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Given the parameters Charlotte Bobcats general manager and head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has set up, what might the expansion draft look like in June?
Bickerstaff isn't talking, but Insider, drawing on several interviews with Bernie B. and other GMs around the league, is willing to take a shot.
Bickerstaff made it clear that the team is looking for young, athletic players. It will shy away from veterans in the expansion draft, especially those with huge contracts. While, theoretically, the team could nab high-priced veterans like Keith Van Horn, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Penny Hardaway, Raef LaFrentz, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel in this draft, Bickerstaff has made it clear the team would only spend that kind of money on a player that "makes a real difference."
When asked to clarify, Bickerstaff stated that only a handful of players in the league (read: Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett) qualify as "difference-makers."
That means the Bobcats are going to be looking for deals that land them draft picks, young players with a chance to develop, and/or players with low-priced contracts or team options that Charlotte can quickly clear off the books to make room for free agency.
Before we begin, just a quick reminder on the rules of the expansion draft:
# Unrestricted free agents are ineligible for the expansion draft.
# Each team can protect up to eight players. If a team has less than eight players on its roster to protect, it still must leave a minimum of one player unprotected.
# The Bobcats must select a minimum of 14 players and can select a maximum of 29 players overall.
# The Bobcats can select only one player from any one NBA team.
# The Bobcats are not bound to the salary cap during the draft. They can take on as many contracts as they like. However, once the draft is over, any players they've drafted and keep will count toward their cap (it should come in at around $31 million).
# As long as the Bobcats waive a player selected in the expansion draft before the first day of the regular season, the player's remaining contract does not count against the team's salary cap.
# Restricted free agents drafted in the expansion draft automatically become unrestricted free agents.
# Teams are allowed to entice the Bobcats to select players by offering cash, draft picks or agreeing to additional trades in return.
# If a team has a player selected by the Bobcats, the team receives a trade exception equal to the player's 2004-05 salary. This allows teams to replace a player lost in the expansion draft with another player of comparable salary.
Here's one opinion on how things might go down in June.
MOCK EXPANSION DRAFT FOR CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Pick Pos./Name Team Contract Comment
C Jahidi White Suns 1 year, $6.2 million How do the Suns convince the Bobcats to swallow this contract? They offer $3 million in cash (the most a team can pay) and their first-round pick (currently the third pick in the draft). The Bobcats would jump at the chance to have another high lottery pick. Why does Phoenix do it? Getting White off the books gives them roughly $16 million in cap space to make a run at Kobe Bryant this summer. They know they're a little short right now.
C Elden Campbell Pistons 1 year, $4.4 million This is the second of three deals the Bobcats would have to consider. If the Pistons threw in $3 million in cash, Campbell would cost them just $1.4 million for the season. Throw in a future Pistons first-rounder (Detroit already traded this year's away), and the Bobcats may just bite. What's in it for Detroit? An extra $4.4 million in cap space should allow them to re-sign both Mehmet Okur and Rasheed Wallace this summer.
PG/SG Larry Hughes Wizards 1 year, $5.5 million This will be the other deal to look at. The Wizards also are interested in clearing cap space, and Hughes may tempt the Bobcats. He's a good, young talent with only one year left on his contract. Hughes can play multiple positions and gives the team someone who can score and pass the ball. If the Wizards threw in cash, would the Bobcats bite? Washington might be willing to throw in its lottery pick (currently No. 6) if the Bobcats took Christian Laettner (1 year, $6.2 million) instead. The Wizards, in return, clear enough room to throw $10 million or so at a free agent this summer.
PG Troy Bell Grizzlies 2 years, $2.8 million The Grizzlies are going to have to leave at least two interesting young prospects unprotected. Looking at their roster, it looks like Bell is the most promising. A lottery-pick point guard last year, Bell can score, handle the ball, is a great athlete and a four-year college star. Dahntay Jones and Theron Smith also are interesting options here, but Bell has the most upside.
PF Melvin Ely Clippers 1 year, $1.7 million The Clippers leave Ely unprotected knowing that the Bobcats will be tempted. The former lottery pick has struggled to crack a deep frontcourt in L.A. His ability to play the four or the five should be appealing to Charlotte. He's probably the best young four on the board. Clearing this cap space allows the Clippers to get roughly $16 million under the cap this summer to make a run at Kobe.
