It was a shocking day for Charlotte Bobcats fans and season ticket holders who woke up last Friday morning to learn that the only All-Star in the seven year old franchise's history, forward Gerald Wallace, had been traded to Portland for backup center Joel Pryzbilla, along with reserve forward Dante Cunningham and a 2011 first-round draft pick.
Though his numbers have been down this year, Wallace has played much better since recovering from a spat of minor injuries early in the season; he seems to have regained his All-Star form from a year ago.
However, the star player's improved play wasn't enough to keep him in Charlotte.
In an effort to create salary cap space and build toward the future, owner Michael Jordan and GM Rod Higgins sacrificed the team's most athletic player and best perimeter defender with little immediate reward for a team that was still six games under .500 at 26-32 and a half game behind Indiana for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot at the time of the trade.
While not quite giving up on the current season, the Bobcats have their eyes set on becoming a contender in the coming years through free agency and the draft.
"We don't want to be in that seventh or eighth spot. We want to get to that championship level," Higgins said. "That's the plan."
Higgins also made it clear that the team is willing to spend the money necessary to lure talent to take the team to the highest level.
"Of course Michael is willing to spend the money," he said.
"He's made that clear to all of us from the top down that he's going to spend the money. But you have to understand when is the good time to spend the money."
The Bobcats' strategy for the future is to draft smartly and to clear cap space for an elite veteran player the team can build around; however, much will depend on the outcome of the offseason negotiations over the league's collective bargaining agreement, set to expire after this season.
Despite several changes in Paul Silas' rotation, including last year's first-round pick, Gerald Henderson, moving into the starting lineup and an 0-5 record since dealing Wallace, the trade's short-term effects will be judged on the final outcome of the Bobcats' season.
However, Jordan and Higgins will ultimately be held held accountable for their ability, or inability, to build a perennial winner in Charlotte and that will take a bit more time to tell.
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