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Terrible Bobcats Business Decisions, Volume III: The 2008 Draft

This third title started out out as simply “Drafting DJ Augustin,” but that was before I realized that the Bobcats also selected Alexis Ajinca a hysterical 20th overall. And then after thinking about it further I damn near broadened this one out to simply “2008,” but I stopped short of doing so because I don’t really think you can classify a year as a business decision. The lesson here is that the Bobcats have screwed up so many things that they start to crash into each other and conflate themselves; they’re the NBA equivalent of Kids. Or maybe the lesson is, “when thinking about the Bobcats, don’t think too much.” Anyway, I pinched it off at the 2008 draft, but If anyone could screw up a full year it would be the Bobcats. 2007-08, if you’re forced at gunpoint to remember, was the season that the Bobcats stopped making forward progress in terms of wins but grew leaps and bounds in terms of unintentional comedy. Charlotte regressed to just 32 victories and head coach Sam Vincent was shown the door that spring after less than a full year with the team. And that door kicked the bejesus of poor Sam on the way out, because unless you’re a member of the 2008-09 Anaheim Arsenal, Vincent was never heard from again. The good news, at least, is that the Bobcats learned their lesson about hiring unknown, unproven coaches and never, ever repeated that mistake. Ditto for owner Michael Jordan, who realized the error of filling key decision-making roles with flunky yes-men.

But anyway, about that 2008 draft: Larry Brown was hired in April and either was given or seized full creative control over the Bobcats. For whatever reason, showrunner Larry’s first order of business was to alienate PG Raymond Felton. Brown’s animosity to Felton made no sense then and continues to not, as they both share the UNC point guard heritage and, more importantly, Felton was a pretty decent player. Just 23 at the time, Felton finished 07-08 fourth on the team in win-shares, played hard, didn’t have any severe liabilities, and showed real leadership. Plus the man loved Charlotte! I still remember a magazine ad with him dressed in a Carolina Panthers jersey and gushing about Julius Peppers—when do you see this? Ever!? Okay, okay his 13.8 PER was below average, but still, there was that whole 32 wins thing—this was a BAD team. Declaring Felton to be the weak link of the 2008 Bobcats is like declaring the giant teddy bear to be the weak link in Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance. Felton was surrounded by Gerald Wallace (who missed 20 games with the usual assorted concussions, contusions, severed limbs, etc.), Jason Richardson (who was in full, $51M-guaranteed-over-the-next-four-years, coast-mode), and Emeka Okafor (if it’s possible for a player to have a one-season prime, 2008 was Okafor’s), and...that’s about it. The rest of the team was a collection of Fabio jokes about Walter Herrmann, fat jokes about Sean May, short jokes about Earl Boykins, old jokes about Jeff McInnis, and draft bust jokes about Adam Morrison (and Sean May again).

Logic therefore dictates that with the 9th pick in the 2008 draft, you simply take the best player available. Logic continues to dictate the same thing with the 20th pick. Larry Brown, though, considered logic to be an evil dictator and decided to do his own thing. Brown thus took UT point guard DJ Augustin with that pick, just ahead of blue-chipper Brook Lopez. Then with the 20th pick, Brown chose Alexis Ajinca, a French string bean who made Ryan Hollins look coordinated. Having watched that draft live, there are two images that remain frozen in my mind to this day: the first was the look of utter disbelief on Lopez’s face after the Bobcats snubbed him, and the second was Larry Brown declaring that he’d “fallen in love” with Ajinca after seeing him in a workout. Brown, who never really had any affinity at all for foreign players, had been mysteriously moved enough by a few practices with Ajinca to take him over the likes of Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, and George Hill.

Fans would soon be moved, too—like a bowel. Brown’s professions of love continued to echo in my ear during that year’s summer league play, when Ajinca shambled around like one of those giant balloon men you see for used car promotions. A human circus act on stilts, it was immediately obvious that with a lot of hard work, Ajinca might someday learn to walk without looking like he was failing a sobriety test. But he would never even make it to the level of a poor man’s Kwame Brown. Ajinca played a grand total of 37 games over the next two seasons before icing his disastrous legacy cake as the throw-in to the Tyson Chandler trade (note to self: you just stumbled on next week’s topic).

Augustin’s legacy was slightly more complicated. His pick was understandable in the sense that Felton needed a backup (Boykins and McInnis both left something to be desired—namely, competence). But PGs are a fairly accessible commodity, and besides Lopez, Augustin was selected over Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, and—for that matter—the other Lopez, Robin, all of whom I’d have gladly taken over him. But Augustin wasn’t simply Felton’s backup, he was openly groomed as his successor. And thus Felton wasn’t signed to a new deal after 2010, even though he’d worked himself up to a 15.2 PER and was now second on the team in win-shares, and even though all he was got was a pretty modest 2-year, $15.8M deal with the Knicks.

Given the reins to a first round playoff team, Augustin actually did a credible Felton impersonation in 2010-11, putting up a 15.9 PER and leading the team in win-shares. And because he was still on his rookie deal, he was putting up Felton numbers at a fraction of the Felton cost. Plus the real Felton ended up bouncing around from New York to Portland, where it looked like the reason Ajinca had disappeared was because Felton had eaten him. The problem was that Augustin’s slight frame and timid disposition made his success all one-sided.  Whereas Felton held opposing 1’s to a 15.3 PER and was versatile enough to effectively cover 2-guards, Augustin was a full PER point worse and basically relied on a combination of Stephen Jackson’s overconfident multitasking and Boris Diaw’s blubber to back him up.

It was the following season, though, in which the toilet really flushed, and Augustin circled the drain with the rest of the team. His PER sank to 14.1, his defensive win-shares went negative, and he was upstaged by his own future replacement, Kemba Walker. Opposing guards ran over him with the frequency of a Looney Tunes character to a cartoonish 19.8 PER. Augustin also missed 18 games with a disturbing number of “old man”-type injuries. Meanwhile, Felton was reborn (and re-introduced to vegetables) in New York, and Lopez and Hibbert rose to All Star-caliber players. The Bobcats ended up letting Augustin go as a free agent as soon as it was humanly possible in the summer of 2012, and he spent last year buried on Indiana’s bench.

And there you have it, people: the 2008 Bobcats draft. Both choices are long gone (in fact, I’m not even sure Ajinca’s still alive) and several All-Stars and highly productive alternative choices abound everywhere, plus the Bobcats needlessly let go a solid PG in Felton who would have happily kept playing in his home state at a reasonable cost. I guess I should point out that the Cats had a third pick that year, Washington State’s Kyle Weaver. He never even played for Charlotte and has since been waived more than the 5th Amendment. His pick was basically inconsequential, as Goran Dragic is just about the only player of consequence that the Bobcats missed out on by taking Weaver. A career minor league journeyman, Weaver is the Kris Novoselic of this trio.

(Reminder: Please don’t forget to check out my e-book at the following link)