What To Do with Dampier? – Part 1 (Addendum)

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Jose Calderon - Tres Points, Bee-octch!

Before I get to my second Dampier Solution, I want to throw one more possible option into the “Waive Him” category.  Last week we heard from NBA.com’s David Aldridge that the Bobcats were trying to get involved in the Houston/NO/NJ/INDY four team trade.  The ‘Cats wanted to squeeze yet another team into the mix (the Raptors) in order to send Dampier’s expiring contract to the Pacers for the Rap’s Jose Calderon.  Aldridge is and has been a top notch NBA beat guy for decades so I’ll take him at his word: The Bobcats are still interested in acquiring Calderon.

Here’s the thing that I don’t get: Jose is at best an overpaid part-time starter for the Lottery bound Raptors.  At worst he’s a salary cap albatross who’s paid like a top 10 point guard and will probably start the season on the bench behind the average Jarrett Jack.  So why are the Bobcats trying to trade a real deal asset (Dampier’s immediately expiring contract) for him?

The answer, of course, could be that the front office is clueless (and there are many signs that undeniably point that way) or perhaps this is just a smokescreen leaked by Toronto management in order to try to raise Calderon’s value throughout the League.

A Better Deal for Calderon

If in fact the Bobcats are interested in Calderon then why not offer up a more palatable combination of Gana Diop and D.J. Augustin?  Diop’s contract matches Calderon’s in length with Jose due around $6 million more over the next three seasons.

Sure, Gana hasn’t done a damn thing to prove he’s worth the League minimum (much less a full midlevel) contract over the past year but he’d be the biggest body on the Raps thin roster and he’s still young enough (28) to contribute.  Meanwhile, D.J. would add another shooter and speedster to Toronto’s open court game.  He’s also an expiring contract or a cheap trade chip if the Raps don’t want him back after next season.  On the surface, Diop’s deal would be hard to swallow but I’m not sure if Toronto will see a better offer for Jose and his 3 years, $30 million than this one.

For the Bobcats, the trade would be a solid double.  Calderon has his flaws and is flagrantly overpaid but a combination of Jose and Livingston at point guard could work.  Both players have size (Jose is listed a 6’3″) and Calderon’s shooting will come in very handy when Shaun struggles with his perimeter shot.

Diop’s absence (combined with the eventual waiving of Dampier and loss of Tyson Chandler) heightens the team’s need for depth at center.  With Shaq signing on with the Celtics for a little over the League veteran’s minimum, I can’t see a 36 year old Erik Dampier walking away from a two year $6 million dollar offer from Higgins & Co.

Ironically, taking on Jose’s $30 million would help the Bobcats with their financial situation.  By unloading a bad deal for a bad deal, the ‘Cats could solve their point guard depth while staying safely under the League’s tax number.  The team would still have another two million dollars or so to pickup a street free agent or veteran via trade for depth (see Ratliff, Theo) this year and be around $9 million under next season’s tax line.

But if I’m Rod Higgins and MJ, I don’t stop there.  It’s time for a double down.

Double Down Trade

In what would be perhaps the League’s biggest two player trade (on a pound for pound basis), the Bobcats could then ship Boris Diaw (recently spotted doing a Biggie Smalls impression at the World’s) coupled with Eduardo Najera to the Knicks for “Disorderlies” body double Eddie Curry.  From a talent perspective, this is a coup for the Knicks.  Sure, they’d have to sacrifice $11 million in cap space for next season (even with Diaw and Najera on the roster, they’d only have $33m committed) but D’Antoni would reunite with one of his favorite players from his Phoenix days and Boris, when in shape, is one of the most uniquely skilled players in the League.  The reason the Bobcats make this trade is to clean up their books for next season.  Curry’s $11 million deal expires  next summer and the ‘Cats would go into the 2011-2012 season (if there is one) $11 million under the cap and nearly $20 million under the tax line.

Bobcats Baseline - Salaries (Post Curry/Calderon Moves)

In the event that Eddie Curry gives a crap about continuing his NBA career, I can’t think of a better place for him than Charlotte.  Teaming with Mohammed and Dampier, Larry Brown will utilize Curry’s low post scoring in ways that D’Antoni’s system can’t.  Pairing Curry with an athletic power forward who operates from the perimeter like Tyrus Thomas or Derrick Brown would also help.

