CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michael Jordan’s Bobcats have a new marketing slogan this season: “Tougher, Faster, Stronger.”
New coach Mike Dunlap knows his team will need to be all of that and more if the Bobcats hope to be bounce back from a disastrous 7-59 season – the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history – in which they lost 20 games by at least 20 points.
Dunlap, who has brought a hands-on, no-nonsense approach, believes Charlotte has enough talent to be competitive but said his team may need to play an unorthodox style to keep up with the NBA’s best teams like Miami, Oklahoma City and Boston.
To Dunlap that means playing an up-tempo style game and using his team’s young legs to his advantage.
While a lot of NBA teams run pick and rolls off what are referred to as “static sets” on offense – where players set up in certain spots and run off that formation – Dunlap said that system won’t fly with his team.
“We’re not good enough to do that,” Dunlap said during the Bobcats media day. “We have to go into the pick and roll game on the move so that we keep the defense moving. A lot of time the older players in the NBA don’t like a cutting offense to deal with. They have to drop and see ball and man and do all of these things and the have to move.
“The point is our talent is good enough to be competitive both offensively and defensively but we have to bring a different package to the NBA because we don’t have that kind of talent where we can sit them on their spots and allow our opponents to rest. We have to go after them in a fitness way and I believe we can do that, especially with what management has done with youth. They’ve given us a lot of young legs and I’m here to use those legs.”
Dunlap also said the Bobcats plan to play a disruptive, pressure-style defense.
“We want to be a hard scout for teams,” he said.
That’s one of the reasons Dunlap and his staff have had players working overtime on their conditioning and he said almost everyone on the roster will be in good shape when they arrive at training camp Tuesday in UNC-Asheville.
Of course, being in shape and being talented are two different things.
The big question remains as to whether the Bobcats actually added enough talent this offseason to compete with some of the better teams in the league.
They’ve turned over a good portion of the roster with five new players they hope will change the franchise’s losing culture – veterans Ben Gordon, Brendan Haywood and Myrtle Beach native Ramon Sessions and draft picks Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was selected No. 2 overall, and Jeffery Taylor.
And Dunlap feels the team has a decent young nucleus returning in Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens. He’s also hoping veteran Tyrus Thomas bounces back from a disappointing season a year ago.
“We’re going to play a different style, and I think it’s a style guys are looking forward to,” said Henderson, who led the team in scoring last year. “We want to attack the rim, attack the paint. That’s how we feel like we can beat people. And on defense we have to be thinking the exact opposite.”
Dunlap said it’s also important to limit mid-range jump shots.
He said the Bobcats took more of those than any team in the NBA, according to his statistics accumulated by the team’s front office.
And then there’s the atmosphere.
For the Bobcats to move forward, they must first put the past behind them.
The Bobcats finished last season losing 23 straight games. They haven’t won a game since St. Patrick’s Day. In most games, they weren’t even close even when opposing teams rested their star players down the stretch.
“It was a tough season and it’s something that you just try to forget about,” Henderson said. “But this is a new start for us and we have a new coach. Half of the guys here are new so it’s something they aren’t even thinking about.”
Thomas said players like what Dunlap is selling, even though it has meant plenty of hard work in terms of extra running and conditioning.
“All of the guys here are eager to buy into his system,” Thomas said. “They’re buying into consistency, buying into a plan. And I think when you have guys that are eager to buy into something it makes it easier.”
Dunlap has kept the carrot dangling in front of his players throughout the summer months.
He said all five starting positions are up for grabs and nobody is guaranteed any minutes.
Those positions will be determined in training camp and in the preseason, but that he could rotate players in and out of the starting lineup as the season goes on.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Henderson said. “Then guys don’t come in with any expectations on minutes or anything like that. You have to earn everything you get and that kind of breeds competition. And that’s what you want. As a coach I never thought it was a good idea to guarantee minutes to anybody because then guys won’t work as hard. You don’t have anything to work for.”