The trade deadline came and went, and the Bobcats will go into the stretch run having made no major deals after trading for Vladimir Radmanovic. Raymond Felton stays, but more important, Gerald Wallace stays.
The Magic got a better point guard in Rafer Alston, so it made no sense for them to pursue Felton, and no one else was going to give up anything significant. So even though I probably would have taken a draft pick to go with any kind of equal expiring deal for him, it's perfectly understandable why the team chose to keep Ray. Now, the trick will be navigating the offseason. It makes absolutely no sense for Felton to stick around, if he has any say in the matter. Augustin's already a better offensive player, and he'll likely be the starter out of the gate next year.
The team should have little interest in keeping him around, too. In a world in which Delonte West makes less money to do more, and a bunch of guys from Anthony Johnson to Jason Hart to a bunch of D-Leaguers (like Jason Richards?) could be credible backups for a fraction of the money, paying Raymond starter's money to come off the bench doesn't make sense. Better to follow the Hubie Brown Grizzlies model and find a bunch of fringe starters who might all play 27-30 minutes per night to stock the bench, if you're not going to get a superstar to anchor the lineup. Grant Hill, anyone? Bobby Jackson? Steve Novak? Lord knows how much money Chris Andersen will command this offseason, but it can't be as much as Felton, can it?
But keeping Gerald was much more important. He's paid reasonably. He's good enough to be the second best player on a championship team, just like Emeka. He might not be ideally suited for Larry Brown's offensive preferences, but he's such a good defender, he maintains value even though his scoring isn't quite what it's been the past few years. Gerald Wallace can be a cornerstone of a championship team along with Emeka Okafor, and it will be near impossible to trade him for an asset, whether that's a player or pick or combination of those two, that gives us a better chance to win.
I've been beating the same drum since we traded Jason Richardson: The Bobcats' management isn't thinking about the future, and our debts will come due in the summer of 2011, when we should have been reloading around Wallace, Okafor, Augustin, and a starting quality draft pick chosen in 2010 or 2011, with a top tier free agent acquired once Jason Richardson departed to be the final piece of a contender. (Pau? Pierce? Tayshaun? Yao? Tony Parker? Or, because this is Charlotte, a step down to the likes of Troy Murphy? Battier? It's not like 2011 won't have free agents who contribute to winning.)
So what now? The salary cap and luxury tax threshold are probably going to be lower next year, and perhaps even the next, because the economy is contributing to shrinking revenue league wide. The Bobcats were throwing future financial flexibility to the wind, anyway, so why not go full fledged with it? If you're going into the business of acquiring talent, contract status be damned, then go for the talented guys who are, nonetheless, contractual albatrosses to their current teams. Richard Jefferson. Baron Davis. Vince Carter. Elton Brand. Gilbert Arenas. Don't half-ass it with guys like Radmanovic and Diop.
More likely, though, management will determine that the starting core is very good and will concentrate on improving the bench this offseason. With some relatively simple moves, they'll be a near lock for the playoffs, but no one will seriously consider them a title contender, and, barring a superior draft pick, they'll likely be heavy underdogs in their first playoff matchup.