Bobcats Baseline State of the Roster - Calderon/Curry - Addendum

In Conclusion

Ultimately, this roster isn’t going to win the Conference Finals.  They could however push the team a few games up in the standings and make a run at the Second Round while giving the organization some breathing room to make some moves and build the team while remaining competitive for the next three to four seasons.

Until next time, Enjoy the Offseason Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

What To Do with Dampier? – Part 1

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Mo Williams ©2010 NBA

Michael Jordan bragged openly last month that the team had acquired the League’s “most valuable contract” when they sent bust Tyson Chandler to Dallas in return for Erick Dampier and a couple of overpaid 12th men.  How valuable exactly?  MJ and GM Rod Higgins will have at least another month and a half to mull over the decision as they wait the mandatory 60 days before Damp, Eduardo Najera or Matt Carroll can be traded again in a package.

So what will they do with all of this “value”?
In order to answer the question, we need to first look hard at the team’s present situation.

Continue reading

More Fuel For The Chris Paul Fire

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Save for some banter in the comments and the occasional tweet (oh, and this post from back in April), we’ve tried to treat the Chris Paul “rumors” with a healthy dose of skeptisicm here at Bobcats Baseline.  As my colleague ASChin noted (biting Owen Wilson in the process):  What in Jordan’s history in the front office makes you think he’s capable of something like that?

But this story refuses to die.  First, Rick Bonnell elevated it from “internet rumor” to “semi-legitimate story” with this piece from the weekend that was widely linked to around the intertubes:

Chris Paul as a Charlotte Bobcat isn’t crazy.  It’s unlikely. It’s undoubtedly problematic…

But it’s doable, and I’m told it’s a twinkle in the eyes of this team’s decision-makers.

I figured the resolution of the New Orleans Hornets GM vacancy earlier this week might help to calm the speculation down. Wednesday afternoon, ESPN’s John Hollinger even tweeted that Trail Blazer maniacs needed to “stop asking me about CP3. Not happening for at least a year, if ever.”

But Wednesday night CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger tossed a drum of gasoline onto the smoldering embers with this dispatch, titled “New Hornets brass already facing crisis with Paul“.  An excerpt to whet your appetite for the link:

Paul, in fact, has put into motion an aggressive exit strategy that will accelerate in the coming weeks, and his clear intention is to be traded before the start of the 2010-11 season, a person with direct knowledge of his plans told CBSSports.com Wednesday.  “He wants out,” said the person…

Now never mind that Berger also reveals that Paul’s list of preferred destinations “consists of the Knicks, Magic and Lakers.”  What we Bobcats fans know that Berger doesn’t is that Paul really wants to play in his home state, for the founder of the Jumpman brand he endorses, and for Larry Brown.  And that we have cap relief in the form of Dampier’s contract waiting.

And that Carmelo Anthony is coming next.  For Gana Diop.  To complete Team Jumpman.  With World Wide Wes as special advisor.

Right?

-Dr. E

P.S.  Typing in C-h-r-i-s-P-a-u into Google gets you “Chris Paul” followed by “Chris Paul to bobcats” as the top two suggestions.  Ridiculous…




THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: Jordan’s Approach to Building a Winning Team in Charlotte

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THE PLAYERS (AKA THE MISFITS):

It starts with the city itself.  Once a shining example of the NBA’s ever-growing popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Charlotte finds itself today as a middle aged divorcee six years into a rebound marriage, unsure if it was ever cut out for this pro basketball city thing to begin with.*

The team’s first All-Star and only remaining original member was a bargain bin castoff selected in the expansion draft.  Young Gerald Wallace was worth less to the Sacramento Kings than shedding $1 million from their bloated payroll.

Even though he is only one of a dozen or so current NBA players who can score twenty points a night while preventing his opponent from doing the same, Stephen Jackson was exiled from Golden State for what amounted to a $5 million expiring contract and a poor shooting, non-rebounding Eastern European caveman.

Once universally revered, hall of fame head coach Larry Brown arrived in Charlotte a tarnished brand.  In a League where head coaching vacancies are filled annually by the same retread Temp Agency, Brown had to practically reach out to an old friend in order to secure a job and begin rebuilding his reputation.

And finally there’s Jordan.  A man who could do no wrong on the court is now the man who can barely do anything right off of it.  Joining the names Ehlo and Russell in the MJ ethos are new ones like Kwame and Morrison.  For the first time in nearly 30 years, Michael Jordan has something to prove in the game of basketball.

