- Tyrus Thomas ($8,694,215)
- Ramon Sessions ($5,000,000)
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($4,809,840)
- Bismack Biyombo ($3,049,920)
- Kemba Walker ($2,568,360)
- Brendan Haywood ($2,050,000)
- Jeff Taylor ($788,872)
- Ben Gordon ($13,200,000, Player)
- Jeff Adrien ($916,099)
Free Agents / Cap Holds
- DeSagana Diop ($11,058,300)
- Gerald Henderson ($7,753,318)1
- Byron Mullens ($5,632,655)2
- Josh McRoberts ($4,075,500)
- Reggie Williams ($3,396,250)
- No. 4 pick ($3,214,200)
- 1st Round (4th overall)
- Guaranteed Salary: $26,961,207
- Options: $13,200,000
- Non-Guaranteed Salary: $916,099
- Cap Holds: $35,130,223
- Total: $76,207,529
Perhaps the two most compelling news items for Bobcats fans may have happened within the past month, as the team announced it will change its name to the Hornets in 2014/15 and hired Patrick Ewing as the lead assistant to new head coach Steve Clifford. Certainly there's been little on the court for Charlotte to get excited about, since the team is a combined 28-120 over the last two seasons. At least the Bobcats couldn't be accused of tanking this year, since they won their final three games of the season to move past the Magic in the standings. Of course, that meant the team was 5.1% less likely to win the No. 1 draft choice and 8.5% less likely to wind up with a top-three pick, and that manifested in the 'Cats slipping to fourth in the draft order.
Charlotte probably won't be missing out on a superstar as a result, given the weakness at the top of this year's field of prospects, but it's clear the draft plays a significant role for the team as it tries to climb out of the dregs of the league. Three of the players with the team's five highest guaranteed salaries for next season are on rookie-scale contracts. Still, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo haven't developed into stars, and neither has Gerald Henderson, the team's lottery pick from 2009 who's up for restricted free agency this summer. As part of a meeting with season ticketholders in March, GM Rich Cho was asked about the weakness of this year's draft and pointed instead to next year's class, which looks much stronger. The Bobcats could have as many as three first-round picks next year, but unless the Bobcats unearth a gem from this year's crop, there will be little reason for optimism based on the team's track record in the draft.
Owner Michael Jordan told that same group of season ticketholders to expect plenty of change this summer, and the team has already hired Clifford to replace Mike Dunlap, who lasted just one season as coach. The Bobcats have the cap flexibility to make the changes Jordan promised, even if Ben Gordon opts into his $13.2MM salary for next season, which seems inevitable. The team could amnesty Tyrus Thomas, who has two years and $18,082,645 left on his contract, to create more cap room. Given the seven-year veteran's career-worst 4.8 points per game and .353 field goal percentage this year, I wouldn't expect Thomas back with Charlotte next season.
Amnestying Thomas would give the team enough cap room to pursue a marquee free agent like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, but neither of them will likely spend a minute thinking about the Bobcats this summer, even though Paul is a North Carolina native. Last year's offseason, in which Ramon Sessions was the team's most noteworthy free agent signing, signaled how difficult it will be for the Bobcats to attract even the most pedestrian of players. The Bobcats used a less conventional means of acquiring talent last summer when they claimed Brendan Haywood off amnesty waivers from the Mavericks, and if another worthy target gets amnestied this summer, I wouldn't be surprised to see Charlotte make another claim. Picking players off the scrapheap isn't exactly the most effective method of rebuilding, however.
I expect Cho and president of basketball operations Rod Higgins to pursue trades this summer. The 'Cats don't have many attractive assets on the playing roster, but they have a wealth of draft picks, and they could use their cap space to absorb an overpaid player from another team. That doesn't make them unique, though, as other clubs could put together packages that are just as attractive, if not more so. There's been speculation that the Bobcats could pursue a Chris Bosh trade, but I don't think the Heat will be ready to unload a core piece of their championship team for cap space and draft picks until it's proven that their title-winning opportunities are behind them. Bosh can opt out of his deal after next season anyway, so I sincerely doubt the Bobcats would mortgage the future to bring on a player who might be gone after just one season.
The Bobcats would be better served by setting their sights on someone signed to a long-term deal, though that may once more necessitate taking on less-than-marquee talent. It's difficult to build a team from the bottom up in a small market, but Michael Jordan's ownership is an ace in the hole. If the club becomes a consistent playoff team that's a player or two away from title contention, the specter of playing for Jordan might just be enough to lure a superstar who dreams of lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy with His Airness. Still, that's a strategy based on assumptions and what-ifs, and the fact that Jordan oversaw the rapid dismantling of the franchise's only playoff team suggests the owner isn't banking on merely appearing in the postseason.
The Bobcats are reportedly talking to the Bucks about the 15th overall pick, though it's unclear whether that means Charlotte is willing to give up the No. 4 pick or simply wants to acquire an additional first-round selection. In any case, the draft will continue to figure in the team's plans, and the Bobcats will have to start making more hits than misses. Higgins and Cho could try to be patient, eschew drastic moves, and hope for better lottery luck leading up to next year's highly touted draft class. I don't think that would be in keeping with Jordan's promise of change to the team's season ticketholders, but there doesn't appear to be a quick fix available.
- Henderson was the team's second-leading scorer this past season, and though he's not a breakout star, the Bobcats may be inclined to match any reasonable offer he sees in restricted free agency. I don't expect him to warrant an annual salary for much more than his approximately $4.5MM qualifying offer, but I could see him winding up with a three- or four-year offer equivalent to the value of the full mid-level exception, with a starting salary of $5.15MM. If so, the Bobcats would probably match.
- Players accepting their qualifying offers used to be a rare occurence, but it's happened with more frequency the last couple of years, and that may be the route Byron Mullens takes. Unlike Henderson, I don't think Mullens could do any better than $4.5MM. He was a rotation regular despite his paltry 31.7% three-point shooting on 3.9 attempts per game this season, and the Bobcats may be willing to slightly overpay the 24-year-old big man to see if he can show more progress next season. That could lead both sides into the low-risk one-year agreement.
- Josh McRoberts, who saw more playing time in his partial season with Charlotte than at any other point in his six-year NBA career, could be another player the Bobcats bring back at an above-market price. He just finished a two-year, $6.135MM deal, and a similar arrangement might be enough to bring him back, perhaps with a team option for 2014/15. Re-signing Mullens and McRoberts to deals the team can get out of after just one year would allow Charlotte to maintain flexibility for next summer's more fertile free agent class.
- The qualifying offer for Henderson is $4,531,459, which is less than 250% of his salary in 2012/13. The cap hold for a former first-rounder who made less than the league average salary in the fourth season of his rookie-scale contract is always the greater of those two amounts in the summer after his rookie deal expires. Thus, Henderson's cap hold is greater than his qualifying offer, even though his qualifying offer received a slight bump because he met the starter criteria this season.
- The same is true for Mullens, the 24th pick in the 2009 draft. Mullens, who was originally in line for a qualifying offer of $3,293,976, nearly failed to meet the starter criteria. He was removed from the starting lineup late in the season after having made 40 starts, one shy of the minimum, but wound up making one more start, on March 24th against the Heat. Thus, his QO is $4,531,459, identical to Henderson's.