As the Rodeo Road Trip continues, the injury-riddled Spurs head to Charlotte to take on a Bobcats team on track for its first playoff appearance since 2010. DBWalker from SBNation's Bobcats blog, Rufus on Fire, had some great questions about their upcoming opponent, and I decided to shoot a few back. He gave some excellent insight into the state of the team and what fans expect from them as they move into next era of Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets basketball.
The Spurs have had injury issues this year, and Pop is known to rest players anyway so who's going to be available in Charlotte?
Pop is one of the league's great wild cards, isn't he? David Stern must be over the moon to not be playing Principal Rooney to Pop's Ferris Bueller anymore.
With the number of injuries the team's been dealing with at the beginning of the Rodeo Road Trip, it was pretty much inevitable that there would be at least one game where we'd see the Big Three (or whatever part of it was still standing) rested. The decision of when to do that was made easier after the double-OT game in Washington. Having played Tim Duncan 41 minutes in that win, it wasn't a big surprise to see him sit out the next one.
As far as the game against Charlotte on Saturday, I don't see why he'd rest Timmy again. He'll have had a few days' rest and will be important for containing Big Al. Tony is a bit trickier, given his exit from the Wizards game, and I haven't yet heard the latest on his status. I'd err on the side of him sitting out and Cory Joseph getting some more minutes.
How are Bobcats fans feeling about their head coach? Is Steve Clifford (I promise I did not just Google to find out what his name was) their man for the future?
Haha, it's cool. I can't blame you. Clifford is among 13 new head coaches this year, nine of them first-timers. But yes, the Bobcats have finally found a franchise head coach. Charlotte fans have to be thrilled to quite thrilled with what Clifford and his staff have been able to do with the Bobcat roster and culture. Changing the culture of losing is no easy feat, and it is by no means complete. But Clifford has instilled a focused, dedicated defensive game plan that he's gotten the entire roster to buy into and work on a nightly basis. After going through many head coaches rather quickly (gotta give some points for speed) the Bobcats got exactly what they needed in Clifford. He also compiled a great staff, including former NBA stars Patrick Ewing and Mark Price. The Bobcats play hard consistently and with a plan. Turns out that makes a difference.
Manu Ginobli aims to be back after the All-Star break do the Spurs need him to be the Manu of old or have they added enough depth to not need as many minutes from him?
Manu has silenced most worries that San Antonio's re-signing of him was sentimental folly. He's been ultra-efficient this season in playing a similar, but slightly smaller, role for the team. It's kind of like he's splintered off into two players - one who resembles him (albeit with a slightly larger bald spot), and another who looks decidedly more Italian and wears the number 7. I think if he can come back from injury and play like he has, while throwing in a couple of performances like last year's Game 5 against Miami, the Spurs will be in good shape for another run.
With the Bobcats currently on track for an eighth seed in the playoffs, what are fans' opinions of an early-round matchup against a team like the Pacers? Would you rather finish just outside the top eight and have a slim chance at winning the lottery in this year's coveted draft?
Weeeeell that's the thing. There is a divide between fans who want the playoff birth and those that want to maintain a spot in the lottery. There are variations of both of course. The best possible scenario is probably the Bobcats doing well enough to make the sixth seed in the East, therefore avoiding playing the Pacers or the Heat in the first round, and at the same time grabbing Detroit's draft pick owed to the Bobcats which is top eight protected. The Bobcats could send their own first round pick to Chicago, that one is top 10 protected. It seems likely that one is gone and certainly will be should they get to the sixth spot. Charlotte will almost certainly get Portland's first rounder as well, which is just top 12 protected. So, the Bobcats could have as many as three picks in the first round, and will likely have one at worst but that will come pretty late.
The worst case is just missing the playoffs and having to send their first round pick to Chicago anyway. Coming off this 3-1 west coast trip, it's difficult to not feel a little momentum building and the prospect of making the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history is very appealing. Personally, I'm of the belief that making the playoffs is always a good thing. The last time Charlotte made the post-season it had an older team, that was instantly blown up after getting swept by Orlando. This team is younger, and doesn't seem as likely to suffer that fate. (Ben Swanson had a great post on the comparison of the two teams this week ) Clifford has said you need to make progress, make the playoffs, win in the playoffs, then try to win championships. And Kemba Walker echoed those statements this week saying the team should be focused on the playoffs, not drafting another young player.
The Bobcats have been burned by and squandered so many drafts that you'd think they might as well try another route to build a contender. The prospect of the unknown is always going to be tempting, especially to a fanbase that is still looking for a truly marquee player. So you can't blame anyone for wanting to get in on what could be the best draft we've seen in quite some time. Still, good teams make the playoffs and play in the post season, I think that's what the goal should be.
Is it fair to say Kawhi Leonard was not having the huge breakout season some thought he might have after his play in the Finals or is that being overblown?
I'd say fans definitely had higher expectations of Kawhi, whether fair or not, after seeing what he did against the Heat in the Finals. However I don't see his season as a disappointment, since it's not a question of him being asked to do more and failing at that. Almost all his numbers are up almost across the board the last time I checked, and I can see him having a stronger second half once he gets over his injury. Still, it wouldn't hurt to see him really take over a game just to give us a taste of what we still think he'll be capable of doing regularly in the (near) future.