A BRIEF, PAINFUL RECAP

Successful small market teams (OKC, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, Orlando) use the same formula and we all know it: BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT.  Draft stars to cheap rookie deals, treat ‘em well, sign ‘em to big contracts before they hit free agency and keep drafting young talent and signing mid-level free agents to pair with them.  Rinse and repeat.

The Bobcats are currently the worst drafting franchise in the NBA.  It’s not even up for debate.  In six plus years of existence, not once has one of their draft picks sniffed an All-Star game – and the ‘Cats have had more lottery selections than anyone else in that span.  Indulge me for another brief and painful recap:

2004: Emeka Okafor.  GRADE: a solid double. Could have had more picks and taken Big Al or Iggy if Bob Johnson had a clue about running a business, “hmm, buy a pick from Phoenix for $2 million to draft Jefferson, Deng or Iguodala or build a brand new cable sports network from scratch?  What’s the main draw you ask?  Charlotte Bobcats basketball of course!  Brevin Knight every night!”

2005: Ray Felton/Crab Bread May.  GRADE: a sacrifice bunt. Felton a below average starter for a few years, May on his way to hosting Man vs. Food: EXTREME CARBS!
2006: Adam Morrison.  GRADE: whiff.
Not only a whiff but a McGwire Whiff.  The kind where the guy is on ‘roids and whiffs so hard that he blows out both knees in the process.  Embarrassing.
2007: Jason Richardson/Jared Dudley.  GRADE: RBI single. Could have been worse.  At least realized that they didn’t know how to draft and received a couple non-bust assets in return.

2008: Augustin/Ajinca.  GRADE: whiff. Not as bad as the Morrison knee blowout but a close second.  Passed on Brook Lopez and threw away a future first rounder in order to select Freedom Fries.  Jordan was on record as saying that the team sat out the 2010 draft because “Tyrus Thomas was our first round pick.”  No, Michael.  Alexis Ajinca is your 2010 first round pick.  Ugh.
2009: Henderson/Brown.  GRADE: promising single right up the gap.
Henderson looked good in some late season action and is at least athletic enough to belong in the League–although his complete lack of an outside shot scares me.  Derrick Brown has the Gerald Wallace “I’m not intellectually capable enough to realize I shouldn’t be any good” gene – and this is no insult to Crash, look at how the book-smarts have hampered Okatron 2000’s career.  Higher grade for this draft if LB actually plays them next year.
2010: Ajinca by proxy.  GRADE: Freedom whiff.

So there you go folks, somehow with all of this draft day carnage in their immediate past, the Charlotte Bobcats attained a winning record in 2009-2010 and stole the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  So how in the hell did they do it?

GIVE US YOUR UNDER-PERFORMING & YOUR OVER-PAID

Nazr Mohammed, Tyson Chandler, Gana Diop, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw.  What’s the single thread that ties these players together?  Why, it’s the fact that their former teams handed them massive contracts and then immediately realized that they’d made a mistake.  “Oh crap, we just signed Joel Pryzbilla to a nine year $80 million contract.  Quick, get Jordan on the phone!”

So in a silly season which saw half of the League’s teams trade away wins for cap space, the Bobcats “philosophy” of taking on bad contracts to win now was just wacky enough to propel them into the postseason.  While other GMs plotted for future dynasties, Jordan mortgaged the farm on the more modest and attainable goal of simply making the Playoffs.  It worked.  The ‘Cats finished the season as one of the Association’s top 15 teams.

Could it be that MJ and crony Rod Higgins are sharking their peers by making fiscally questionable deals to upgrade the team’s talent pool?  Have the ‘Cats created a new “Freakonomics” meets “Moneyball” model that challenges the importance of the amateur draft and free agency?  Is Michael Jordan stealthily playing checkers while the rest of the League plays chess?  Or will all of these questionable contracts and draft day screw-ups eventually cripple the team, making future trades difficult and free agent additions impossible?**

If Jordan and Higgins are intent on foregoing the tried and true paradigm for small market success and continue with their merry spending ways, then I present to you, without further ado…

THE SUMMER OF 2010’s MISFIT TOY CANDIDATES:

What makes a Misfit Toy candidate?  Simple: you have to be way overpaid and way underperforming.  If you fit this description then I hope you like pulled pork BBQ ‘cause your probably coming to Carolina!

