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: “We’re very active – our owner wants us to be active.’’
General manager Rich Cho: “We need more help rebounding. ...That’s 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 – they’ve 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.
They’ve improved their low-post scoring by adding Jefferson and Zeller and retained a strength by re-signing Henderson, their 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Clifford said during summer league last month that he thought adding a third point guard (Pargo) and a sixth big (presumably Tolliver) were priorities for the last few roster spots. Clifford said there’s enough versatility among his shooting guards and small forwards that that isn’t an area of need.
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 shot-blocker, but he still struggles to score. It’s unclear how much of a role 13th-season center Brendan Haywood will play.
The Bobcats player-payroll is starting to make more sense these days, after Gana Diop’s 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 that’s the last on his deal. Haywood’s contract in 2014-15 will pay him $2 million. (Pargo is one year at veteran minimum).
Gordon’s contract could be useful at the trade deadline. With so many teams concerned about the more punitive luxury tax, acquiring Gordon’s expiring deal, in return for a player with additional seasons, could make sense for teams above the tax threshold in February.
Projected depth chart: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Jannero Pargo.
The skinny: The Bobcats are building around Walker at point guard. Sessions had a fine first season in Charlotte before missing April with a knee sprain. Pargo played well as a late-season fill-in, and improves the Bobcats’ weak 3-point shooting.
Projected depth chart: Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor
The skinny: Re-signing Henderson was important; he’s a leader and a tough guy on a team lacking in those areas. Gordon is good for a dozen big scoring games a season. Taylor had an excellent summer league.
Projected depth chart: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Taylor
The skinny: Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor both bring strong defense at the position, but Kidd-Gilchrist must improve his jump-shooting. Taylor played with more confidence in Las Vegas.
Projected depth chart: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver, Jeff Adrien
The skinny: Zeller will be used in the high post, where he’ll have the option to shoot jump shots and take defenders off the dribble. McRoberts improved the Bobcats’ ball movement as a trade-deadline acquisition from Orlando.
Projected depth chart: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood
The skinny: Jefferson has the low-post scoring skills to force opponents to double-team him, but he’s not much of a defender. Biyombo is just the opposite; a goalie with no real offensive skills.
Bobcats sign free agent forward Tolliver
Free-agent Anthony Tolliver, a 6-foot-8 forward with five seasons of NBA experience, has agreed to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Tolliver, who played for the Atlanta Hawks last season, reportedly drew interest from a variety of teams, including the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz. He has a history with members of the Bobcats coaching staff, working with assistants Stephen Silas at Golden State and Bob Weiss in Atlanta last season.
Tolliver has played for the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Hawks. He has career averages of 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds. His shooting is not particularly strong – 41.3 percent from the field.
Tolliver went unselected in the 2007 draft after playing for Creighton. He played professionally in Germany as a rookie, then got his NBA chance in 2008 with the Spurs. He had his best season statistically (2009-10) with the Warriors, averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
When Tolliver formally signs his contract, the Bobcats will have 13 players under guaranteed deals for next season, plus power forward Jeff Adrien on an unguaranteed contract.