Can the Bobcats find Love in the NBA Draft?

The 2008 NBA Draft will take place on Thursday night and this could be a pivotal night for the future of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Cats will have the ninth selection and there seems to be a number of options for Charlotte to take a look at. New coach Larry Brown, Michael Jordan and the rest of the Bobcats’ braintrust need to consider carefully what decision they make here.

With the ninth pick, most of the so-called can’t miss picks will be gone but as previous drafts have shown, this could be just the place for Charlotte to grab an impact player. Heading into last season, many saw the Bobcats as a playoff team in a watered down Eastern Conference. Instead of the playoffs, Charlotte’s 32-50 season cost first year head coach Sam Vincent his job. In Brown, Charlotte has a coach with a knack for turning struggling franchises into playoffs contenders and fast. The right pick on Thursday night could be the final piece to the puzzle that will put Charlotte over the top and into the playoffs in 2009.

The general consensus seems to be that Charlotte will select a big man with their pick, allowing team star Omeka Okafur to move from the center position to his natural number 4 spot. While there is no Dwight Howard type center for Charlotte to select, the key might not be finding a super star but rather a solid, NBA ready player that will complement Okafur and can contribute right away.

With that in mind, who fits the bill and will they be around when Charlotte goes on the clock? Here is a list of the big men who the Bobcats might have to choose from –

Kevin Love – Love is known for his ability to put points on the board. The UCLA product is a great rebounder and a great passer for a big guy. Nobody in this draft is more of a sure thing than Love, he is the NBA ready talent that the Bobcats are looking for. He won’t be a super star but he’ll be pretty good. He’s a safe and smart pick at 9 if he lasts that long.

Anthony Randolph – The athletic big man out of LSU might be just what Charlotte needs. Randolph is more athletic than Love and could be a player in the mold of Toronto’s Chris Bosh. Randolph needs to add bulk but he has the body to put on more muscle. Randolph and Okafur could provide a nice 1-2 punch in the Bobcats’ frontcourt.

Brook Lopez -Lopez would provide some immediate help for Okafor. The 7 footer out of Stanford had a good showing during the 2008 NCAA Tournament which helped his draft stock. Much like fellow Pac-10er Love, Lopez might not be around by the time Charlotte makes its pick. Lopez’s twin brother, Robin is also projected as a first round pick but #9 seems a little too high for Charlotte to select him. This does open up the possiblity of Charlotte trading down, taking Robin Lopez and grabbing another role player or draft pick but this seems like a remote possiblity.

DeAndre Jordan – Jordan, out of Texas A&M, had been projected as a Top 10 pick but his stock has fallen in recent weeks. Many believe that Jordan has the most upside of any big man out there but he might not be ready to step up and provide the contribution that the Bobcats need in 2008-09.

Alexis Ajinca – The frenchman could be a dark horse pick for Charlotte. He has good size and again, he won’t be great but he could be solid.

With all the talk of big guys, a few mock drafts have Charlotte taking a scoring guard here. While that pick doesn’t make much sense to me (Charlotte’s roster includes Raymond Felton, Earl Boykins, Derek Anderson, Matt Carroll and Jason Richardson), Jordan might have other ideas. There has always been a line of thinking that regardless of a so-called need, teams are best served to select the best player left on the board. If that player happens to a be point or shooting guard, so be it. This could also open up the possibility that Charlotte takes the best avaliable player, then uses him to trade down and take a less coveted big man (maybe NC State’s JJ Hickson or the above mention Robin Lopez) and get some added value in the deal.

Thursday night could be the most important in the history of Charlotte’s franchise to date. The right pick could mean that Charlotte will be a player in the East for years to come. A bad pick could mean another season in Charlotte without the playoffs and would certainly do more damage to Michael Jordan’s poor reputation as an NBA front office man.