Inside the NBA

As Charlotte Bobcats face next year, thin 2013 draft looms

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 23, 2013 

So the trade deadline passed and the Charlotte Bobcats made a small deal, sending Hakim Warrick to the Orlando Magic to take a look at Josh McRoberts.

What’s next, beyond the quiet passing of another bad season? Consider:

The 2013 draft: The good news is the Bobcats could have two lottery picks – their own plus the Portland Trailblazers’ should Portland’s pick be outside the top 12. That would complete the trade that sent Gerald Wallace west in 2011.

Now the bad news: Various scouts around the NBA see the 2013 draft as nothing special. Even if everyone eligible turns pro, there won’t be any player with the potential of New Orleans big man Anthony Davis or Portland point guard Damian Lillard.

It sure didn’t help when Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel suffered an ACL tear. He was showing dynamic potential as a shot-blocker, and might have been the default first pick. There are others out there, like Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore and Maryland big man Alex Len, who could help the Bobcats. But it’s hard to picture the 2013 draft as a panacea.

The Bobcats’ own free agents: Contracts for Gana Diop and Reggie Williams both expire, and it’s hard to picture either one back in Charlotte, based on coach Mike Dunlap’s rotation.

The real question is what happens with two starters who will be restricted free agents: Shooting guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Byron Mullens.

The qualifying offers to restrict those two are about $4.3 million for Henderson and $3.3 million for Mullens. It’s a given the Bobcats will make those qualifying offers. It’s less certain how the Bobcats will proceed from there.

This franchise doesn’t always retain its lottery picks. For instance, Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin both left without compensation.

Mullens has been, by far, this team’s best big man. He’s the only reliable scorer in the frontcourt and the leading rebounder. His improvement playing for Dunlap has been considerable.

Henderson has improved his three-point shooting dramatically, to where he’s making 40 percent of his attempts. He’s arguably the Bobcats’ best post-up option and a versatile defender. And he’s become a leader on and off the court as a co-captain with Kemba Walker.

The question with Henderson is how much will it take to re-sign him and how much interest will he draw from other teams? The Bobcats do have options at shooting guard in Ben Gordon and rookie Jeff Taylor. But no alternative does all the things Henderson provides.

Free-agency at-large: The Bobcats’ salary obligations for next season look to be about $40 million. That would leave them $17 million or more below the cap, offering great flexibility to pursue help in the free-agent market.

They obviously need to improve rebounding and low-post scoring. The scoring burden is far too centered on the guards. No one player demands a double-team on a regular basis, which makes the Bobcats easy to guard.

It’s probably unrealistic to think the Bobcats could sign Josh Smith away from the Atlanta Hawks. But either of two big men off the Utah Jazz roster – Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap – could be an upgrade on what they have.

If a big man of consequence wants to sign here, there’s nothing financial stopping the Bobcats from making that move.

Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:

• Some found it odd that Hawks GM Danny Ferry didn’t go ahead and deal Smith for whatever he could now. I didn’t. That’s a good team that can win a round in the playoffs. An off-season sign-and-trade probably gets back as much for Smith as what I read the Milwaukee Bucks offered to get him now.

• Former Duke star J.J. Redick has rounded into a much better all-around pro than I anticipated. He’ll hit free-agency in July off his best NBA season. And Milwaukee gave up plenty to trade for him. I don’t think it’s a given he stays a Buck.

• It would be hard not to vote LeBron James as league most valuable player, but there’s an argument to be made for Tony Parker in San Antonio. Parker, much more than Tim Duncan, is holding the Spurs championship window open. They clobbered the Clippers in Los Angeles Thursday in a statement game.

• Warrick went from starting 14 straight games in Mullens’ absence to totaling six minutes in his last 11 games as a Bobcat.

• So Kobe Bryant promises the Lakers will make the playoffs. What else is he supposed to say? That doesn’t count for much.

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