Ben Gordon 4 yrs: $47 million

Y’think Joey Dumars is just a tad bit regretful for signing a 6’3” sixth man shooting guard to a $60 million deal?  Gordon is way overpaid for his production but could be exactly what the doctor ordered on a team like the Bobcats: Electric bench and fourth quarter scoring.  The ‘Cats are desperate for it.  That said, Dumars is notoriously tough to trade with.  Wonder if a combination of Boris Diaw and Gerald Henderson might get this done.

Monta Ellis 4 yrs: $44 million

We’ve been speculating on this one for years.  Ellis hogs the ball and jacks up shots at an unprecedented rate.  Not good on a team with lots of offensive options like Golden State but could be an absolute godsend for the Bobcats, who spent the vast majority of last season spastically passing the ball around on offense like it was a live hand grenade.  Again, wonder if Diaw and Henderson or Chandler’s expiring could get this done.  The W’s are a mess in the front office right now, Higgins could potentially steal something else in return (pick, prospect).

Baron Davis 3yrs: $41 million

A blast from the past, a former home grown product entering the end of his career.  Still has the size and offensive firepower to occasionally dominate a game.  Couldn’t be any worse than Felton and is so overpaid that the ‘Cats could conceivably unload Diop’s longer deal in exchange.

Al Jefferson 3yrs: $42 million

Not sure exactly why Big Al is being shopped so fiercely this summer.  Who knows what goes on in the mind of David Kahn.  If the rest of League’s GMs are playing chess to MJ’s checkers, then Kahn is playing badminton.  Al would be a huge upgrade at the PF spot for the ‘Cats but not quite sure what the T’Wolves would want in exchange.  I’m praying that Kahn would ok a deal that would send out Jefferson and Ramon Sessions (Andre Miller: The Next Generation) for Tyson and Nazr’s expirings (plus a future first rounder).

Emeka Okafor: 4yrs, $52 million

Tied with two others on this list (see below) for the worst contract in the League.  Obviously, it was the Bobcats who signed him to it.  Was such a poor fit in New Orleans that Charlotte actually won the trade by taking back 6ppg/6rpg, semi-crippled Tyson Chandler in exchange.  Hate the contract but could live with ‘Mek’s 16 + 10 if the Hornets threw in Darren Collison.  Diop/Mohammed/Augustin for Okafor/Collison anybody?

Rashard Lewis: 3yrs, $65 million

Sole possession of 2nd Worst Contract in the League.  He’s paid over $20 million a year over the next three.  Yeah, you read that right.  Rashard should gift half his salary to Dwight Howard every season.  Without D-Ho backing him up in the lane, Lewis’s skinny frame and lack of defensive skills would make him an absolute liability.  Don’t think the Magic would trade him (they’re firmly in “go for broke” mode) but his offensive skills and outside shooting would fill a need for the ‘Cats.

Elton Brand: 3yrs, $51 million

Here we go, a good old fashioned back to the basket All-Star power forward.  Only problem is that Elton hasn’t been the same since an achilles injury derailed his career a few seasons ago.  He’s a round peg in a square hole with fast paced Philly but could regain dominance in Larry Brown’s grind it out half-court offense in Charlotte.  Would Diaw/Mohammed (expiring) be enough to get it done?

Hedu Turkoglu: 4yrs, $43 million

We’ve been hearing this rumor for a solid month now.  Hedu and Jack to Charlotte for Boris, Diop and D.J.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense mainly because Hedu can only play small forward, doesn’t defend or rebound well and is essentially not very good.  He’s basically Boris with a worse contract and poorer defense.  Jack and Ray Felton may as well be the same player.  Dud.  Oh and Hedu is one of the other “Worst Contract in the League”ers.  The other one?

Gilbert Arenas: 4yrs, $60 million

I’ve already written about this in length so I won’t rehash it here.  If MJ could swing a deal featuring Diop, Diaw and Mohammed for Gilbert and an asset (prospect or pick) then do it.  It’d be the biggest gamble in MJ’s tenure but he’s shown that he’s most definitely the gambling type.  An Arenas/JAX/CRASH/Tyrus/Chandler core could win 50 games this year as long as everybody stays relatively healthy.  The team would also retain the young talent on the roster and pick up either a pick or a young player like Javale McGee or Blatche from the Wiz for their troubles.

