follow him to Phoenix and be born anew.)
Chandler, Tyson: A truly amazing life, and one nowhere near over. Chandler was a high school sensation in Compton, he showed up on 60 Minutes as a high school freshman. Brought in, along with Eddy Curry, to replace Elton Brand and move the Bulls ahead. Being brought in with Curry tainted him forever, as did going one spot after Kwame Brown and playing under youth-hating Scott Skiles. Toward the end of his time in Chicago, he proved he could board. But at that point, his failure to bring back the glory of the Jordan era made him a bust, so he found himself on the Hornets -- where he teamed up with Chris Paul to take full advantage of his length, speed, and athleticism.
When that team was good, Chandler figured prominently. Then injuries set in, then the Hornets tried to ship him to OKC (a perfect match), then the OKC doctor failed Chandler on the physical on account of foot problems, even though that same doctor had operated on him in the first place when the Hornets were taking refuge from Katrina. Eventually the Hornets traded him for Emeka Okafor, a transaction that should have a shampoo named after it. Hurt all year, he's only now coming back and putting his old springy self into Charlotte's vagabond mix. (BS)
Diaw, Boris: The bridge that makes a Stephen Jackson-Gerald Wallace wing pairing work. Only Diaw is the power forward and thus Wallace, the small forward, ought to be the "bridge" in strictly spatial terms, given the established system in which point guards are 1s, shooting guards 2s, etc. But Wallace isn't anything like a bridge -- he's a force unto himself. He doesn't make anything click, he just gets buckets, rebounds, blocks and steals. Really, Wallace is a power forward on this team and Diaw is the gap-filling bridge between Wallace and Jackson. But once you get to this conclusion, Diaw ends up looking less like a unique, gap-filling bridge and more like a true small forward.
As a power forward, he's weird. As a small forward, he's completely mundane. It seems sacrilege to say it, after all we've been through with Diaw. Heck, had Billy Knight not designated Boris the world's largest point guard and had Mike D'Antoni not determined he was instead the world's most self-aware center, which, when combined with the poisonous lash of Brown, we would have never gotten the peculiar (even by these surreal standards) Boris Diaw whom existed prior to Charlotte's trade for Jackson. Captain Jack, naturally, cleared up the confusion, leaving us with Boris Diaw, Prototypical Small Forward. (TZ)
Diop, DeSagana: Went after Chandler in that historically high school-riddled 2001 draft. Considered a bust, then a shot-blocker and nothing else, then a center-in-embryo for the Cavs. Signed with the Mavs, where he apprenticed behind Erick Dampier, a profound experience from which he has never quite recovered. Eventually seized the starting role, then traded to the Bobcats in early 2009. An early sign that this team would be built on height and Michael Jordan's insistence on repenting, or proving himself at least in the vicinity of right, for the Kwame Brown pick. (BS)
Felton, Raymond: Most players hold on to their youthful attributes as long as possible, often through the use of yoga, compression sleeves and VIP booths. Felton, however, can't wait to turn 29 so that he can fulfill his prophecy as LeBron's Derek Fisher. (TZ)
Graham, Stephen: Not Joey Graham, or a preacher, or the pious Baldwin brother.
That's Stephen Graham. (BS)
Henderson, Gerald: Less important for what he is (supposedly, an athletic swingman for Duke, which is like shopping for sailboat parts on a distant star), than what he stands for. At the beginning of this season, the Bobcats were thought to need help, bad. This middling pick didn't exactly spell REBUILDING, and was useful mostly for a bunch of UNC/Duke jokes. Here's the thing: Henderson has been a non-factor, and plenty of picks after him (Ty Lawson and Darren Collison, to name a couple) have been stupendous in year one.
To make things even stickier, it's all point guards that Charlotte could have drafted instead -- and while Felton has improved and Augustin can hit a shot, Lawson or Collison would have smoked either of them. And saved the team money going forward. But you know what? This isn't talked about. No one cares. It doesn't matter. Just like when Phoenix refused to draft anyone. That means everyone was having too much fun or sucking in too much of the fumes. (BS)
Hughes, Larry: I admit to not knowing that Hughes was on the Bobcats. In fact, I am somewhat proud of that. This team is like a black hole, but in a good way. There is no contract, no enigmatic player, it can't absorb. Note: I did not say "flawed" players. This isn't some island where pill-head kids go to learn self-respect and possibly die in a boot camp like environment. Nor is it accepting of who these guys really are. It -- and the more I type that, and associate it with a celestial entity, the more I realize that "it" is Larry Brown as Marvel Comics supra-character or wise, detached deity -- somehow isn't troubled by this quality.
Is this what a coach learns from coaching Allen Iverson? Or is that look of resignation seeping into his brain? Whatever, it's proof that the less you bother someone, the less it matters that they bother you. (BS)
Jackson, Stephen: This Jackson is the Phil Jackson of players. He makes the parts work. Baron Davis's Warriors were lost until Jack came along as well as during his post-"We Believe!" 7-game suspension. These Bobcats only scratched the surface of potential prior to the arrival of Jackson. But while Phil uses offenses and a philosophy which seeks to damage the ego, Stephen's mere presence boosts the swagger of his legions. Kenyon Martin, DeShawn Stevenson and the new Kevin Garnett propagate what Tim Thomas would deem "fugazy" -- plotted, purposeful (and as such, ultimately fake) swagger. Jackson brings swagger for swagger's sake, much like Bruce Wayne or the Turkish Angora. It's just there, and it affects you. (TZ)
Mohammad, Nazr: Once put up 20 and 20 for a few games in a row as a Hawk, back around 2002. I will never forget that. He got a ring with the Spurs, I think, and from his Twitter, I know that his son was accidentally placed on the no-fly list once, and that he loves police procedurals. A center, but mostly, a man. (BS)
Ratliff, Theo: Wait, what? Chandler, Diop, Mohammad, and Ratliff? I wonder if he's forgiven Brown yet for trading him away from the magical 2000-01 Sixers team. This really might be the tallest team ever assembled. And yet their best rebounder is 6-foot-7. (BS)
Thomas, Tyrus: OK, admit it, you thought that Brown would either unlock T-Time's secrets in Charlotte and make him a star, or exile him to Neptune. No middle ground. Guess what? Brown has played Thomas about the same amount of time in about the same role as Vinny Del Negro did, thereby relinquishing his own candidacy for Coach of the Year while boosting that of VDN. And all it does for Thomas is provide incontrovertible proof he's a player who gets coaches fired. (TZ)
Wallace, Gerald: This one's personal. I've been a huge fan of his since the Sacramento days, and I never thought I'd see him play a meaningful game. And somehow, that didn't matter. Wallace was the shibboleth of discerning NBA dorks; what's more, talking about his career felt like you were recalling a players from lost late-seventies. When he re-signed with Charlotte without even bothering to really test the free agent market, Wallace left us wondering exactly what his goals were, other than not getting killed out on the court. Yet it looks like, all long, he knew something the rest of us didn't. Him and Jackson could go down in history.
And yes, that would make Larry Brown the Jack Nicholson dude riding on the back for half the movie. (BS)