Halfway through last season, Charlotte Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins promised no “hard right’’ turn in approaching the NBA’s trade deadline.
While Higgins isn’t predicting a screech of the brakes and a yank on the steering wheel, his tone sounded different Thursday: The Bobcats are definitely in the market for some kind of change.
“We’re very active – our owner wants us to be active,’’ Higgins told the Observer in regard to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
Higgins said owner Michael Jordan has given Higgins and general manager Rich Cho “the green light to go out and make this team better…I don’t think there’s any limits to what we’d try to do.’’
That could range from pursuing a star player, to adding a complementary big man, to facilitating some deal between other teams to acquire a future draft pick. Higgins and Cho know, following a 10-29 start, there’s still a lot of work to do between now and a playoff appearance.
That doesn’t mean they’ve discarded the plan they set out when Cho was hired to work with Higgins in the spring of 2011. When the Bobcats traded veterans Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson for draft picks and managed their salary cap toward future free-agent flexibility, they never saw this as a quick fix.
“The plan hasn’t changed: Acquire assets and build through the draft,’’ Cho said during an hour-long interview with the Observer. “Then you add in trades and free agency.’’
Higgins said that by the end of this week he and/or Cho will have spoken with every other NBA front office to gauge interest in making a deal. The Bobcats clearly need frontcourt help, as demonstrated by the 29-rebound deficit – a franchise-worst – they suffered last week in a home loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The Bobcats’ top rebounder this season, power forward Byron Mullens, is out with an ankle sprain. The team used the seventh pick in 2011 on center Bismack Biyombo, who has started 21 of the team’s first 38 games this season.
The Bobcats knew they were drafting a project in Biyombo, whose offensive skills are still quite limited. Still, they expect to see progress from a player drafted so high.
“Biz has to get better. But he’s only 20 years old,’’ said Cho, who was key to scouting and drafting Biyombo.
“We need more help rebounding. For now that has to be by committee. That’s something we’re going to address, whether through the trade deadline or through the draft.’’
For now the Bobcats are a guard-centric team, which means first-year coach Mike Dunlap has played small ball much of the season. Playing guards Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions together puts some scoring punch on the floor, but it makes the Bobcats particularly small.
There’s no real post-up threat offensively to make an opponent double-team near the basket. In fact, 6-foot-5 Henderson is probably this team’s best post-up option.
The Bobcats selected the NBA’s youngest player in the 2011 and 2012 drafts (Biyombo, followed by now-rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Add in the development of second-year point guard Kemba Walker and second-round pick Jeff Taylor, and the Bobcats core is particularly young.
“Our youth makes us strong, but our youth also makes us weak in a lot of ways because of our inexperience,’’ Higgins described. “We don’t really know how to close out games. That’s the best way to put it without attacking anybody.’’
Is that frustrating to watch?
“Some days, yeah,’’ Higgins replied. “But you can’t get deterred.’’
Rick Bonnell/Charlotte Observer