Biggest issues facing Charlotte Bobcats: Dunlap, Henderson, and finding talent

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comApril 16, 2013 

For the Charlotte Bobcats, the games end Wednesday night. But the real work is just beginning.

With a 20-61 record entering the season finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bobcats might end up with the NBA’s worst record for a second straight season. Charlotte will have a high draft pick and as much as $21 million in room under the salary cap this summer.

Owner Michael Jordan and the front office face some big decisions between now and the start of training camp in October. Do they bring back the coaching staff? Which of their free agents do they re-sign? Do they cut ties with power forward Tyrus Thomas? Even what should they call themselves going forward?

A look at the biggest issues:

Coach Mike Dunlap: Winning one out of every four games isn’t the ideal NBA coaching debut, but the Bobcats’ record is about what was predicted at the season’s outset.

When Jordan was asked at a season-ticketholder event about Dunlap, the owner said all his major employees’ performances would be reviewed after the season.

To Dunlap’s credit, he’s had an impact in player development, the priority he was given when hired. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens all improved. But Dunlap has had some rocky moments in his interaction with players, particularly veterans.

Henderson’s future: The most prominent of the Bobcats’ free agents, shooting guard Henderson will be restricted in July. He says he’d like to re-sign here.

The Bobcats only have four players they took in the first round still on the roster, all four are still on the rookie pay scale, so retention of their draft picks has never been strong.

Henderson has been productive (averaging 15.3 points and 3.7 rebounds) and a leader. A co-captain, he’s been a big part of holding that locker room together through two rough seasons.

Their other free agents: Seven other Bobcats become free agents after this season. Of those, the significant ones might be power forwards Mullens (restricted) and Josh McRoberts (unrestricted).

Mullens made a splash early in the season as a scorer and rebounder. He lost January to a severe ankle sprain. He initially came back strong, but his productivity and minutes tailed off some in March. It’s tough to gauge what his market value might be this summer.

McRoberts came to the Bobcats at the trade deadline in a seemingly minor deal with Orlando. But he started 18 games down the stretch. Dunlap likes his rebounding and passing. McRoberts would like to settle in with one team after stops with the Pacers, Lakers and Magic.

The other players whose contracts expire: Gana Diop, Jeff Adrien, Jannero Pargo and Reggie Williams.

The draft: The Bobcats will likely have just one pick in June, but it will be a major one; probably top-four and at worst top-five.

They owe their second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the Mullens trade. Since Portland’s pick will likely be in the top 12, the Blazers will defer passing that pick on to Charlotte (via the Gerald Wallace trade) until at least 2014.

The 2013 draft is considered relatively weak. There are some intriguing players, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel among them. But there’s not a can’t-miss prospect such as Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was in 2012.

Other teams’ free agents: The Bobcats will have resources to pursue the free-agent market, and that might be where they find another big man, particularly a low-post scorer. Two Utah big men, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, are available, and either would help.

They are last in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage and 25th among 30 in total rebound percentage. General manager Rich Cho – not one for grand statements – said the Bobcats would absolutely address this in the off-season.

Amnesty: Under the new collective bargaining agreement, each NBA team has the option to waive one player who was on the roster before the CBA was signed, and stop counting that salary on the team’s cap.

The only remaining Bobcat that could apply to this summer is power forward Tyrus Thomas. He has two seasons left on his contract, at a total cost of about $18 million. Dunlap hardly ever chose to play Thomas the second half of the season.

Since the Bobcats are nowhere near the luxury-tax threshold, the only compelling reason to amnesty Thomas would be to create massive cap space. But it might be in everyone’s best interest for Thomas to get a fresh start elsewhere.

Name change: The Bobcats are contemplating whether to change their nickname to the Hornets, the name of Charlotte’s first NBA team. That franchise moved to New Orleans and new owner Tom Benson advocated a name change to Pelicans, effective next season.

Changing the nickname and logos would cost several million and would take at least 18 months to implement. There’s some loud advocacy in Charlotte to switch back to Hornets, but the team is focused on whether such a move would provide a big bump in ticket and merchandise sales.

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