Free Agency starts in less than seven hours, and the Charlotte Bobcats have a ton of room to work with under the salary cap.
They’ve already made qualifying offers to D.J. Augustin and Derrick Brown, making each of them restricted free agents, but they didn’t make one to D.J. White who will become an unrestricted free agent at midnight.
So what will Charlotte try to do in free agency? What needs will they try to fill, and what is their plan moving forward?
Well, just because the Bobcats have money to spend, it doesn’t mean they’re going to use it. One of the reasons the Bobcats traded for Ben Gordon was because they wanted to be sure to meet the NBA’s minimum payroll requirements.
Don’t expect them to make a huge offer to anyone.
Still, there are players to be had in the 2012 free agent class who can make this team better and become a part of GM Rich Cho’s long-term plans in the Queen City.
Players the Charlotte Bobcats will likely target this off season are going to be very similar to:
Aaron Gray (2011 salary=$2.5 million): Gray certainly isn’t the best center available in free agency, but he’s not the worst, either, and he’ll probably come at a price the Bobcats can afford. Even though he played in just 49 out of 66 games last year, he managed to average 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 points in 16.6 minutes per game. His per-36 minute numbers of 8.5 points and 12.4 rebounds suggest he could average close to a double-double if given extended playing time. The bottom line is he’s a legit 7-footer and the Bobcats don’t have a true center on their roster (Gana Diop doesn’t count, because Gana Diop doesn’t play). There are better players available at his position, but Gray is a guy Charlotte can afford and who has a chance to put up decent numbers on a team like the Bobcats.
Ivan Johnson (2011 salary= $0.5 million): Even if the Bobcats do go after a center, they’re still going to lack quality size on the inside. Ivan Johnson would be the perfect power forward for Charlotte to pick up this off season. It’ll be interesting to see how hard other teams (his current team, Atlanta included. They’ve already made him a restricted FA) go after him, because he had somewhat of a breakout season after the Hawks pulled him out of the D League. Johnson averaged 6.4 points and four rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game, and his per 36 minute stats were solid; 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per. He has range out to the three-point line and he finished the year with a sub-100 defensive rating.
Marco Belinelli (2011 salary= $3.4 million) Charlotte has just one shooting guard on its roster that can actually shoot, and Ben Gordon is not going to be able to play 48 minutes a game. In June Belinelli said he wanted to sign with a winner, and New Orleans is interested in bringing him back, but the Bobcats might be able to change his mind if they offer him more than anyone else is willing to. That offer wouldn’t have to be back-breaking, and the Bobcats could really use a guy like Belinelli. He scored 11.8 points and recorded 1.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds a game last year. He didn’t finish the the season with a great defensive rating, but neither did the rest of his team.
Again, the Bobcats are going to do everything they can not to overpay for anyone, even a guy who fills a desperate need.
Still, Charlotte should at least consider going hard after one of the following players who will probably end up signing for more than they deserve:
Lou Williams (2011 salary= $5.2 million) Williams would fill two immediate needs for the Bobcats this season, and along with a few other key acquisitions (including the guys Cho just drafted) he could be the difference in Charlotte making the lottery or being a competitive team as soon as next year. Williams scored 14.9 points, dished 3.5 assists and grabbed 2.5 rebounds in just 26.3 minutes a game last season. If he became the Bobcats starting two-guard, he’d easily score 20 a game. He’s a good three-point shooter, an average defender and he knows how to get to the free-throw line. Charlotte should at least make the guy a solid offer and see what happens.
Roy Hibbert (2011 salary= $2.6 million): Hibbert will probably be more expensive to sign than Williams, but he too would fill one of the biggest needs on the Bobcats’ roster. He’s an All Star center. He put up solid numbers last year with the Pacers, who will do everything they can to make sure he stays in Indiana. Hibbert can defend, he can rebound and he’s got an above average offensive game that’s getting better. He too would significantly improve Charlotte’s fortunes next year.
The main problem Charlotte faces is one that cannot be fixed in one year of free agency. They have holes everywhere that could take another off season or two to plug up.
Because of this, the Bobcats would probably be better off signing average players to average salaries and staying in the “bad” part of the lottery than signing guys like Hibbert and Williams to big salaries and getting stuck in the “competitive, but not playoff-ready” stage of the lottery.
Next year’s draft will be just as deep in the very early stages as this one was, and even though no one wants to admit it, the higher-ups in the organization know Charlotte’s best chance at becoming relevant is to do what the Thunder did and suffer through a few more bad seasons to draft their future stars.
I can’t be the only one looking through that huge hole at center straight at Cody Zeller can I?