Allen Iverson: free agent.

We couldn’t leave out good old AI.  He’s a free agent and has declared himself ready take on the League again.  The dude has hit rock bottom.  If you’re gonna take a flyer on him then now is the time to do it.  If he would accept a smaller (possibly bench) role and play nice with his new teammates then I can’t think of a better way for him to end his career than with his old coach in the Queen City.  He’d also come cheap.  Think: Flip Murray Advanced.

IN CONCLUSION

Don’t be surprised if Jordan pulls off a deal for one of these misfits sometime between now and the end of next month.  MJ sat out the draft and one gets the sense that both he and Trader Larry are chomping at the bit to make yet another move for an overpriced toy in need of a new home.

Until then, Enjoy the Offseason Bobcats fans…

-ASChin

*I find it ironic that throughout Charlotte’s twenty plus years of NBA basketball history the vast majority of the city’s successful players have come via trade or as castaways: Monster Mash, Eddie Jones, Mase, Vlade Two Packs, Easy E Campbell, P-Whipped Rice, Curry 1.0, Don’t Tell Me No Bogues, Crash and JAX.  Doesn’t that sort of represent how the city’s success was built as well?  Sure, there are some shining examples of homegrown talent but the vast majority of the Queen City’s brain pool came here from somewhere else looking for a new start.  Buffalo, Rochester, Jersey, Pittsburgh, WV, Ohio, represent BABY BABY!  UH!

**The good news is that the team drafts so poorly that they’ll never have to worry about re-signing their own talent on the open market.  “What’s that?  Raymond is an unrestricted free agent?  He might sign with another team?  Huh.  Anyways, so you’re telling me that a poached egg is actually boiled?  I always wondered how they did that…”

Offseason Prescriptions for the Capped-Out Cats (Part 3)

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Chapter III: Prescription B (Not for the Faint of Heart)

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Alright.  We’ve made it this far.  First I stated the problem.  Next was an easy and elegant solution.  Now we go all in.

Quick Recap:
1.    The Bobcats are capped out before re-signing Tyrus Thomas or Raymond Felton.
2.    Team needs more consistent play from the PG position, more scoring from the low post, and more scoring in general.
3.    Team has no draft picks and few assets outside of their core players to trade in order to improve.

On the evening of June 24th, the Washington Wizards will select Kentucky PG phenom John Wall with the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft.  It’s a no-brainer.  After trading away stalwarts Antwan Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler during the season, the Wizards are marching confidently along the rebuilding path.  Wall will step in and immediately be the team’s poster boy for the future.  With one timely drop of a ping pong ball, things suddenly look rosy in the District.  There’s just one small, $80 million, gun-brandishing problem.  His name: Agent Zero.

PRESCRIPTION B

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Step 1. Charlotte trades Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed and Gana Diop to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, Javale McGee and a first round draft selection (2012).

The Wiz are posturing something ridiculous about having Gilbert move to the off-guard position in anticipation of John Wall.  Uh, yeah.  Does anybody really think that Washington wants The Outlaw anywhere near their new Savior?  Sure, taking on a poo-poo platter of Diaw, Diop and Nazr while giving up a potential star in McGee and a high draft pick would suck but let’s face it, having Arenas anywhere near the Wiz bench pretty much negates any new excitement that Wall would bring to the team.  Gilbert is a 28 year old Point Guard with $80 million dollars left on his contract who was just released from a halfway house and has had three knee surgeries in the past three seasons.  If somebody is willing to take a guy like that off their hands AND save the organization $35 million in the process, you gotta make the move, right?

So why would I propose such a trade for the Bobcats?
First off, let me just say that Gilbert is a PR nightmare for certain but if Charlotte fans were willing to accept Stephen Jackson (y’know, the guy who charged into the stands and attacked fans only to later one up himself by unloading a gun at a strip club), then I think we can deal with a some of the Arenas quirkiness from time to time.

Secondly, well, there’s quite a few positives so let me just list them:
1.    Bobcats get to unload The League’s Worst Contract a.k.a. Gana Diop a.k.a. Black Shrek.
2.    Diaw’s exit clears space for Tyrus Thomas to start.
3.    Team replaces Raymond Felton with an electric scorer (and, when motivated, an underrated defender) in Arenas.
4.    Javale McGee is one of the League’s best offensive prospects at the Center position.
5.    The draft choice that the Bobcats receive would recoup the one that the team traded away in the Tyrus Thomas trade.
6.    The trade would save the Bobcats over $3 million in cap space next season, allowing the team to add depth via free agency.

