First, so I don't bury the big news today and can give it a moment... Kevin Garnett is done for the season. I don't recall going on record with specific playoff thoughts before, so I can hardly take credit for thinking this doesn't change much, but I don't think it does. KG wasn't himself this year, and the Celtics weren't quite the same defensive force, even with him. I'll expound later, but this means, to my mind, the only teams that can beat the Cavs, in order, are the Lakers, Rockets, and Magic.
Like I said, explication later, Bobcats now...
Last time, we looked at what the backups offer, and now it's time to look at what this year's starters have to offer in 2009-10.
FELTON -- Bill Simmons is a fan and thinks he resembles young Chauncey Billups. I love you, Bill. You're one of the most joyous basketball writers in the world right now, and I'm going to buy your hoops book, but you're completely and utterly wrong with that comparison and out of your mind if a) you actually think that, and b) you actually believe Felton was more valuable than Troy Murphy. Felton is an extremely attractive player for teams who have a point guard they want to keep on the floor without giving him full time point guard duties. Washington could use him so that Gilbert can play off the ball for fifteen to twenty minutes a game. Denver can use him like they used Anthony Carter. If the Bulls find a taker for Kirk Hinrich's contract, Felton would make tons of sense in Chicago.
But I'll round down to emphasize the point: If you think young Chauncey Billups, the one who shot threes at 32%, 36%, 37%, and 39% in his first four full seasons, all before reaching Detroit, and shot a FT% no lower than 84% in that time, is at all comparable to Felton, you haven't looked. In the first four full seasons of his career, rounding up, Felton has shot threes at 36%, 33%, 28%, and 29%, and FT% of 73%, 80%, 80%, and 81%. Add in Chauncey's size and corresponding defensive advantages, and it's no contest. Chauncey was generally better at threes, the most difficult shots, and he was clearly better at free throws, the simplest shots. He had much more upside than Felton does.
Felton's exceptional good guy-ness makes him more valuable than a host of comparably talented players, but DJ Augustin is more talented already, and the Cats should let Felton go and use free talent at the backup PG spot to free up several million dollars.
BELL -- I love--LOVE--Raja Bell from his first two years in Phoenix. That Raja was a very limited offensive player, essentially a three point machine, and nothing else, but he also played top notch defense. We've seen this story with Bruce Bowen, who was never the offensive player Raja's been, but was probably a better defender. At Raja's age, Bowen had another couple years in him where the offense didn't bottom out and the defense probably made him a better than average player.
However, Bowen was more valuable to the 04-05 Spurs than a comparable season from Raja would be to the 09-10 Bobcats because the Spurs didn't have a lockdown defender like Gerald Wallace on the other wing.
I'm a little torn, because I love the notion of a Battier-Artest defensive duo on the wings, but I also happen to think there's a very good chance Raja falls off the cliff sooner rather than later, and I'd rather the Cats not spend $5.25 million next year to find out. Hence, my coveting DeShawn Stevenson.
If all you want is a defensive pitbull who can occasionally hit threes, you can find a lesser version of Bell floating around for the league minimum, an Aaron Afflalo type, if you will. Or dip into the second round for an offensively limited dude who plays good D and hope for the best: Kyle Weaver, anyone? In the end, you're spending the minimum on him. Or do that and give that guy a bench role and hand the starting SG spot to VladRad for now and hope he becomes a slightly better version of the latter day Peja.
In sum, I see a lot more upside in turning Raja into another player than riding out his contract.
DIAW -- Boris is essentially the same player he was in his breakout 05-06, except his scoring process is much more varied. This year, he splashed home threes with greater frequency and efficiency than he ever had before. If this is a real skill upgrade, then it's something he can build upon to get better.
He's a perfect fit for this new incarnation of Larry Brown, a happy bridge from Gerald Wallace to Emeka Okafor, and he's the one who separates the old Bobcats from the new Bobcats.
All that said, Diaw makes $9.00 million per year through 2012. I believe Emeka and Gerald are the true cornerstones of the team, and Boris's exploits are made possible by those two. It's a pretty untradeable contract, and I'd be all for moving him, if anyone's willing to make the deal. See if Indiana is willing to give up the aforementioned Troy Murphy and trade a few million dollars each year for getting out a year early in 2011-12.
OKAFOR/WALLACE -- Both took steps forward this year. Their contracts are fair, so there's no real incentive to trade either of them unless we get a superstar back. They can be the number two and three most valuable players on a championship-caliber team.