The Charlotte Bobcats had their best season in 10 years of existence this past year. Abandoning a strategy that depended heavily on ping-pong balls (damn yooooouuuuu ping-pong balls!!) and choosing to sign a big free agent was not universally well-received, in case you forgot. No, Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Rod Higgins were not given the thumbs up from everyone for convincing Al Jefferson to sign a three-year, $41 million contract last summer. (A low key shout out to Kemba Walker for his salesmanship in closing that deal. You get coffee.)
Of course we all know now that Big Al has been worth every bit of that money. The signing was a home run and it laid the foundation (along with the signing of head coach Steve Clifford) for the Bobcats to stop rebuilding and start building, as Kenny Smith said during the playoffs on TNT.
But their work is not done. Even though Charlotte has managed to turn itself into an actual NBA basketball team, and a pretty entertaining one at that, the roster still has some serious areas of need and the front office will have to face this summer with the same shrewd aggressiveness it did last time to make Charlotte's place in the post season a more consistent one.
First and foremost the Bobcats need a third guy. What Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was in the second game of the first round playoff series against the Heat is what the Bobcats need permanently, another guy to help shoulder the load after Jefferson and Walker. Walker's stats were eerily similar to his 2012-2013; he averaged exactly the same points per game (17.7) while bumping up his assists (6.1) and rebounds (4.2) slightly from last year. His field goal percentage dipped a little to 39.3 however, and his effective field goal percentage also took a slight hit (44.1). But his offensive rating saw a steady incline throughout the season, and his assist to turnover ratio improved all year capping out at over 4 in the six games during the month of April.
Walker had the most touches per game of any player in the league (100.3) according SportVU stats from the NBA. And he solidified himself as the point guard for this team. But he needs a reliable scoring two-guard, or wing player to help him put up points and to space the floor for beneficial passing.
Gerald Henderson did little to sell anyone on the hope that he can be that player consistently. After testing the market in the offseason, Henderson signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Bobcats. To his credit, there was no evidence of bitterness or dissension from him this season. Unfortunately he did not develop a consistent outside shot and worse yet disappeared in games far too often. Most notably, in a key game against the Boston Celtics when Walker was out, Henderson was 4-for-8 from the field, scored 11 points and added three rebounds and assists in 25 minutes of play. Charlotte lost the game and ultimately the sixth seed.
Of course that wasn't all Henderson's fault but it wasn't the kind of performance you need from your de facto number two option in a key game. He didn't do himself any favors in the playoffs, letting Dwyane Wade do whatever he wanted and making little impact on defense in the first game. If Henderson is the starting two guard next year, that likely means Charlotte did not do enough in the off season to make this team better. He's a solid pro but at this point, he's likely what he is and on this team he needs to be a little bit more. In the playoffs Henderson hit only three shots outside of 16 feet and just three between eight and 16 feet. Now, he only took 37 shots in the series and granted that's a small sample size. But together with the larger picture of what Henderson is as a player, it's enough to frustrate team owner Michael Jordan and could force his hand to make a move this summer.
But it was clear Charlotte desperately needs someone to add to this roster that can score. Who might that be? Funny you should ask.
In recent days Arron Afflalo's name has popped back up as a potential trade target for the Bobcats this summer. Afflalo had a very nice season in Orlando, and could provide a better scoring option on the perimeter (18 points per game shooting 42.7 percent from three). Gordon Hayward, a restricted free agent, is another player who could potentially be a target for Charlotte. Reuniting Hayward with Jefferson could be the best thing for everyone. Utah will likely do all they can to keep Hayward in the fold. Lance Stephenson is another big name that will be in the mix. A tough, talented player, Stephenson should attract suitors in need of his well-rounded game. How much blame he gets for whatever is going on with the Pacers could possibly scare some teams off.
Charlotte could also look to add a wing player in the draft. Their own pick will go to the Bulls finally after years of protection in the Tyrus Thomas trade in 2010, but they could have two picks since they got a pick from the Pistons in the Ben Gordon trade. But the chances of Charlotte getting Detroit's pick are not as good as they were. Detroit needs to fall out of the top eight for Charlotte to take control of the pick and the Pistons are currently slotted right at eight, so the Bobcats will need some luck from the ping pong balls and a team to jump up to knock the Pistons back. They'll also have Portland's pick which will fall somewhere in the 20's most likely. At that point the objective will likely be to grab the best player available but we'll see.
