By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - For the 2012-13 NBA season, the Charlotte Bobcats were not as historically bad as they were the previous season.
That's what they should've printed on their season tickets.
Two seasons ago, the Bobcats had the worst winning percentage in league history. If not for a labor-shortened season, Charlotte could have enjoyed the worst record ever.
Last season was much better, although the Bobcats would not be confused with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Bobcats did pick up seven wins in November.
And 14 over the next five months.
The Bobcats suffered through an 18-game losing streak that spanned into a 1-15 December. They were back to being the laughing stock of the NBA. (In fact, a three-game Charlotte winning streak at the end of the season gave the Orlando Magic the worst record in the league.)
With some cash in pocket (after finally jettisoning the unreliable Tyrus Thomas), and a need for an impact guy, the Bobcats signed Al Jefferson to a three-year deal.
Jefferson has never gotten the royal treatment his numbers may warrant. The center has averaged 18.9 ppg and 10.1 rpg over the last seven season, all the while staying relatively healthy. (Jefferson tweaked an ankle in a preseason game, but should be fine.)
"The Charlotte Bobcats did a great job coming at me (in free agency) and made me feel like they were a team that really respected my game and made me feel like a part of the family," said Jefferson.
They could use a borderline superstar. The Bobcats tied for 26th in scoring and 27th in rebounding, two things Jefferson should help with immediately. Jefferson is not known as a good defensive player and Charlotte could definitely use a boost on that side of the floor. The Bobcats finished 29th in opponents' scoring.
With a fringe superstar in the fold, stability should come with it. Problem is, Michael Jordan and the rest of the Bobcats brass canned Mike Dunlap after just a season. Dunlap was different, yes, but the team improved under his guidance, yet he was still shown the door.
Enter Steve Clifford, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers coaching staff. He will be the sixth different Bobcats coach in the last 10 years.
"I think the culture starts around the head coach and the team leaders," Clifford said at his introductory press conference. "They're going to set the tone every day in practice and set the tone for the intensity every night you play."
Those leaders are Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions.
"The younger core guys are above average competitors," noted Clifford.
That may be true, but for the Bobcats to match last season's win total, it'll take more that competitiveness.
2012-13 Results: 21-61, 4th in Southeast. Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: HC Steve Clifford, C Al Jefferson, F/C Cody Zeller, F Anthony Tolliver
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kemba Walker SG- Gerald Henderson SF- Michael Kidd-Gilchrest PF- Cody Zeller C- Al Jefferson
KEY RESERVES: G Ben Gordon, G Ramon Sessions, F Josh McRoberts, C Bismack Biyombo, F Jeffrey Taylor, G Jannero Pargo, F Anthony Tolliver
FRONTCOURT: Jefferson is a sensational low-post talent. He will immediately improve the on-court product, but Jefferson has never been a winner at any point in his career. That may be remarkably bad luck, but it might be reflective of him. (Jefferson has never been labeled anything but a model teammate.)
Kidd-Gilchrist was the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and was not taken to be an impact guy right away. His numbers were modest (9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 1.5 apg), and his shooting needs to improve. Kidd-Gilchrist posted marks of 45 percent from the field (good) and 22 percent from the 3-point line (bad). His development is key to the Bobcats' franchise. His numbers should go up some.
Zeller was an odd choice for the fourth pick in this past draft. He has many pros in his column including being a great athlete, possessing a high basketball IQ, shockingly good range and being a great passer. Zeller may not be strong enough to battle bigs on the block every night.
BACKCOURT: Walker might have had the best season no one outside the Walker family cared about in 2012-13. He averaged 17.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.0 spg. He shot 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from long range. Walker is a legit NBA point guard.
Henderson emerged a bit. While his scoring average (15.5 ppg) remained steady, he shot 33 percent from beyond the arc and he signed a reasonable free-agent contract in the offseason. He may not be the cornerstone two guard, but he's serviceable.
BENCH: Gordon and Sessions could be the best bench backcourt in the league. Both can score and probably deserve to be on the floor at the end of games.
Biyombo and Taylor showed flashes and Dunlap fell over himself in love with McRoberts, although he's probably best served to sit at the end of the bench.
This group is thin other than the backcourt.
COACHING: Clifford received glowing reviews from the former head coaches who employed him. Perhaps his biggest hire was Patrick Ewing as lead assistant. The Hall of Famer can help both starting big men, especially Zeller, who, like Ewing, can shoot it from the perimeter.
The one thing Clifford has going for him that Dunlap didn't, is that Clifford knows today's NBA players. He worked for the Van Gundy brothers and knows defense and how to do things properly.
Clifford seems to be more the right man for the job than Dunlap was. If Jordan, president of basketball operations Rod Higgins and general manager Rich Cho give Clifford time, he might make the Bobcats relevant.
OUTLOOK: That won't happen this season.
Jefferson was a good addition and Zeller will surprise some, but there is not enough talent for the Bobcats to sniff the postseason. Walker, Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist are the start of something, but it's just a start.
A mild improvement on the 21 wins is reasonable. Give everyone some time to build together, add some more high draft picks and Charlotte might reach the playoffs later this decade.
10/15 14:26:08 ET