Obviously, the biggest drawback to the trade is long term money.  Gilbert will be 32 years old when his deal expires in the summer of 2014 (see chart).  He’ll be paid over $22 million for that season alone.  Ouch.  Yeah, the numbers are ugly.  The move is overly aggressive and could either propel the team deep into the Playoffs (if Arenas stays healthy and focused and McGee develops) or could cripple them for the next three seasons.  MJ is known as a gambler, I think he’d be inclined to make the move.

Step 2. Charlotte Re-Signs Tyrus Thomas.

Same as in Prescription A.  Three years, $18 million sounds about right.  A starting spot might pique his interest in returning.

Step 3. Sign a backup Power Forward.

As discussed in Prescription A, possible low-cost candidates include Drew Gooden or Kris Humphries.  I like Humphries potential.

Step 4. Fill out the bench.

Arenas’s scoring abilities sort of negates the need to bring back Flip Murray.  The team could go in another direction here and sign a veteran “pure-playmaking” PG in the mold of Eric Snow as well.  Theo Ratliff has at least another year in him and could serve as a mentor to McGee and Ajinca.

Prescription B Chart

CONCLUSION:

The move is ballsy. Could a volatile nucleus of Arenas, JAX, CRASH, Tyrus and one or two of their youngsters (most likely McGee and Henderson) be enough to propel the Bobcats into contention in the East over the next few seasons?
The risks are HUGE.  Zero could play another stupid prank or blow out his knee(s) again.  Jax could unload one of Gilbert’s guns in a public place.  Crash may wonder openly why he’s the only sane person in the locker room.  The team would be capped out until 2013.
But take a look at the depth chart going into next season:

PG: Arenas, Augustin, Murray
SG: Jackson, Henderson, Murray
SF: Wallace, Brown
PF: Thomas, Humphries, Ajinca
C: Chandler, McGee, Ratliff

If the ‘Cats can win 44 games with last year’s squad then upgrading via Arenas and McGee while having Thomas and Chandler (contract year) for an entire season could very well propel the team to 50 plus wins and home court in the first round of the Playoffs.  The team would also have enough draft picks and young prospects on the roster to make a move for a veteran during the following summer if they so choose and make a run for local favorite (and certain turnstile mover) Seth Curry after he completes his second and final year at Duke in the 2012 NBA Draft.

As for Prescription C, I’ve decided to save that one for later.  Let’s see how the Draft and the early days of free agency play out first.

-ASChin

Offseason Prescriptions for the Capped-Out Cats (Part 1)

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Chapter I: Diagnosis

First Number of Interest: $680,000.

It’s the number you get when you take the Bobcats $69.24 million in salaries for the ’09-’10 season and subtract it from last year’s $69.92 million luxury tax threshold.  Six hundred and eighty K.  That’s approximately how close the Bobcats came to paying the luxury tax last season.  I say approximately as I’m basing the figures on Hoopshype’s excellent salary database — a database that doesn’t included Derrick Brown’s two year rookie contract.  (For the sake of this column, I’m estimating his cap figure to be equal to Milwaukee’s Jodie Meeks, drafted one spot behind Brown in last year’s second round.)

Second Number of Interest: $1.6 million.

That’s how much NBA teams are expecting to come off the cap next year.  You read that right, the Salary Cap will shrink next year and with it the luxury tax threshold.  According to ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan, the tax line will lower to around $68 million in ’10-’11 which would put the Bobcats at less than $8 million under the tax threshold before re-signing starting PG Raymond Felton (unrestricted), PF Tyrus Thomas (restricted) or valuable role players Stephen Graham and Theo Ratliff (click chart to see a larger image).

