You know how one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure? In their enduring, Through-the-Looking-Glass style, the Bobcats have managed to create a scenario in which one man’s trash is the same man’s treasure. A year ago, Emeka Okafor laughed at a $12 million-per-year deal. This year, he signed basically the same deal (and I’m guessing he did so with gusto). Similarly, the Bobcats entered this off-season convinced their offer was way too high and appeared committed to playing hard-ball with Mek…until the less-accomplished Andrew Bogut and Andris Biedrins signed comparable deals with their teams. All of a sudden, $12 a year to a tweener forward/center with limited range and offensive skills seemed like a bargain to management. Ultimately, both Okafor and the Bobcats pulled the contract out of the toilet and placed it on their mantels.
“You need that big guy to defend the Tim Duncans, the (Shaquille) O’Neals, the (Kevin) Garnetts,’’ GM Rod Higgins told the Observer. “The big guys control the game in the post, and that’s our guy when it comes to doing that.” I agree with Higgins, but I really wished he hadn’t named names, because he left me with no choice but check out those guys’ splits to see how they performed against us last year compared with the rest of the league. Against us, Duncan averaged about 6 more PPG than his season average (Garnett averaged about 3 more, same with O’Neal), and the shooting percentage of all three Bigs was up as well. And with the exception of Shaq, rebounding, blocks, and even assists were better for those guys against us compared to season averages. And unfortunately, once I let the cat out of the bag, you know I just had to keep rummaging: Chris Bosh scored more against us…Dwight Howard scored a lot more against us…Yipes, even Bogut scored more against us. Thank goodness Samuel Dalembert and Eddie Curry underperformed against us relative to their average, otherwise I would have needed to sign my own personal 6-day, 72 milligrams of Xanex contract. Maybe Higgins was just speaking abstractly, or perhaps he implied that without Okafor, things would have been much, much worse. I guess like the contract itself, this is all a matter of interpretation. My own interpretation is that I need a drink.
Beyond the numbers, however, signing Okafor sends a signal from ownership that they at least sort of care. Remember in high school, there was always that one kid who had parents who just didn’t care what he did? We had him, and the great thing about him was every weekend–if nothing else–we could always party in his basement. We didn’t even have to figure out a way to buy booze—his parents would just get it for us! Best of all, whenever I asked my own unsuspecting parents if I could go to this kid’s parties, and they asked me if his folks would be there, I could honestly answer “yes” every time. Bob Johnson is those parents, and the GM’s office has been his kids on a Friday night. Which makes we the fans the, ummm…the neighbors who have to deal with the noise and the garbage? I don’t know, this analogy’s gone off course.
The point is, it’s one thing to not spend money on one player if there’s the perception you’ll spend it more effectively on a younger, better player. It’s another thing entirely to not spend money on one player and just keep it for yacht maintenance, which is the impression Bob Johnson has done a good job cultivating throughout his tenure. In Okafor’s case there really wasn’t anyone else out there who could provide a rebounding/defensive presence, so letting him go would have been the equivalent of a parent shutting the door to the basement after the delivery guy tries wheels a keg of MGD downstairs (See, I brought it back!).
Anyway, whether or not we paid too much for Okafor, at least now we can form a better conception of the team’s capabilities. Until now, it’s been awfully hard to analyze this team without knowing Okafor’s status. Talk about conflicting perceptions; without Okafor under contract, the Bobcats were a Rorschach test that really did just look like a big ink stain. Now that the lead domino has fallen, we can see the pattern of strengths and weaknesses develop. And the ripple effect is that teams with mobile big men are going to continue to give us trouble, and therefore Sean May and Jarred Dudley are going to have to be ready for more responsibility, Nazr Mohammed is going to have to be more circumspect with his fouls, and someone from the Davidson-Hollins-Ajinca hydra is going to have to come forward and contribute 10-15 serviceable minutes a night. Larry Brown should be able to facilitate all of this—at least, better than Sam Vincent did. And Johnson can tell the fans that while he’s never going to be parent of the year, he at least took all the kids’ keys before he let them downstairs.