I'm sympathetic to the "keep Felton next year" movement (if you can call it that). I'll still maintain he's somewhere near the 20th best starting point guard in the league, and if someone would just leave him alone as a point guard, he'd probably top out somewhere near the 16th or 17th best. However, with DJ Augustin on the roster, there's no point in keeping him.
Last night's loss to the Miami Heat, 96-92, illustrates precisely why he's expendable. Don't concentrate on what he can't do. What does Felton do that's superior? He never gets backed down by opposing guards. He's a reasonable perimeter defender. He's confident about taking high pressure shots. He gets into the lane well off the dribble. Augustin is not the defender Felton is, but he's not that far behind, and he's already the superior offensive player. When he plays more without Felton and no longer has to defer to him, his assist totals will go up--along with rebounding, the only two important offensive categories in which Felton betters Augustin.
In a way, I keep feeling like the games in which we're missing any of our starting five don't really count. Sure, they count in the standings, and we're going to miss the playoffs because Gerald Wallace has to miss ten games, and we didn't get Diaw and Bell until weeks into the season, but if any of them are out, we're screwed. Such is life for an NBA team without an All Star. It's as if Larry Brown based this team's construction on the Pistons' design, without realizing that they've made it to the Conference Finals all those years on the strength of four All Star caliber players, five when Ben Wallace was an All World defensive center.
When we've got everyone on board, the starters play an awesome game, and the bench gets whupped. That's because the money sunk into our roster hasn't been spent optimally. We're paying good money to Okafor and Wallace. That's fine. They're worth it. We drafted a starting-caliber point guard in Augustin. He'll be cost-controlled for a few more years. But then we acquired another hefty contract in Diaw, plus a few relatively expensive bench players who don't provide the bang their bucks suggest, and that means we've spread our talent around the roster when we're better served concentrating that talent.
Here's a simplified extreme version of what I mean: We have two teams, each with only three players.
On Team 1, Player 1A produces 80% of his team's value, Player 1B produces 15%, and Player 1C produces 5%.
On Team 2, Player 2A produces 35% of his team's value, Player 2B produces 35%, and Player 2C produces 30%.
Both teams produce the same total value when healthy, but Team 2 is far more susceptible to collapse because if any of their guys goes down, they'll have to cover for a fairly valuable guy. Team 1 can much more easily weather the loss of two of their guys, though they know they're likely done if they lose Player 1A.
The Bobcats are Team 2. They have no margin for error, unless they get bench players who are all as good as the starters, which isn't terribly difficult to do, since those guys can be had via trade or, to a lesser extent, draft. However, you'd have to be prepared to spend $9 million per player on seven guys, $63 million total for the tight rotation, and everyone else will have to be minimum or acquired with some cap magic because if history is a guide, the cap will likely be around $61 million next year and escalate by only a few million each year. And even then, you'd have to dodge the injury bullet and fight through those times when a starter goes down and you don't miss a beat with the first unit, but the second unit suffers because you've got some true minimum guy replacing a $9 million player in the rotation.
Or they could have waited until the summer of 2011 and tried to allocate the $14 million they were going to spend on Richardson and the $7 million they're going to pay Mohammed into one far superior swing man or big man who could be the go-to guy on the starting five of Wallace, Okafor, Augustin, Big Free Agent, and a Juwan Howard or Roger Mason, Jr., type, with draft picks and other low-cost options populating the bench. In basketball, unless the superstar is particularly injury-prone, I suspect it's far better to sink resources into one or two select players than spread them relatively evenly throughout the team.