The Bobcats will probably do all they can to keep versatile swingman, glue guy and lord of the reverse two hand thunder dunk, Josh McRoberts on the roster next year. McRoberts has a player option for $2.7 million and will almost certainly want to see what else he can get after a very good season in Charlotte. He expressed his desire to return next year in his exit interview with the media this week so it sounds like the Bobcats will have a good shot to keep him. Plus Clifford and Jefferson both asserted how much value he gave the team to the press, which has to be heartening to hear. But we don't know what kind of offers he'll be able to fetch on the open market. The chemistry on this team may help the Bobcats here. This locker room really seems to enjoy each other and playing together. McRoberts mentioned how much he likes playing with Jefferson and there aren't too many other big men that will be able to offer the attention Jefferson warrants from opposing defenses in the post.
Another player the Bobcats will want to try and keep on the roster is Chris Douglas-Roberts. CDR certainly earned looks from other teams with a great showing in Charlotte this season. Picked up off the scrap heap by Cho and company, Douglas-Roberts was a key component off the bench, often playing starters minutes late in games because he could provide scoring and his defense was good enough in the team setting to make it tough for Clifford to sit him. Douglas-Roberts is one of the better player stories in the NBA. He's someone who worked incredibly hard to get back to his position so he truly deserves whatever he can get from any team in the league.
The Bobcats will also get Jeff Taylor back after he suffered a season ending Achilles tendon injury. Taylor was playing well on the wing, providing scoring and defense. No one knows how well he'll recover or how much the injury will affect him making the team option to pick up the final year of his contract for next season even more interesting. I would expect the Bobcats to pick up that option after Taylor filled in nicely for the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist early this season. Although the surprise play from CDR could muddy the waters a bit I think the Bobcats will want to get a healthy Taylor back in game action.
Along with CDR, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver and Janero Pargo all fall off the books currently. The Bobcats desperately need a backup point guard, but I don't see Ridnour coming back in the role. A solid upgrade is needed to fill in for Walker and give him more of a rest. It's possible we could see the return of Ramon Sessions as his contract with Milwaukee is also up. That seems like it would be a good fit for both parties if the numbers can work out and he's said he'd be interested in it.
The biggest thing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can do over the off-season is shoot the basketball. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Then after that, shoot some more. Mark Price will have a full summer to work with Kidd-Gilchrist in hopes of getting his offensive game to the point where defenders have to at least honor it. His performance in Game 2 against the Heat showed how can be an attacking style scorer starting from the weak side, but he's got to be able to become more consistent from either side. Any offensive improvement to his game will help the Bobcats tremendously. He'll also need to continue to get better at defending without fouling, a constant point of emphasis from Clifford. Kidd-Gilchrist got better, but still had lapses (and honestly some bad calls) go against him versus the Heat. That will come with experience and a little more respect from the refs but he's also got to be smart while defending. That part shouldn't be as big of a concern, but he can't help if he's not on the floor.
The uncertainty with Brendan Haywood raises the need to get some help behind Jefferson. And truthfully even if he's available the Bobcats will likely look to add more depth behind Jefferson. There is no scoring on the bench currently from the five spot. Bismack Biyombo provides good defense and rebounding in spurts but anything he adds in the form of offense is a MASSIVE bonus. D.J. White did not have much impact after he was signed but they do seem to like him.
One More Thing
Oh yeah, the Hornets are coming back. The Bobcats will, at some point in the near future, announce the official return of the team name to the Charlotte Hornets. The naming couldn't have happened at a better time in Bobcats existence as this season was the culmination of many seasons of trying (and sometimes not trying) to get better. Making the playoffs with the name change right around the bend was a real shot of energy to the Charlotte fan base. As weird as it was to see so much Hornets gear in the stands during a Bobcats playoff game, it was understandable. This summer will likely be a rapid fire release of everything from uniforms, to court design, to the new/old mascot, Hugo. (Our dear friend Rufus will never be forgotten, by die-hards anyway.)
This summer should be a rather fun one for Charlotte NBA fans. You will still have the normal draft time hype, you actually have some money to add some fresh faces, and you get a brand new look. Not too shabby.