The Bobcats' Blueprint
Looking for a Clean Break
While most expansion teams enjoy a honeymoon period with their supporters, the Charlotte Bobcats will operate with a sense of urgency when they make their NBA debut next fall. They need to make embittered fans forget the city's previous franchise, the Hornets, a perennial league leader in attendance before owner George Shinn alienated the community and then moved the team to New Orleans.
The importance of expunging the memory of Shinn's Hornets has led to some promising outside-the-box thinking. When team president Ed Tapscott was looking for a G.M., he flew to Italy and interviewed the top basketball mind in Europe, G.M. Maurizio Gherardini of Benetton Treviso—an indication that the Bobcats are open to talent wherever they can find it. Though Tapscott awarded the job to NBA veteran Bernie Bickerstaff, he surprised rivals by naming Bickerstaff coach as well. Tapscott notes that expansion teams have invariably replaced their coach within two years. "Then, when they hired the next coach, that represented a change of philosophy and the franchise took a step back," Tapscott says. Should Bickerstaff, 59, give up his coaching duties, he can hire his own replacement and keep the team's philosophy intact.
The league is intent on forcing the Bobcats to build slowly: With a first-year salary cap of about $30 million (66% of the cap for the rest of the league) and a mandate that they select one player from at least 14 teams in the June 22 expansion draft—each team can protect no more than eight players—they will have little room to sign major free agents. Charlotte hopes to win fans with a hardworking team that could contend in the new, weakling Southeast Division, which includes the Hawks, Heat, Magic and Wizards. One thing you won't hear from Tapscott is comparisons with the Hornets, whom he refers to as "the previous regime."