Bobcats look to change losing ways via free agency
For the first time since taking over as Charlotte Bobcats majority owner, Michael Jordan has the cap flexibility to make some noise in free agency.
The Bobcats can create as much as $21 million in salary cap space, which is good news considering they have so many holes to fill.
Now the challenge is attracting some star NBA talent to a struggling franchise that is just 62-128 in Jordan's first three full seasons since becoming majority owner.
And that may not be easy.
"The history of losing and the projection that a team is going to continue to struggle makes any destination less attractive for free agents — unless a team gets aggressive and pays tops dollar," said Tom Penn, an ESPN NBA analyst and former Portland Trail Blazers vice president of basketball operations.
The Bobcats don't appear to on any list to possibly land Dwight Howard or Chris Paul.
But they're trying to acquire a difference maker or two who'll help develop a young core that includes point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and power forward Bismack Biyombo.
General manager Rich Cho laid out the team's wish list prior to the NBA draft, saying "we need perimeter shooting, rebounding, a big man and more depth."
The Bobcats addressed some of those needs when they selected Indiana's Cody Zeller with the fourth pick in the draft.
Now they're in the hunt for a legitimate proven NBA center.
The Bobcats met Tuesday with free agent Al Jefferson from the Utah Jazz and talks are expected to continue Wednesday, said a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the visit has not been publically announced.
Jefferson, a nine-year NBA veteran, is ranked as the third-best center on the free agent market by CBSSports.com behind Howard and Andrew Bynum.
All things considered, Jefferson could be a good get for Charlotte.
He would give the Bobcats a low post scoring threat, something they haven't had in quite some time as well as provide help on the glass. Although not a great defender, the 6-foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson has averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds per game over the last seven seasons.
But it remains unclear if the 28-year-old Jefferson wants to play in Charlotte — and whether or not the Bobcats would have to overpay for his services to keep him from signing with a big market team or a playoff contender.
Penn said that while the Bobcats have made a conscious effort to build through the draft, "sometimes you have to supplement with guys who'll play the heavy minutes and who bring the right character."
Charlotte has a few free agent questions to answer within its own organization.
The Bobcats made Henderson a qualifying offer of $4.5 million last week, giving them the option of matching any offer made to him as a restricted free agent. Ideally, they'd like to sign him to a long-term contract this summer.
Like Walker, Henderson showed vast improvement last season getting to the basket and averaged a career-high 15.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 31.4 minutes per game.
Charlotte also has to make decisions on whether to re-sign power forward Josh McRoberts and guard Jannero Pargo, two players who joined the team in the second half of last season and provided an instant spark, or look for free agents from outside of the organization.
Penn said once the Bobcats turn things around Charlotte could be an attractive destination for top-level free agents, even though it is not a big market team.
"They have a great arena and a comfortable city to live in; a place where a lot of retired NBA players live," Penn said. "I think once they get cooking, get some stability with the head coach and show some clear progress I think free agents would love to still play for and have a relationship with Michael Jordan.
"He's still an iconic star and that should be an advantage once the basketball team gets on the right track."