No More Long Weekends For Bernie

By Rick Bonnell
Updated: May 10, 2008

CHARLOTTE — I don’t pretend to be an expert on many things; you don’t want me looking under the hood of your car or fixing your pipes.

But after covering the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats, each from Day One, and helping to cover the Carolina Panthers, I know expansion. So I know Bernie Bickerstaff got it.

He understood that successful expansion is about investing playing time on young talent, guarding your salary cap and refusing the temptation of shortcuts.

The Panthers didn’t get it, which is why they created a mirage by reaching the NFC Championship Game their second season. To get there, they squandered millions in precious salary-cap room on veterans in the backside of their careers. That mistake plagued them for years.

Bickerstaff, departing the Bobcats after initially serving as coach and general manager, shunned shortcuts. He left the franchise stronger.

The public didn’t appreciate that.

Those first three seasons, people kept asking me why this retread was coaching the team. They wanted somebody younger and fresher, I guess because in these Web-driven, instant-gratification times, if you’re not new you’re not happening.

Sam Vincent was new as new gets. How’d that turn out?

Bickerstaff did two jobs — he was coach/general manager until last summer — with wisdom and restraint.

As coach, he prodded a team of limited ability to consistently play above its talent. He did that by demanding they be accountable to each other. When Kareem Rush bucked that agenda, he was booted off the island.

As general manager, he found a gem off the clearance rack by taking Gerald Wallace in the expansion draft. Then he used salary-cap room to trade up to No. 2 and draft Emeka Okafor.

His vigilance in guarding cap room is the primary reason Jason Richardson is here. The Golden State Warriors, facing millions in luxury tax and needing to re-sign players, had to reduce payroll. The Bobcats were one of the few teams with the cap room to absorb Richardson’s contract.

Sure, he made mistakes. He should have given up the fifth and 13th picks in 2005 to draft former Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul.

But at least that was an honest mistake. This idea he drafted Raymond Felton and Sean May because they were Tar Heels is a joke. Bickerstaff is such a contrarian, he would have tossed a marketing guy out of his office for suggesting where a player went to school is the best reason to draft him.

Bickerstaff spent most of the winter scouting, as Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins took charge of the front office. I don’t blame Jordan for wanting people he knows and trusts working for him.

But I believe the most loyal thing an employee can do is warn his boss he’s about to make a major mistake.

With Bickerstaff gone, I wonder who’s left over there to do that.