Three months into my self-imposed NBA exile and the Bobcats had to go and blow up the team. I just couldn’t resist. It’s time for a State of the Roster.
PART 1 – WHO’S TO BLAME?
To say that fan sentiment over the trade has skewed negative would be an understatement. Gerald Wallace, the player we all watched grow from an expansion draft castoff to best-kept-NBA-secret to All-Star has been gifted to Portland for what amounts to cap space and a couple of mid first round picks. On the surface this seems both cheap and defeatist. The Bobcats currently sit just a few games outside of the Eastern Conference’s top eight while resting comfortably below the League’s luxury tax line.
So who’s to blame for this sudden and seemingly irrational transaction?
1. Larry Brown.
The former coach and (by his estimates) de facto GM kvetched incessantly until ownership added millions in dead weight veteran contracts then griped again when he couldn’t add any more. The moves overwhelmed a cash strapped organization as they found themselves well over the luxury tax line last summer. Owner Michael Jordan isn’t stupid, he looked at the past few seasons and came away with the conclusion that he’d most likely traded five plus years of fielding competitive teams for a one and done with the Orlando Magic.
2. Gana Diop & Matt Carroll.
No, these two weren’t involved in a clandestine operation to overthrow the co-captain; at least not directly. Jordan made a major mistake when he signed Carroll to a then six-year $27 million deal. MJ immediately realized the folly so decided to compound the problem by trading Carroll for Gana Diop’s $31 million albatross contract in a Larry Brown inspired transaction back in ’08.
In an ironic twist, the trade ended up handcuffing the team to the point where they had to take back Carroll’s contract from Dallas simply to get under the luxury tax this summer (see Dampier, Ericka). The two player’s salaries combined make up what the Bobcats would have owed Wallace over the next two seasons at around $10 million per. Ouch.
3. Stephen Jackson
Pretty simple here. The Bobcats’ two best guys played the same position. JAX isn’t getting any younger and the whipper-snappers playing NBA two guard these days aren’t getting any less athletic.
Less obvious is this Dirty Secret: Jackson is the better player, or at least the more indispensable one. More on this later.
4. Draft Picks
During the Larry Brown era, the Bobcats gave away first rounders like they were T-Wolves tickets. The team didn’t have a pick in last June’s draft and won’t have a first round selection in a potentially loaded 2012 class. By getting New Orleans’ first rounder in 2011 and Portland’s number one in 2013, the Bobcats will have four picks in the next three first rounds. Given that MJ hasn’t made a turrible pick since ’06, we can at least expect a few solid rotational players to come out of this stash.
5. Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson & Josh Howard
What do these guys have to do with any of this? All three were All-Star small forwards who rode their elite athleticism to big stats and massive contracts. The cautionary tale of course is that once these guys crept closer to the big three-oh, their games took a major downturn for the worse. Marion is the oldest and most relevant of the bunch at 32 but hasn’t played like “The Matrix” since “The Matrix” was a cool nickname to have. He’s now a role player on a veteran team.
Jordan must have looked at Gerald Wallace’s declining production, his age, the number of major injuries and the $22 million due and decided to gamble before it was too late to get anything of significance in return.
6. Bruce Bowen & Ray Allen
Defensive ace Bruce Bowen was ostensibly finished as an NBA player at age 36. Sharpshooting Ray Allen turns the same age in June yet played in last weekend’s All-Star game. Guys who make their name on defense (unless you’re a nimble 7-footer like Dikembe or Theo Ratliff) just don’t last as long which pretty much negates the whole “The Nuggs got way more for Carmelo” argument. As little as I care for Melo’s game or his trade demands, his skill set is much more suited for the long haul.
This brings us back to Suspect #3. Efficient, dependable scoring is worth its weight in gold in today’s NBA. Stephen Jackson, despite his flaws, is the only Bobcat currently worth scheming for on either side of the ball. He’s going for around twenty every night in a variety of ways and may even drop 40 on you if he gets hot. Last I checked, the team that scores the most points still wins games and that has never been more true than it is today.
7. Gerald Henderson
It’s only been a month but Henderson has shown enough in his short time as a rotation player to warrant an expansion of the experiment. The other Gerald has looked spectacular at times. His defense against Kobe, Allen and Derrick Rose allowed the Bobcats to notch some wins over the League’s elite. His jump shot has started to fall consistently and by putting up 18, 22 and 15 going into the All-Star Break, Henderson gave management enough confidence to move Wallace while making a sincere run at the postseason.
It’s not a bad gamble. Henderson is on a great rookie deal and looks to be at worst a quality starting two guard.
PART 2 – THE LONG RUN
If we look at the trade from a cap perspective, we can see that the Bobcats set themselves up for some incredible leverage going in to the offseason.
By shaving nearly $10 million from the payroll next year and the year after, Charlotte can now be a major player in free agency or in landing a star player via trade. The team will be around ten million under the cap come June and potentially in the mix for a max guy if they can find a team willing to absorb Boris Diaw’s expiring deal.
If MJ strikes out this summer, he’d still be in position the following summer of 2012 to try again.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
With the trade of Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats have made their philosophy public:
- A. They feel that they have enough talent currently in place to challenge Philly, Indy and Milwaukee for one of the East’s bottom seeds.
- B. At the same time, they are setting themselves up for a potential long-term jump into the top four.
- C. That they have at least partially learned their lesson when it comes to throwing away future picks and cap space for a few extra wins in the present.
Moving forward, it’s best to look at the roster in the following tiers:
TIER I: PROTO-NUCLEUS
Tyrus Thomas, Gerald Henderson, D.J. Augustin
TIER II: PRODUCTIVE VETERAN TRADE CHIPS
Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw
TIER III: INTRIGUING PIECES
Shaun Livingston, Dante Cunningham, D.J. White
TIER IV: EVERYBODY ELSE
The Expiring and the Overpaid
WHAT TO EXPECT
Look for the ‘Cats to continue their run under Silas. If Tyrus Thomas returns on schedule and can get in game shape fast, then the Playoff odds go up. Same goes for Gerald Henderson. If he blossoms with the increased playing time and if the ‘Cats can get something out of either Cunningham or White then maybe they sneak into the postseason.
Realistically we can only measure the success of this trade once we see what Jordan & Rod Higgins are able to do with the picks and cap flexibility over the next couple of summers. Losing Wallace hurts now but we may look back and see that it’s the best deal MJ ever made.
Until Next Time…
Enjoy the Change Bobcats Fans.