BobcatsCurrentCapSituation

Looking at next year’s salary commitments, three things are glaringly obvious:

1. THE CENTERS OF ATTENTION

The Bobcats have $27.5 million (roughly half of their cap space) committed to the center position and the last time I checked, none of those guys were named Howard, Duncan, Ming or Gasol.  Years of poor financial decision making have finally caught up: overpaying Emeka Okafor when they didn’t have to (Chandler), overpaying Matt Carroll when they didn’t have to (Diop) and bailing out Joe Dumars with the expiring contracts of Walter Herrmann and Primoz Brezec (Mohammed).
THE BAD NEWS: With the a possible lockout on the way in 2011, none of these guys are moveable unless the team is willing to take on another equally bad (if not worse) contract in return.
THE GOOD NEWS: Over $19 million will come off of the books for good in the summer of 2011 if the ‘Cats just hold tight and let Mohammed and Chandler play through their contracts.
Somebody take Larry Brown’s mobile phone privileges away pronto!

2. TYRUS THOMAS AND THE POISON PILL

The Bobcats didn’t send Chicago a future first round pick just to rent Tyrus Thomas for three months.  The intention was always to retain him for at least another season but given the Bobcats’ cap situation that might not be so simple.  As a restricted free agent, Thomas could command a salary north of the $6.2 million qualifying offer he’s due based on his rookie deal.  A team intrigued by Thomas’ potential and armed with enough cap space could offer Tyrus big money up front, signing Thomas to the dreaded “poison pill offer sheet” (see Milsap, Paul) during the summer.  Such a contract could offer Thomas $8 million in year one, $6 million in year two and only $4 million in year three.  The Bobcats would have the right to match but in doing so would essentially be “luxury-taxed-out,” unable to sign any other players (including a starting PG) without paying the dollar for dollar tax penalty — which is something Michael Jordan has repeatedly said that he will not do.  With so many teams flush with cap space this summer, the Tyrus Situation could get tricky.  Watch out for it.

3. WHO’S THE POINT?

Ray Felton is the best point guard available in a weak PG free agency class.  Again, it is entirely possible that a team flush with cap space could offer him $18 million or more over three years and in that situation the ‘Cats would have to fold.
Doubt that the team would let it’s starting point guard walk this summer?  The organization fiercely pursued a T.J. Ford trade during February’s trade deadline and weren’t even close to coming to terms on a long-term offer with Felton’s agent last summer.  If Raymond was a better shooter from outside and could finish with a little more consistency inside (not to mention stay in front of Jameer Nelson) maybe the team would go out of it’s way to sign him but I just can’t foresee it happening.  The ‘Cats will most likely have to acquire a starting PG via trade or from the free agency discount rack.

Yes, Bobcats fans, your team is in a major salary cap quagmire.

To further complicate the issue, the Bobcats can’t afford to simply allow their free-agents to walk and replace them with low-cost scrubs or cheap rookies.  The team doesn’t have any draft picks (instead they have Alexis Ajinca) and from a business perspective, the organization must improve their on-court product (or at least repeat last year’s success) in order to expand fan support and capitalize on their inaugural Playoff run.

TEAM NEEDS:

The Bobcats head into the summer with three major needs:

STARTING POINT GUARD
D.J. Augustin is clearly not ready to start and the Bobcats are too capped out to pay Raymond Felton market value.  They’ll need to make a trade or find an undervalued bargain replacement in Free Agency (see Blake, Steve).

LOW POST SCORING/REBOUNDING
Boris Diaw has a few low post moves but plays mostly on the perimeter and doesn’t concern himself very much with the art of rebounding.  Tyrus Thomas (if he’s re-signed) is a solid rebounder but has limited abilities as a post scorer.  The team will need to either trade for or sign a traditional low-post power forward to team with Thomas or Diaw.

CONSISTENT PERIMETER SCORING/SHOOTING
Larry Hughes turned out to be an inconsistent version of Flip Murray.  Sure, Hughes was a better defender but what the Bobcats really needed was offense from the bench.  Murray has said that he’d happily return to Charlotte next season.  If the ‘Cats could bring him back for a similarly low priced deal next season, they should.

THE PRESCRIPTION:

So how does a Capped-Out team retain talent and, dare I say it, even improve heading into next season?

Part II: Prescription A (Simple and Clean) — Coming Soon
Part III: Prescription B (Not for the Faint of Heart) — Coming Soon

-ASChin

Bobcats vs Magic Playoff Preview Part I

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Bobcats Baseline 2010 Playoff Preview: Round One BOBCATS VS MAGIC

Welcome to Bobcats Baseline’s preview of the Bobcats first ever playoff series.

