By Scott Graf of WFAE, Charlotte
The Charlotte Bobcats have struggled to get attention in their eight-year history. But lately, that's changed. A lot of people are paying attention to the Bobcats these days. That's because, through Wednesday's games, they are 4-28, and in danger of going down as the worst team in NBA history.
It's an understatement to say Charlotte has been struggling. The Bobcats' win last week over Toronto ended a 16-game losing streak.
"They never expected to get this bad, but there is some method to all this," said Rick Bonnell, who covers the team for The Charlotte Observer.
Despite their awful season, the Bobcats have a plan. This time two years ago, the Bobcats were headed for the playoffs. But last season, owner Michael Jordan decided the team couldn't contend for a championship. So, he traded his best players - Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson - for first round draft picks. Steve Kerr is an NBA analyst with TNT. He's also a former Chicago Bulls teammate of Jordan's who's worked in the NBA as a general manager. He said Jordan's thinking is clear: the team had to get worse before it could get better.
"In order to set the table for the future, it does make sense to clear your salaries and bundle as many draft picks as you can together," Kerr said. "And then you're working from a position of strength. But it's a difficult process to go through because you're gonna lose a lot of games in the meantime."
[sidebar title="Exactly How Bad Are The Bobcats?" width="250" align="right"] How do the Bobcats stack up against some of the other truly awful teams in NBA history? Intern Jeremy Conlin runs the numbers. [/sidebar]
Charlotte recently hosted the Chicago Bulls. A lot of the expensive seats in the lower level at Time Warner Cable Arena were empty. The cheap seats were full — of Bulls fans and school groups. But late in the game, what had been a subdued crowd suddenly got noisy. The problem was, it had nothing to do with the Bobcats. They were down by 30 on the way to yet another loss. All the excitement was over t-shirts being shot into the stands.
But as bad as it's been, the team isn't moping. At a recent shootaround last week, players smiled and even joked at times as they took turns shooting three pointers. Practices like this one have been rare, as the league crams in as many games as possible into a season shortened by last year's lockout. Matt Carroll, one of the Bobcats veterans, said that has made the typical grind of an NBA season even worse.
"Mentally it's tough, and physically also," said Carroll. "The days that we would usually have off in a regular season schedule, we don't get off. We have to practice because we need practice time. But those are days that guys are tired and guys are banged up, but you gotta find a way to get through it mentally and physically."
The Bobcats have also suffered injuries to their best players. D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson have missed significant time. That has made what was already a thin margin of error basically nonexistent. But Bonnell said all the losing hasn't seemed to affect the team in the locker room.
"I've covered enough bad teams that I know sort of the culture of what happens when people lose a lot," Bonnell said. "It starts eroding people's self confidence, camaraderie, teamwork. I don't see any evidence of that with this team. I don't see back biting, I don't see sniping."
Bonnell credits Head Coach Paul Silas for a lot of that. Silas has been around the NBA for decades and is widely thought of as a "players' coach." He has made it a point to stay upbeat. He said the losses have cost him some sleep, but Silas does not seem interested in beating up on a team that just doesn't stack up with the rest of the NBA.
"You know we got good guys," said Silas. "If we had bad people, then it would be worse. But we got good guys and they like each other. It's just the fact that we've had so many injuries. But the fact is that if we didn't have those injuries, we'd be much further ahead than we are right now."
Silas is optimistic the team will win more games - and soon. Fans, meanwhile, will have to be patient. Terrence Hayes has been rooting for first the Charlotte Hornets and now the Bobcats, since 1993. And a little futility isn't scaring him off.
"There is no team in the NBA that doesn’t have its ups and downs," he said. "Even the great teams of the Celtics, the Bulls — there were years when they were rock bottom and they had to build up. And that's what's gonna happen with the Bobcats. It's just a matter of how long will this rough period be."
For Hayes and others suffering through a winter of bad basketball, there is hope. Bobcats fans can look to the Oklahoma City Thunder for optimism. Three years ago, that team started 3-29. Last year, the Thunder made the Western Conference finals, and this season, through Tuesday's games, they hold the best record in the Western Conference.
This segment aired on February 25, 2012.