The Charlotte Bobcats are coming of their most successful season in franchise history, going 35-47, and just missing the postseason. Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown, known for coming in and shaking up rosters, didn’t disappoint in his first year holding the reins.
Brown orchestrated deals that sent five of the Bobcats top 10 players packing, including leading scorer Jason Richardson. The moves paid dividends as the team remained in the playoff conversation until the last week of the regular season.
So, coming off their best season to date, it's only logical to proclaim that this is the most critical offseason in the ‘Cats short history. Let’s take a look at the top five questions concerning the Bobcats this offseason.
Will the Bobcats re-sign Raymond Felton?
With the ninth pick in the 2008 NBA Draft the Charlotte Bobcats select, D.J. Augustin from the University of Texas. “Huh?” was the response of many Bobcats fans when David Stern announced the name of Charlotte’s newest resident.
Many expected M.J. and company to go with center Brooke Lopez out of Stanford, especially with size being an area of need. Instead the 5’11’’ (I’m feeling generous) Augustin was headed to Charlotte and many presumed to replace existing starter, Raymond Felton.
Felton, in the last year of his rookie contract, did not shy away from the challenge. His leadership made it impossible for the Bobcats to trade him during the season. Although his numbers remained in line with his previous seasons, Felton was clearly a better floor general, earning the trust of his coach who is known for being tough on point guards.
Felton will be a restricted free agent this summer which means the Bobcats can match any offer he receives from other teams. All indications point to Felton staying in Charlotte, but if another team shows serious interest, how much will the Bobcats be willing to pony up knowing they have Augustin on the bench?
Who will be the go-to-guy?
After the departure of Jason Richardson’s 18.7 ppg, Gerald Wallace became the Bobcats leading scorer at 16.7 ppg. Wallace is a great defender and energy guy, but he’s more of a Robin than a Batman. Additionally, all 16 teams who qualified for this year’s playoffs had at least an 18 ppg scorer.
The Bobcats need a guy who they can give the ball and say, “Get us a bucket!” Raymond Felton was used in that role in many close games this season, performed admirably, but he sometimes struggles finishing around the rim and only shot 41 percent from the floor.
There have been whispers of an Allen Iverson/Larry Brown reunion, but I don’t see it going any further than the rumor mill. Another option could be Emeka Okafor's former UCONN teammate, Ben Gordon.
Gordon is expected to command $12-15 million a year as an unrestricted free agent this summer. That amount would be too expensive for the Bobcats unless they let Felton walk and can somehow dump the contract of disgruntled Nazr Mohammed.
Ben's 20.7 ppg would immediately help the 'Cats, but I'm not sure how Larry Brown would feel about an undersized backcourt of Augustin and Gordon.
Will Diaw and Okafor get some help in the post?
The midseason acquisition of Boris Diaw gave the Bobcats much needed post scoring and a versatile big with playmaking ability. However, his 5.9 rpg leaves some to be desired from your starting power forward. Emeka Okafor was one of only six players in the league to average double-digit rebounds (10.1), but he needs help.
Beyond Diaw and Okafor the options at the four and five positions are limited. Gana Diop is a role player that gives you less than four rebounds per game. Sean May, Nazr Mohammed, Alexis Ajinca, and Juwan Howard will either be playing elsewhere, stuck at the end of the bench, or retired.
The Bobcats finished 27th in the league in rebounding and need to get into the 15th-20th range to give themselves a shot at the postseason.
What will be the draft strategy?
The Bobcats have consistently “missed the ball” in the NBA Draft. In 2004, they just missed out on the opportunity to draft Dwight Howard. In 2005, they were one pick away from nabbing Chris Paul. In 2006, they passed on Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay to draft, since traded, Adam Morrison number three overall.
The Bobcats will likely be selecting in the 12-14 range and possible options include local product and fan favorite Stephen Curry from Davidson, Duke's Gerald Henderson, Tyreke Evans out of Memphis, and Louisville's Earl Clark.
I'm skeptical of Curry's abilities and size transferring into NBA stardom, but the effect he could have on ticket sales in a struggling economy may be enough to warrant his selection.
How long will Larry Brown stay interested?
Unfortunately this question will loom as long as Brown is the head coach. No one can question the guy's basketball knowledge or teaching ability, but Brown loses interest in teams as much as Brett Favre does retirement. The coach that ranks fifth all-time in wins (1,045) has coached nine teams in his career, which is three more than any other coach in league history.
The future seems promising for the Charlotte Bobcats. Following their best regular season ever with a good offseason is key to their continued improvement.