Basketball

Bobcats want to keep Felton

Charlotte Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan might not speak often with the media, but when he does he's generally pretty candid.

Most recent example -- Raymond Felton's impending free-agency. Here's what Jordan said Thursday night about re-signing Felton to a long-term deal:

"I don't see any situation where he's not with us," Jordan replied. "I anticipate us keeping Raymond Felton, without a doubt."

That reflects how much Felton won over coach Larry Brown and, by extension, Jordan, too.

Keep in mind that Jordan had been rough on Felton the previous two seasons, occasionally singling him out for public criticism. Felton took that well, saying Jordan never said anything about him in public that hadn't already been conveyed in private.

Felton has always said he wants to stay here: That he loves playing for Brown, loves his teammates and wants to stay in the Carolinas, where he has always lived. The Bobcats exercised a qualifying offer of about $5.5 million, making Felton a restricted free agent. Now the question becomes what the Bobcats are willing to offer in a long-term extension.

While Felton would be attractive to other teams -- the Dallas Mavericks were interested in trading for him last winter -- this isn't the best summer to become a free agent, restricted or unrestricted. The economic downturn could lower the salary cap for next season and just a handful of teams -- Oklahoma City, Detroit, Memphis and Minnesota -- figure to have significant cap room.

It's a reasonable assumption the Bobcats would match another team's offer of the mid-level exception, which any team over the cap could use.

That would significantly reduce the bidding on Felton, so if the Bobcats are reasonable in the offer, it sounds like he would be back.

Other Bobcats free agents: Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins said last week that the team isn't making a qualifying offer, in excess of $3.6 million, to restrict Sean May's free agency. May told the Charlotte Observer that he would still like to re-sign here, but he'll now have the option, as an unrestricted free agent, to see what interest other teams have.

Juwan Howard and Cartier Martin are also free agents. Shooting guard Martin would like to stay, but the Bobcats used their lottery pick Thursday on Duke's Gerald Henderson to back up Raja Bell. Howard, a 14-year NBA veteran, played well off the bench at both forward spots and said he would enjoy returning.

Unfilled need: Assuming that Henderson is ready to be Bell's backup, the Bobcats greatest need is depth at power forward. With May and Howard both free agents, there's no backup to Boris Diaw.

Higgins said last week the team is prepared to use cap exceptions to pursue free agents. Two big men who would help are both off Detroit's roster -- Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.

Brown has a strong relationship with both, from their days together with the Pistons. But either one would be expensive and they're both late enough in their careers that they might not consider a team still just hoping to make the playoffs.

Money matters: While Higgins said the team has cap exceptions, he cautioned that fiscal responsibility is a big consideration.

"We're going to have some restraints" Higgins said. "I don't think it's fair for us to get anywhere close to the luxury-tax number if we're just trying to get to the playoffs. And we're not there yet."

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