Mention the Charlotte Bobcats and you are likely still to get some odd stares.
Because of some historically bad seasons the past three years, the Bobcats have become synonymous with the ultimate in NBA incompetence. Worse, the Bobcats flubbed their high lottery picks and seemingly keeping them in the bottom of the league.
A few free agent signings later and the Bobcats are actually in the Playoffs, if they started today, and are five games clear of falling out. With time running out, it looks as though the Bobcats will indeed get in.
Shedding that reputation of being a losing organization? That will take a little bit longer to shed. People still look to the Bobcats as the pitiful losers. Nothing they can do is ever good enough. The jersey and the name have become synonymous with embarrassment.
Good thing that re-brand is coming next year.
Charlotte is a Playoff team this year though in the watered-down Eastern Conference. Barring an epic collapse worthy of ridicule, Charlotte will be the sacrificial lamb for the Heat or Pacers. That will not help their street rep.
The Bobcats though are winning more often than not and still learning to do so while shedding all those years of losing and ineptitude.
Tired of waiting, Charlotte signed Al Jefferson to a free agent contract to be the foundation for the team. They dumped Ben Gordon and turned the offense more over to young point guard Kemba Walker. New coach Steve Clifford has brought in expectations to win and that has changed things as much as anything else.
Some veteran leadership and guys who have been around the block can change everything.
“We’ve got to get consistent,” Al Jefferson said. “We’re not using no excuses as a young team. I think we’ve got enough talent in this room to be a Playoff team. We can talk about it, but we’ve got to be about it. And what’s being about it is going out there and finding ways to win games.”
The Bobcats are still as liable to beat a good team — like when they defeated the Clippers in late January — as to lose to a bad one — like when they lost the next game out against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Consistency is still what eludes this team.
The identity and improvement are undeniable however.
Outside of the record, the Bobcats defensive rating has improved from 108.9 to 101.5 this year. Opponent effective field goal percentage has dropped from 52.4 percent to 49.3 percent. That is not an insignificant improvement. Especially as a team goes from the basement to the Playoffs in one fell swoop.
The Bobcats are a very different team this year than they were last year. They are no longer your doormat.
Eventually perception will catch up to reality with them.