SG/SF Tamar Slay Nets Restricted free agent From here on out, the Bobcats probably switch gears and start looking for bargains or restricted free agents who immediately come off the books. Slay is a promising talent who could be re-signed, but mostly he allows the Bobcats to conserve their cap space.
C Jamal Sampson Lakers 1 year, $695,000 (team option) Sampson is young and very athletic. He may be worth a look at a minimum salary to see what they have. There aren't going to be very many young, athletic bigs in this draft or in free agency, so Sampson is worth the trouble.
PF Jarron Collins Jazz Restricted free agent Collins has been solid as a starting and reserve power forward for the Jazz. If he would agree to a small contract, he'd be a nice pick-up here. Otherwise, he becomes an unrestricted free agent, goes off the cap, and the Bobcats save money for the free-agent market.
F James Jones Pacers 1 year, $600,000 (team option) The Pacers would hate to lose him. Jones has great athleticism and shooting ability for a 6-foot-8 player. He's the type of guy that could make the team as a role player.
G Omar Cook Blazers 1 year, $400,000 (team option) Cook has the pedigree and has shown some maturity in the NBDL and with his recent stint with the Blazers. His salary is more attractive than anything else, but he's probably a guy who gets invited to training camp for a look.
G Richie Frahm Sonics 1 year, $600,000 (team option) Frahm has had a few nice moments in Seattle, but again, this is just about saving money at this point.
G Jeff Trepagnier Nuggets 1 year, $700,000 (team option) He's a high flyer, but if they take him, the Bobcats probably won't exercise his option.
C Ruben Boumtje Boumtje Cavaliers Restricted free agent Another cap casualty. He really doesn't fit, but he allows the team to save cash.
G Jon Stefansson Mavericks 4 years, $2.2 million (team option) Once again, the Bobcats draft him and promptly dump him.
If the draft followed this projection, you'd expect the Bobcats to keep Hughes, Bell, Ely, Sampson and possibly Jones, Slay and Collins (if they can work out reasonable deals with those three).
That's not a bad core. Bell can play the point; Hughes is a capable two; and Ely could start at either the four or five. Collins could start at the five in a pinch. And Slay, Jones and Collins could all be rotation players off the bench.
Chances are, under this scenario, they would waive White and Campbell for salary-cap reasons.
That would give the Bobcats a total salary cap hit of $11.8 million, assuming Hughes, Bell, Ely, Sampson, Jones, Slay and Collins were all on the roster opening day. Combine that with their $2.5 million cap hold for the No. 4 draft pick, a $2.8 million cap hold for the Suns' No. 3 (assuming they do the Suns trade), and two minimum cap holds to fill out their roster, and Charlotte would have used $17.8 million of its projected $31 million in cap space. (Remember, the Bobcats only get two-thirds of the regular cap in Year One).
The team also would be in great shape for the draft and free agency. In the draft, two lottery picks allows them to tap a proven college player with one and a high school or international project who can pan out down the road with the other. The team would need immediate help at the three and five, especially. If a player like Duke's Luol Deng was available, that would be an awesome hometown fit. The other pick could be used on a big international player with huge upside, like Andris Biedrins, Pavel Podkolzine or Kosta Perovic.
The Bobcats won't find everything they need in the draft, but given the extra cap space they'd save by drafting the way we've explained from the expansion pool, the team would have roughly $14 million left to fill in the holes via free agency.
With young players like Kenyon Martin, Mehmet Okur, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Stromile Swift, Rodney White and Hedo Turkoglu available in free agency, Charlotte might be able to land one more big-time prospect in the free agent market and put a very decent team on the floor in November.
Phoenix is gonna pay Charlotte $3M and give them a top-three pick to take White, so they'll have an extra $6M in cap room, which will therefore make them one of 10 teams with a chance to get Kobe this summer? Just give up a pick like that for cap space? I want to say Chad Ford is insane, but then, the Suns already gave up lower first-rounders to Utah to take Googs off their cap.
If I were a Suns season-ticket holder, and they traded such a high pick and DIDN'T get Kobe (which I think is a pretty good bet they won't), I would organize a bonfire in front of America West Arena, inviting everyone in Arizona to come burn their Suns paraphanalia. Then I would make it my life's mission to hunt down Jerry Colangelo and beat the snot out of him.
Seriously, can someone explain to me why they would think that's a good idea?