Inside the NBA

Steve Smith release hearkens back to Bobcats’ Gerald Wallace trade

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMarch 15, 2014 

I’ve watched from afar as Carolina Panthers fans raged over the team’s decision to part ways with wide receiver Steve Smith. The reaction reminded me of how Charlotte Bobcats fans felt betrayed when Gerald Wallace was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.

A perfect analogy? No. Smith was part of a Super Bowl team and went to several Pro Bowls. Wallace played in one playoff series in Charlotte and represented the Bobcats in one NBA All-Star Game.

But here’s where the analogy holds: Wallace was the closest thing the Bobcats had to an iconic player, a singular reason to attend home games. Smith and Wallace both have maverick attitudes about expressing themselves forcefully, even if that riled management.

So here’s my advice to Panthers fans: Vent your anger; mourn the loss of No. 89. But don’t be so driven by emotion as to ignore the possibility this could work out OK in the end.

Because that’s what happened with the Wallace trade.

The Bobcats effectively traded Wallace for two future first-round picks (the player exchange was mostly for cap purposes). The fans hated it and it put then-interim coach Paul Silas in a no-win situation.

But history proved the front office dealt Wallace in advance of some severe physical decline. He’s been traded twice since leaving Charlotte. Now, by his own admission, “Crash” is a reserve making $9.2 million this season and next. He’s done for the season with the Boston Celtics following knee and ankle surgeries.

My point: Wallace and Smith did some great things athletically in this town that pulled fans out of their seats. Now Smith is somewhere in the same vicinity Wallace was when the Bobcats traded him: closer to the end than the beginning and not quite the playmaker he once was.

Fans do and should cherish a player for what he’s done. In contrast, it’s a front office’s responsibility to judge what that player will do and act on it.

Not saying the Panthers made the right call, because I don’t know all the circumstances – none of us do. But this isn’t blasphemy, either. It’s business.

Five passing thoughts on the NBA and the Bobcats:

•  Somebody asked Bobcats coach Steve Clifford what he thought about raising the age limit for entry into the NBA draft. Clifford said most players can only benefit from another season at a program like Duke or North Carolina. But he stopped short of saying that’s reason to change the rule, and I know why: Clifford saw how impactful LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were long before they would have completed a sophomore season in college. There are always exceptions.

• The Bobcats play a day game Sunday in Milwaukee against the Bucks. I love day games, and not just because I avoid deadline hassles (OK, mostly because of that). But the Bobcats playing the NBA’s worst team, in direct TV competition with the ACC championship game? Good luck, Steve and Dell!

• I get asked a lot how Phil Jackson will do running the New York Knicks. Fine, I say, but whatever autonomy Jackson’s contract purports to provide isn’t worth much. Jim Dolan is Jim Dolan.

• Kobe Bryant was less than diplomatic in his remarks about the Los Angles Lakers in that news conference Wednesday. Knowing the team owes you an additional $48 million guaranteed grants a lot of candor to second-guess the bosses.

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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