In the days leading up to the trade deadline last February, the two men in charge of the Charlotte Bobcats roster each made a strong statement:
President of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins: Were very active our owner wants us to be active.
General manager Rich Cho: We need more help rebounding...Thats something we will address, whether through the trade deadline or through the draft.
It took a while, but the Bobcats made good on those promises. The roster makeover has been significant, and this clearly looks like a more competitive team than the one that bumbled its way to a 28-120 record the past two seasons.
They drafted Indiana power forward Cody Zeller and signed free-agent center Al Jefferson. They re-signed shooting guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Josh McRoberts. In two lesser moves but ones that fill needs new coach Steve Clifford identified theyve added veterans Jannero Pargo and Anthony Tolliver as third options at point guard and power forward, respectively.
Tolliver agreed to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal Saturday. Once he formally signs, the Bobcats will have 13 guarantees for next season, with an NBA-maximum 15 roster spots available. The Bobcats also have power forward Jeff Adrien on an unguaranteed contract and have indicated they will work out guard Seth Curry, the Charlottean and former Duke star, who went undrafted in June.
With 13 guarantees, this is pretty much the roster the Bobcats will bring to UNC-Asheville for training camp in October.
Most of the emerging core is young: Henderson, Zeller, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor each has played fewer than five NBA seasons, so their best pro seasons are probably ahead of them. The exception would be Jefferson, who enters his 10th NBA season. However at 28 Jefferson has been quite durable, missing nine of a possible 148 games the past two seasons at Utah.
Walker made a big improvement in his second season at point guard, raising his averages to 17.7 points and 5.7 assists. The Bobcats are hoping for similar growth from second-year players Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor. Kidd-Gilchrist has to dramatically improve his jump shot, but has a good teacher in assistant coach Mark Price.
Taylor will spend much of September playing for the Swedish national team at Eurobasket after being named all-tournament team at Las Vegas summer league (20.3 points per game). Zeller also was named all-tournament in Las Vegas, with averages of 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.
The second unit will mostly be older players, such as point guard Ramon Sessions (seventh season), shooting guard Ben Gordon (10th season) and McRoberts (seventh season). Between Sessions, Gordon and Taylor, there should be more scoring punch in the second unit.
With the addition of Jefferson, center-power forward Bismack Biyombo appears destined to play more off the bench next season. Biyombo can be a factor as a rebounder and shotblocker, but he still struggles to score from more than a few feet from the basket. Its unclear how much of a role 13th-season center Brendan Haywood will play, but depth at center is always valuable.
The Bobcats player-payroll is starting to make more sense these days, after Gana Diops contract expired and the team amnestied Tyrus Thomas. Among veterans with nine or more seasons, the Bobcats owe Gordon $13.2 million this coming season, but thats the last on his deal. Haywood makes $2 million more in 2014-15. (Pargo is one year at veteran minimum).
Gordons contract could be useful at the trade deadline. With so many teams concerned about the more punitive luxury tax, acquiring Gordons expiring deal, in return for a player with additional seasons, could make sense for teams above the tax threshold in February.