The Charlotte Bobcats showed a lot of promise in the 2008-09 season.
After a season that saw them use more players than any other in the NBA—as a result of Larry Brown’s tinkering—they’re now standing on the edge of a playoff berth.
Brown made the magic happen yet again in the Queen City, as he turned a team that was in the cellar since its inception into a legitimate threat to the rest of the league.
This summer, the Bobcats can make the final moves to solidify their status.
The biggest question for the Bobcats is what to do with point guard Raymond Felton. Since his rookie year, Felton has been the streakiest of players. He can be great on one night and awful the next.
That was even true this season, as Felton was faced with real competition in the form of rookie D.J. Augustin. Yet Felton played with a purpose for most of the season, and seemed to be happy with his place.
Felton is a restricted free agent, which gives the Bobcats the right to match any offer given to him. But my sense is that it won’t come to that, and I think the Bobcats will give him a long-term deal to keep him in Charlotte and in the starting lineup for years to come.
The Bobcats have two positions to shore up in their rotation: shooting guard and power forward.
Raja Bell and Boris Diaw came to the team last year from Phoenix, and brought experience, toughness, and a new attitude. The addition of Bell and Diaw made the rest of the team grow up. Their spots in the rotation are obviously safe.
Behind them, however, is a real lack of depth. At SG, Augustin was most often used in relief of Bell. Felton and Augustin played well together in the backcourt and will likely do the same next season. Bell needs a backup and a successor and I think that player will likely come from the draft.
The Bobcats will draft around 12th or 13th and that spot looks attractive for a wing player. I think Bobcats will have three solid options at that spot: Chase Budinger, Wayne Ellington, and Gerald Henderson.
I think the best fit for the Bobcats would be Henderson, provided his name is still on the board. Brown is a stickler for defense, and I think Henderson is the best defender in that group. He also has a nice mid-range jumper, which makes him compare favorably to a former Brown player in Richard “Rip” Hamilton.
If Henderson’s gone, I think Budinger and Ellington both have the height to play SG and take a year or two to learn the game from Brown, Bell, and the rest of team.
I’m hopeful the team stays away from Stephen Curry of Davidson. Sure, Curry would sell some tickets as he would be the hometown kid, but he doesn’t fit with this team and has a strong possibility of being another Adam Morrison.
At the power-forward spot, Diaw is the starter and one of the most important members of the team. The Bobcats used veteran Juwan Howard as the backup last season—with surprisingly good results. Howard signed a one-year deal with the team and may retire this offseason. But I’m planning for him to not sign with the team again.
The other PF on the roster is Sean May. I’m not a fan of May at all—and Brown wasn’t one either, benching him for most the year and only using him for short stretches once the team was out of the playoff hunt in the final week of the season.
I strongly hope the team cuts the cord with May. He is a restricted free agent, but I don’t see a team interested in him at this moment. He could very well retain a roster spot—at least into training camp.
If the team drafts a wing with its first-round draft pick, I would look for the midlevel exception to be used to bring a veteran PF to Charlotte. A popular name being mentioned by fans and media is Antonio McDyess of the Pistons.
McDyess is a few years younger than Howard and is available this offseason. He has spoken strongly of Brown, and did briefly consider signing with the team after his “release” from Denver in the Chauncey Billups trade during the season (he eventually signed with Detroit).
If McDyess is interested in playing for Brown again, he would be warmly welcomed by the Bobcats. A frontline rotation of Emeka Okafor, Diaw, and McDyess would be tough for a lot of teams to handle. Add in an improving Gana Diop, and they go four-deep in the power spots.
It’s almost a travesty that I’ve gotten this far in a story about the Bobcats’ future and haven’t mentioned the captain and soul of the team, Gerald Wallace. An original Bobcat, Wallace has been a starter since day one and has overcome numerous injuries on his way to becoming an elite player in the NBA.
Wallace grew tremendously since the addition of Brown and despite missing a number of games after suffering a partially collapsed lung, he averaged 16.6 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals. For the Bobcats to make their entry into the playoffs next year, they’ll need Wallace to be The Man. Expect to see “Crash” become an All-Star next year.
Departing the team for sure will be combo guard Sean Singletary, who was mainly a throw-in in the Bell/Diaw trade. It’s less certain if SF Cartier Martin will be retained by the team.
Martin played pretty well after signing a contract for the rest of the season and isn’t a bad option at the end of the bench. I think the odds that Martin returns are 50-50. The team also signed a PG from the D-League, Dontell Jefferson.
One player that will be difficult to trade or release is Nazr Mohammed. The Bobcats acquired Mohammed as a backup at center behind Okafor, but didn’t (and still doesn’t) fit well and was used sparingly by Brown.
The trade for Diop and the presence of Alexis Ajinca has made Mohammed very disposable, but his mammoth contract keeps him on the roster. Hopefully the team finds a way to move Mohammed and his contract off the books.
The Bobcats have quickly gone from a team with plenty of cap room to spare to one that will now need to find a way to reduce cap space. The rash of trades the team made, dating back to the draft-day swap of Brandan Wright to Golden State for Jason Richardsonm have eaten into the cap quicker than most wanted. Add long-term deals for Emeka Okafor and contracts for players that don’t fit into Brown’s plans (Matt Carroll, Adam Morrison) and the team is on the hook for a lot of money.
Should Felton get a long-term deal to stay, as is most likely to happen, that would add to the cap. The team will need to use its midlevel exception wisely and the rest of the cap to sign a lottery pick and another veteran to fill out the roster. The team may look to another former Brown player in Kevin Ollie, who played under Brown in Philadelphia.
In this writer’s view, the Bobcats can become one of the top six or seven teams with just a few additions this offseason. The nucleus is in place and the once the rotation gets a few more worthy players, the Bobcats will be for real.