First, some general stuff.  The Magic finished the year 59-23 (34-7 home).  They posted the best overall point differential in the league this year: +7.5.   Hollinger’s formulas have them ranked as the second best in the league in terms of offensive efficiency (behind only the Suns) and tied with the Bobcats for first in defensive efficiency.

Head to head, Orlando won the season series over the Bobcats 3-1.  The Magic took the first game in Orlando back on November 10, 93-81.  Game two just six days later in Charlotte turned out to be Stephen Jackson’s Bobcats debut, but the game went to the Magic again, 97-91.

The Cats took Orlando to overtime in Charlotte on January 23, but the Magic once again prevailed, 105-95.  Finally, in the last matchup on March 14, the Cats broke through for a 96-89 win, despite playing in Orlando without an injured Gerald Wallace.

Now lets get down to the matchups.  ASChin and I decided to do a collabo for this, and we’ll start by breaking down the battle in the paint.

Dr. E: In the middle, Dwight Howard creates problems for every other team in the league.  He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for the year. It’s almost universally agreed upon that Orlando could be even more dominant if they made a more concerted effort to get him the ball on the offensive end (which they don’t always do, especially in the fourth quarter).

But it’s almost as if Larry Brown knew this matchup was coming.  He’s collected a cadre of serviceable big men to play center-by-committee. Theo Ratliff is like an older, wiser version of Tyson Chandler, who has shown signs of life himself in recent weeks.

Nazr Mohammed has looked rusty in two games since returning from back problems, but was a revelation earlier in the season with his ability to score in the post. And Gana Diop is, well, Gana Diop (or Joey Crawford’s avatar).

Together, they represent four bodies and 24 fouls that could be deployed to wear Howard down.

ASChin: Agreed.  They’ll try to win the war of attrition, throwing 24 fouls at Dwight and making the other 4 Magic players beat them one on one.  The last thing that you want to do is play into the Magic’s hands.  They want you to defend DHO for 40+ minutes, using up fouls at the center spot.  Fortunately, the Bobcats have enough bodies in the middle to combat this somewhat but as you see in the breakdown vid below Dwight can now make you pay for single coverage.

Dr. E: The other way the Bobcats may try to neutralize Howard will be to get him into foul trouble himself.  In this blog post from Rick Bonnell (once you get past the nonsense about how Rick and Gerald Wallace are like peas in a pod) Wallace stresses that the Cats need to take it straight at Howard to have a chance.

Howard averaged 3.5 fouls per game this year, fouling out four times and getting to five fouls more times than I bothered to count.  Of course, if Howard gets into foul trouble, backup Marcin Gortat is more than capable of becoming an X-factor.

ASChin: This is a big deal.  The Bobcats aren’t a great jump shooting team.  They’ll have to continue to go to the hoop to have any chance in this series.  With Dwight down there, it’ll be tough but I’m guessing that Coach Brown will try to run a lot high screen pick and rolls with Chandler and Ratliff to try and get Howard out out of the paint.

Lets move on to the 4 spot.

Rashard Lewis is having far from his best season as a pro.  His FG%, ppg, rebounds and blocks are way down.  Not exactly want you want from an $18 million a year guy.  He still shoots lights out from beyond the arc so the ‘Cats will again have to prevent the Magic from forcing a double team on Howard down low.

I think a platoon of Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw matches up well against Lewis.  Diaw in particular is going to force Lewis to guard him on those little post jump-hooks and when Howard comes over for the block, Boris is crafty enough to be able to find Chandler or Mohammed for a dunk or layup with a quick pass in the paint.  Also, look for Crash to play some minutes at the four if Brown decides to turn the tables and go small.

Dr. E: By the way, was it ever fully explained what Lewis’s 10-game PED suspension to start the year was all about?  Ironic that he’s clearly fallen off this season, isn’t it?  Some may write it up to missing training camp and never getting in the groove, or missing Hedo Turkoglu’s point forward drive-and-dishes, but has anyone measured his head circumference-to-testicle ratio serially over the years?

No?  Okay, jussayin.

Anyways, yes, between Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw, the Cats are better suited than most teams to guard and switch out onto Rashard Lewis at the three point line.

Alright, that covers the bigs.  Next up, we’ll discuss the wings and guards.  After that coaching and intangibles.

ASChin: Wait, did you just mention Rashard Lewis’s testicles?

-Dr. E & ASChin