CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stopped in for his yearly visit Monday and broached everything from the age limit to ads on jerseys to the Hornets rebranding.
But the major point for Bobcats executives with Silver was to try to bring the All-Star Game back to the Queen City for the first time since 1991. As always in these negotiations, though, it’s one of those we’ll scratch your back if you scratch ours scenarios. The NBA and the Bobcats both want an update of the 10-year-old Time Warner Cable Arena. New arenas — or upgraded ones — always have a way of determining All-Star game cities and Super Bowl cities, and you can be sure one won’t happen without the other in this scenario either. Silver’s response was basically the ball is in your court, Charlotte, and admitted they’ve been in discussions.
"We’ve had our events department down here to survey the building and there are some upgrades to the building that are needed," said Silver. "Part of the understanding is to assure the building remains state-of-the-art. There’s nothing dramatic needed, but I’d love to bring the All-Star Game back here. It’s a hotbed of basketball and the only thing they have to do is apply."
The last time Charlotte hosted an All-Star Game, Silver wasn’t working for the league yet, but the Duke grad remembers the passion of the city for the Hornets and knows that’s on its way back with the name change.
"I was here last year in the spring and came in to talk about lots of issues and no matter what I talked about, people were asking me when they were going to change the name. There was no doubt in my mind that it’s what the community wanted," he said. "I think it’s a great change for the team. People are excited about it around the league, they’re setting all types of merchandise records and I just said in my last meeting, I don’t intend on leaving town without a new Charlotte Hornets t-shirt to bring home, so I’m very excited about it."
The rest of Silver’s press conference veered away from the Bobcats specifically and was more state-of-the league focused. One thing that appears inevitable is sponsor logos on the jersey. They’ve done it in the NBA D-League and in the WNBA. All that’s left to figure out is how to strike the balance of doing it without diminishing television’s ad space and value, which they’ll negotiate in their next deal.
"I believe I said last week, I think it’s inevitable that they’ll come into the U.S. leagues," he said. "Increasingly, our marketing partners are looking for ways to get closer to the game. "
Other areas of interest included Silver’s views on tanking, the lottery, the age limit and synchronizing the NBA and college rules. He said he sees both sides of the debate on the age limit but doesn’t like the one-year rule and thinks two years would be best. There’s a lot that goes into it, though. Not only do the players and league have to agree, but they’ll need to work through it with the NCAA to determine eligibility issues.
"It seems like everyone agrees that one-and-done is not the best compromise. I haven’t had any formal discussion with the colleges, but we’ve all been waiting for a new head of the players association," Silver said. "In fairness to the players, I don’t want the players to think we’re doing something without them having a seat at the table."
What Silver’s not as worried about is tanking. He doesn’t believe it exists. Sure, in a league where almost half the teams miss the playoffs every year, there’s going to be some need to rebuild, and the draft allows teams to do that. The ultimate issue is that one player can have such a bigger impact on a franchise than in any other league, but at the same time the league’s bottom feeders need hope. The lottery, Silver believes, is the best current method of providing that without incentivizing teams to lose. It was quite obvious Silver is not a fan of the wheel concept that’s been proposed.
"I think the problem is coming up with a better system. Some of the proposed ideas seem to take away the very reason why you have a draft," he said. "The purpose of the draft is to help the worst performing teams improve by getting the best players coming in. If you make it too random, you’ve taken away the main incentive in having a draft in the first place."
Nevertheless, they’ll visit the topic after the season but it doesn’t look likely change will come, even with teams like Philadelphia threatening the NBA’s all-time longest losing streak. Even Philadelphia, though, Silver says falls into the category of rebuilding and not purposely trying to lose. He says Charlotte’s a great example of rebuilding because they traded away veteran, aging players and struggled for a few years but will likely be back in the playoff hunt this year.
Now, here are three thoughts from the Bobcats’ 100-89 loss to the visiting Houston Rockets.
1. Monday night epitomized what the Bobcats roster lacks and showed why they’re just not there yet when it comes to competing among the game’s elite teams.
The difference in facing a Western Conference titan like Houston was simple: Houston had an iso All-Star and the Bobcats didn’t.
Late in the shot clock when you need a bucket with a wing that can create his shot off the bounce, James Harden is that guy. No one on the Bobcats is.
Instead, when the Bobcats can’t get the ball into Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker basically has to go isolation, which he can do but isn’t his game. It definitely wasn’t the kind of ball movement the Bobcats had when they shot 52 percent and put up 124 points on Portland Saturday night.
"[The ball movement] wasn’t the same at all. It stuck. It stuck too much," Jefferson said. "We don’t have a James Harden that can make plays. Ball gotta move. And it didn’t move well at all tonight."
Jefferson even went on to call Harden the "best one-on-one player in the game right now," and Harden made the Bobcats pay all night with 31 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists on 11-of-19 shooting including 4-of-7 from deep. Harden’s exactly what the Bobcats are missing — the type of deadly wing scorer that can take pressure off Walker and Jefferson and not make their offense so heavily reliant on the tandem’s pick-and-roll game.
"When the ball sticks, and it stuck all night tonight, we’re not good. It doesn’t mean we don’t have good players, we do. We have more than enough to win," Clifford said. "But like I just told them we don’t have a James Harden. We can’t be out there jab stepping, playing iso basketball. Our guys aren’t built that way. When that ball moves, we’re a good team. But on the perimeter, it’s gotta be quick decision."
Harden especially killed the Bobcats during a brutal stretch in the third. After taking a 66-65 lead with 2:44 left, Harden reeled off nine points during a 13-2 spurt to end the third quarter.
"Too much Harden with the game on the line and when you try to get the ball out of his hands, they made us pay," Clifford said.
And with "two of the top 12 players in the world", according to Clifford, they just might just be the favorite in the Western Conference.
2. Houston’s depth at center is going to be huge for them out west when the playoffs roll around.
The trees just kept coming at Al Jefferson. First, there was perhaps the game’s best defensive center in Dwight Howard. But then comes the luxury few other teams in the NBA have — one of the game’s best defensive centers coming off the bench in Omer Asik.
"It’s the NBA once again, but I will say that Houston, you hardly ever play a team that has an All-Star center and another starting center that comes off the bench," Jefferson said. "They kept it big all night."
And they made it increasingly tough on Jefferson, who went for 20 points and 11 rebounds but was 8-for-17 on the night. Clifford said Houston reminds him of the Orlando Magic team that he was an assistant coach on with Howard. Not only did they have Howard as the first line of defense, but they brought Marcin Gortat off the bench.
"Asik’s one of the best seven to eight centers in this league," Clifford said. "He’s not just a starter, especially defensively. His individual defense is terrific, so it’s a huge disadvantage."
3. Bobcats need Neal — and his perimeter shot — to get back healthy.
Gary Neal has been precisely the shooter the Bobcats expected and hoped for when he was brought over at the trade deadline from Milwaukee, going 20-of-41 from three since the trade. But he wasn’t himself Monday night. He was suffering from a swollen knee and only played seven minutes against Portland on Saturday night and he didn’t look right again Monday. He was 0-8 from the field — and 0-3 from three — for 0 points. That’s not Neal and his coach says he’s working his way through it.
"I felt like the second half he looked a little better," head coach Steve Clifford said. "I thought in the first half, I didn’t know if he’s totally comfortable with it. But he’s trying to play through it."
Neal’s health is definitely a point of concern to watch going forward as they’ll need his perimeter shooting in an offense more heavily reliant on ball movement than most in this league.