Soon-to-be-Hornets have cap space for key free-agent pickup
Rod Higgins said the Bobcats are interested in adding another impact player this offseason.
And the team’s president of basketball operations is optimistic Charlotte has what it takes to land one.
Higgins said the team’s dramatic improvement this season — the Bobcats won 43 games and reached the postseason — combined with the success of last year’s top free agent signee Al Jefferson and steady development of point guard Kemba Walker should help lure other top-tier players to Charlotte.
“If I was a free agent as a player, I would think I would want to go play with good players,” Higgins said at a post-season press conference Wednesday at the team’s downtown arena. “Al and Kemba, among others, are good players.”
Higgins didn’t name potential targets.
However, when was asked if he could see the Bobcats adding a player of Jefferson’s caliber this offseason he responded, “Of course.”
Added Higgins: “We will identify some free agents and we will talk about it. But of course we will go down that route if need be.”
Higgins said Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is motived to improve the team.
He cited the fact Jordan used the amnesty clause on Tyrus Thomas last season — a move that helped free up the salary cap room needed to sign Jefferson. The 6-foot-10 center received a three-year, $40.5 million contract last July, the largest deal ever handed out by the Bobcats to a free agent.
General manager Rich Cho estimates the Bobcats will have roughly $17-$19 million to spend this offseason under the salary cap, plenty of room to sign a top-tier player — or acquire one in a trade.
Higgins said one of the top goals is to improve Charlotte’s perimeter shooting, thus alleviating some of double teams Jefferson faces in the low post. The Bobcats were 23rd in the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 35 percent.
He also said the Bobcats need to add depth, particularly at point guard.
Higgins said “it’s hard to find superstars in free agency” but added the trade option is something the Bobcats could explore.
Charlotte has a big asset when it comes to owning a first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons.
If the Pistons fall below No. 8 spot in the May 20 draft lottery, the Bobcats get that pick. If not, the Bobcats will automatically get Detroit’s first-round pick in 2015 unless it’s the No. 1 pick overall.
Either way, the Bobcats can use that as leverage in a trade.
“We will have a lot of flexibility, a lot of different options,” Cho said.
Jefferson’s impact in Charlotte was immediate and the Bobcats are hoping that could prompt potential free agents looking to make a name for themselves to consider the Bobcats as an option.
He averaged 21.8 points and 11. 8 rebounds per game while helping the Bobcats finish 43-39 in the regular season and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010 under first-year coach Steve Clifford. Although the Bobcats were swept by Miami in the first round, it was still a successful season considering they were 28-120 over the previous two seasons.
Clifford said Charlotte has suddenly become an attractive place to play because it fits all the criteria top-tier free agents desire.
“Hey, free agency in this league is always going to be about what — money, right?” Clifford said. “But next it’s going to be about who am I going to play with — and can they win? I think there are a lot of things that are in order here. That and it’s a great place to live.”
Higgins and Cho don’t have much housekeeping to do on their owner roster.
Their only key potential free agent is starting power forward Josh McRoberts, who is expected to opt out of a contract that would pay him $2.8 million season.
McRoberts has outperformed that deal this season and would almost certainly make more when he hits the free agent market. Clifford said McRoberts is a player the Bobcats don’t want to lose.
ONCE-BOBCATS, REBORN 'HORNETS' CAST HOPEFUL EYE TOWARDS FUTURE
BY STEVE REED Associated Press
CHARLOTTE -- Al Jefferson said the Charlotte Bobcats have plenty to be proud of despite getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.
But the 6-foot-10 center said the focus must turn to toward building on the success rather than getting complacent when Charlotte changes its name to the Hornets next season.
“We can’t take any steps back,” said Jefferson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding after joining the team in July as a free agent. “We have to continue to build and get better.”
The Bobcats won 43 games under first-year head coach Steve Clifford, more than doubling their win total from the previous season.
However, they failed to capture their first playoff win in franchise history, losing to LeBron James in four games. It didn’t help that Jefferson strained his left plantar fascia in the first quarter of Game 1 and was, as Clifford called him, “a mere shell of himself” for the rest of the series.
Jefferson had been the team’s offensive catalyst all season averaging 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
“It would be hard to find any team playing in the playoffs right now whose team is more reliant on one guy than we are on him,” Clifford said. “This guy was far and away the biggest difference in our team.”
It was a surprising season for a team that started four players who had never started a postseason game and had gone 28-120 over the previous two seasons.
Yet, the Bobcats finished with the 16th best record in the league and were the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I think this was a stepping stone for us,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who showed steady improvement in year three. “No one expected us to get to the playoffs. But we did. It’s disappointing we got swept but the experience was great. Now we know what it takes to get here.”
Clifford called the season a “good first step” but nothing more.
He said there is still plenty of work to be done both on and off the court to improve the team.
“We have to get better internally and we have to find ways to get better externally,” Clifford said. “That’s the reality of it. We have a lot of guys who need to have good summers to get better.”
The bulk of Charlotte’s roster is under contract at least through next season with one notable exception: starting power forward Josh McRoberts, a former Duke star.
McRoberts, who turned his career around since being acquired in a trade with Orlando late in the 2012-13 season, will hit the free agent market this offseason. In the past Bobcats owner Michael Jordan said he viewed McRoberts as a “connector,” akin to what Scottie Pippen was with the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan spoke to his players after they were eliminated Monday night, urging them to work on their games this summer and come back stronger and hungrier.
But it’s also clear the Bobcats need to upgrade.
Despite adding Gary Neal in a draft deadline trade, the Bobcats shot 35 percent from 3-point range — 23rd in the league — and were one of the league’s least productive offensive teams. They were in the top 10 in defense all season.
The Bobcats currently have the 24th pick in the NBA draft, although they could get Detroit’s pick if the Pistons fall out of the top eight in the NBA draft lottery.
The Bobcats also succeeded in bringing back the energy that has been missing from professional basketball in Charlotte the past three seasons.
A sold out crowd of 19,633 on Saturday night — the largest ever to see a Bobcats’ game on their home court — chanted throughout and booed whenever LeBron James touched the basketball.
“I was kind of digging that,” Walker said with a laugh.
Walker believes there will be even more excitement when the Hornets name returns to Charlotte. The name change is expected to go into effect next month.
2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats Roster
|Num||Player||Pos||Ht||Wt||DOB||Prior to NBA/Country||Yrs|
|0||Bismack Biyombo||C-F||6-9||245||08/28/1992||Baloncesto Fuenlabrada/Democratic Republic of Congo||2|
|33||Brendan Haywood||C||7-0||263||11/27/1979||North Carolina/USA||12|
|25||Al Jefferson||C||6-10||289||01/04/1985||Prentiss HS (MS)/USA||9|
** - Unsigned Draft Pick
(FA) - Free Agent