ASHEVILLE — After six seasons in the NBA, power forward Josh McRoberts understands sometimes a team is trading for your contract, not you.
He understands it but he doesn’t have to like it. He felt extraneous in stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic the past two seasons. So when he hit free-agency in July, a big factor in his re-signing with the Charlotte Bobcats was feeling needed and valued.
“I was in a horrible situation in Orlando where they just wanted me out of there,” McRoberts said of the February trade that sent him to Charlotte.
“They wanted young players and (expiring) contracts. That’s no disrespect to them, it’s just the way the league has gone since the end of the lockout.
“I wasn’t in a great situation in L.A. either, and that was nobody’s fault – just the way it worked out for free agents after the lockout” shortened the 2011-12 season.
McRoberts got a nice little contract with the Bobcats – two seasons, each at about $2.7 million, with the second season being at McRoberts’ option. Just as importantly he got the sense from incoming coach Steve Clifford that he’d be valued, whether as a starter or as a backup to rookie Cody Zeller.
While McRoberts will never be a star, it was telling that in listing what it would take for the Bobcats to improve this season, Clifford said McRoberts reaching a level he’s capable of, but hasn’t yet found.
“He has confidence in me. I don’t think generally people think of me as a good player,” McRoberts said. “I believe I’m undervalued.”
In 28 games with the Bobcats last season – 19 of them starts – McRoberts did nothing showy, averaging 6.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists. But the ball movement instantaneously improved. The Bobcats had a bad habit of bunching the ball up on the strong side (wherever three or more players were) and not swinging it around to probe the defense.
McRoberts’ passes didn’t always lead directly to baskets, but his decision-making from the top of the key led to the next pass that led to the basket.
“I’m never going to be the guy who shoots 20 times a game. I’m not going to average 25” points, he said. “I understand my job is to get the ball to Gerald (Henderson) and now to find Al (Jefferson). To get the ball to Ben (Gordon).
“It’s a role where I can play to my teammates’ strengths. That’s what I was able to do last year from the top of the key. At this level you have to have those guys. That’s the toughest thing to guard when the ball moves sides.”
McRoberts has been limited in training-camp practices at UNC Asheville by a turf toe-like condition he’s been managing for a couple of years. The Bobcats are experimenting with various orthotics to try to relieve his discomfort.
Power forward is the one position where Clifford hasn’t already penciled in a starter. It’s an open competition right now for whether McRoberts or Zeller gets to start. But in the frank way Clifford handles such matters, he’s already said publicly that for the Bobcats to reach their potential, Zeller has to be a huge part of the core group.
McRoberts seems fine with that so long as he still has a role. He says he’ll enjoy mentoring Zeller along the way.
“I look forward to teaching whatever knowledge I have to Cody,” McRoberts said. “I got a lot of help along the way from older guys in this league. Hopefully we can help each other out to stabilize the position.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129 Twitter: @rick_bonnell