The Charlotte Bobcats have never had a player like Al Jefferson. They have had Emeka Okafors, DeSagana Diops and Bismack Biyombos, but never someone who could score like Jefferson. Which is to say, the Cats have had an array of offensive optional, defensive-oriented big men, but they have never had a low-post savant like Big Al.
Jefferson will help an offense that ranked No. 28 in efficiency, per Basketball-Reference, and dead last in shooting, using effective field goal percentage as the measure. His presence alone is good for about 18 and nine every night, which is about 13 more than the Bobcats could reasonably expect from Biyombo, whose offensive game remains in the embryonic stage.
When operating on the left block, Jefferson is still one of the game's true throwbacks. But he has developed his game quite a bit over the years and he can step out and make a jumper when given room. As the offensive focal point, the court should open up a bit for wing slashers like Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jefferson also provides a pick and roll buddy for emerging point guard Kemba Walker.
As he did in Utah with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, the big man also will have a rookie project to help nurture in Cody Zeller. Don't discount Jefferson's personality in all of this. He is one the genuinely pleasant guys in the league, which is a welcome change after so much dourness that has hung around the franchise forever.
That's the idea anyway, and after two years of strip-mining the roster with little to show for it, any fresh ideas are unusually welcome. It's odd that a player who has struggled to earn credibility throughout his career like Jefferson would be brought in to provide some for what has been the league's most dubious franchise, but here we are.
See, there's a major flaw in the tanking plan and it threatens everything teams like the Bobcats are trying to accomplish. How can you properly develop players like Walker, MKG and Biyombo when the talent around them is so woefully inadequate? At some point you have to be able to play competent basketball, and that's why Jefferson is here on a three-year deal worth more than $40 million.
The other problem is that being comically awful doesn't guarantee anything. A 7-59 record didn't bring Anthony Davis to Charlotte, and 21 wins dropped them to fourth in this summer's draft. The Bobcats could have sat on that money they're paying Jefferson and sucked it up through another dreadful season, but cap space is only as good as what it can get you. Does anyone really think they'd be able to get anyone better after another year in 15-20 win hell?
Make no mistake, the Bobcats will be bad again, which is still the point. They need talent -- badly -- and with first-rounders coming from the Blazers (protected through the first dozen picks) and Pistons (protected one through eight), Rich Cho could have as many as three picks in the top half of this year's draft. There's that little matter of the pick they owe the Bulls for the recently amnesty'd Tyrus Thomas, but as long as they're still bad enough to fall within the top 10, they get to keep it for another year.
So, that's the unspoken gameplan for your 2013-14 Bobcats. Be better than awful, maybe win a few games here and there and improve organically, but not so much as to threaten the long-range plan of building through the draft. Mock the Jefferson signing if you want, but an interesting bad team is way more enticing than the shlock the Bobcats have put on the court in recent years.
As for Jefferson, he gets to keep doing what he does while getting paid handsomely for his efforts. He has rolled through rebuilding projects with the Celtics, Wolves and Jazz so this is nothing new for him. There are worse fates.