By STEVE REED
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michael Jordan’s Bobcats have nowhere to go but up.
That’s the glass-half-full approach the Bobcats will take this season after finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history last year.
The Bobcats were a woeful 7-59 (.106) and it’s hard to imagine them being any worse.
Charlotte lost 20 games by 20 or more points under former head coach Paul Silas and finished the season with 23 straight losses, ironically the same number that once defined greatness and championships for Jordan the player.
The Bobcats were so non-competitive down the stretch last season that opposing teams regularly left their star players at home to rest when coming to Charlotte, knowing they wouldn’t need their services to win. In fact, the Boston Celtics left their entire “Big Three” back in Beantown and still won.
Although Charlotte had by far the worst record in the league last year, they didn’t land the No. 1 overall pick, losing out on the Anthony Davis sweepstakes to the New Orleans Hornets. But they’re hoping small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick, can develop into a franchise player.
The Bobcats have tried to wipe the slate clean.
They’ve added a new coach in Mike Dunlap, five new players to the roster and even changed their color scheme and shortened the name on the front of their news jerseys to read: Cats.
The team changed its motto, too — Tougher. Faster. Stronger.
Dunlap, a longshot hire who served as an assistant coach at St. John’s last season, believes this team has the youth, energy and conditioning to give some NBA teams fits. What the Bobcats don’t have in experience or talent he plans to make up for athleticism, conditioning and hustle.
Defensively, Dunlap said he wants to “pressure the heck out of the ball.”
And on offense the goal is to push the ball up the court on fast breaks, and go to the rim and shoot 3-pointers in half court sets.
“I’m not a big on mid-range jump shots,” Dunlap said.
Said point guard Kemba Walker: “It’ll be fast-paced with high energy and high intensity.”
Kidd-Gilchrist will work alongside a core of other young players that include guards Walker and Gerald Henderson, forward Bismack Biyombo and center Byron Mullens.
The team supplemented by adding guards Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon and center Brendan Haywood in hopes of changing the losing culture in Charlotte.
“It’s a new season for us,” said Henderson, who led the Bobcats in scoring last year. “That last year was a tough thing. It’s something that you try to forget about. It’ll always be there, but it’s a new start.”
Walker is expected to split time at point guard with Sessions, while Henderson and Gordon will both see action at the No. 2 spot.
The vertically challenged Bobcats added the 7-foot Haywood in the middle and he’ll split time with Mullens, a solid 3-point shooter with the smooth stroke who tends to struggle on defense. Biyombo, who has a ton of athleticism and talent but is still working on his offensive game, will share time with veteran Tyrus Thomas at power forward.
Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to start right away at small forward and judging by the preseason could have an immediate impact.
Dunlap doesn’t believe last year’s debacle will affect his team’s confidence.
In fact, the Bobcats don’t even talk about it anymore with the focus being completely on this season, which begins Nov. 2 at home against the Indiana Pacers.
“We have five new players,” Dunlap said. “That’s over a third of your team that’s new, so they don’t have that memory. And second, we had some guys that were injured a lot last year so I don’t think that memory is a scarred memory.”
As for the season, Dunlap said his expectations don’t so much surround victories but rather developing a solid chemistry and learning the right way to play.
“Coming off a bad season as we did, you never know what may happen as a team,” Dunlap said. “But if we’re no good this year, it ain’t gonna be because we’re not working hard.”