Are there any young guys who, like us with Kawhi, Bobcats fans are especially hopeful for in the future? How much have you soured on the potential of guys like MKG and Biyombo?
Right now MKG is the big one. Being the number-two overall pick carries a lot of weight, even in that draft. As good as he is on defense, and in particular as good as he makes the Bobcats on defense when he's playing, his offense has not gotten any better really. His strength on offense is grabbing the ball and slashing, streaking, driving, dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging to the rim. He should never shoot a jumper. And that poses a little bit of a problem. But, he's still in just his second year and is still very young. I don't think it will be fair to judge him until next year really, and I certainly hope the Bobcats don't give up on him just yet, as is always the rumor.
Biyombo has seen a big reduction in responsibility and minutes under Clifford. He basically told the young big guy to just concentrate on attacking the glass and playing defense. Which is smart because he can do those things. He still has trouble catching the ball and making a move. Again, this poses problems. But, he should be a very cheap player to keep under contract, and there are worse guys to have spelling Al Jefferson, Josh McRoberts and whomever settles in as future starter in the front court. He's also very young and very athletic. He works hard and is still learning the game. Both players, had they been picked in the mid to late part of the first round would not be under as much fire as they sometimes are. But they weren't.
Fans are obviously excited about Kemba Walker's development and also have relatively high hopes for second-year swing man Jeff Taylor, who is out for the season.
Tim Duncan is....pretty incredible. Having a game like he did the other night in a double-overtime win against the Wizards and how he's played all year at his age is nothing short of amazing. How much does he have left?
Being unfamiliar with the limitations of nanotechnology, or the model number that Timmy's implanted into his body, I honestly have no idea how much he has left in the tank, however I can see the memories of Game 7 propelling him to keep up this level of play at least through to the end of this season. Producing like he has at the age of 37, Duncan really has been incredible and - however these playoffs may end for him - he's certainly padded his already-peerless resume.
Next year the Bobcats will be no more. Had you grown to love the team name and mascot, or are you more excited to once again have the Hornets in town?
I think folks learned to like the name more than love it. It wasn't that popular at the time of the original naming, and its namesake didn't exactly endear himself to anyone in Charlotte. The Hornets have the nostalgia and the history the Bobcats will, and could, never have. The overwhelming majority desperately wanted the Hornets name to return, and even those that have followed the Bobcats faithfully from the beginning and are die hards have a hard time not admitting it's obviously the correct move. Still, there is some sense of brotherhood among those Bobcat fans who have been on board when the ship was sinking, and under water.
Everyone is excited for the Hornets return. It makes sense – it's as natural as an NBA team name can be, I suppose, because it's what people are used to. Not one season went by since they arrived that I didn't hear an announcer or commentator call the Bobcats the Hornets. So there are many fans who will happily wipe away any existence of the Bobcats, gleefully hopping back on board now that a name from the past has returned. But yes, I think there probably is a certain set of the fanbase who will miss Rufus and his Bobcattiness. But don't get me wrong, there is a huge level of excitement over the return of the Hornets, so it's a good thing.
Assuming everyone gets back healthy in time for a playoff run, what do the Spurs need to do to get back to the Finals in a loaded West?
Learn to neutralize the Reggie Jacksons of the West (namely, Reggie Jackson). Health is the big one, but I suppose that's the case with every team in the league. Beyond that, only a matchup against a Thunder team at full strength really scares me, even with the Spurs' awful record against the NBA's top teams this season, and Jackson has taken great pleasure in being a Spurs-killer this year.
Of course, there are a number of other things they need to do right to make it back to the Promised Land, but the fact that, as a Spurs fan, I immediately jump to something so small is a testament to the faith Pop and the boys have instilled in us over the years. Whatever is to happen, I'm really looking forward to see how the rest of this season unfolds.
What about the Bobcats/Hornets? Obviously a championship this year isn't expected, but what is the ideal outlook for your team over the next, say, three to five years?
Right now the biggest steps were changing the culture, which is well on it's way to happening, and making the playoffs. The playoffs should be the realistic goal at this moment and quite frankly if they can't make the playoffs this year in the East there will likely be a heightened level of concern in the organization, assuming everyone stays relatively healthy. But the chances of landing a very high draft pick are pretty slim right now, which means the Bobcats will have to draft well when they have their chance, not something that has always been a strong suit. They will have a good bit of money to throw at some disgruntled star on another team should anyone fit that bill.
The Al Jefferson signing opened up the possibility of signing bigger name players. Jefferson has been worth every bit of his salary this year, and the Bobcats almost had to take the chance at signing him when they could. If they can add another very good signing, and bring in quality in the draft the organization will be on its way to fostering the young core they have in Walker, MKG, and Jefferson (he's only 29, OK!). What they need is more scoring, and they really need a player who can shoot and create his own shot. Walker is a scoring point but could really benefit from having a Bradley Beal type guy to run with. So the next three to five years the team should be focused on building off the momentum (hopefully) from this year, continue to add pieces and, if they get lucky, a star. Smart signings and good drafting will of course be key. Consistently making the playoffs, and making noise, should be a realistic outlook over the next three to five years with sights set on approaching a conference championship by the end.
You can follow DBWalker on Twitter at @davidbwalker, and be sure to keep up with what he and the other writers are saying about the Spurs at Rufus on Fire.