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Draft day is now a week away for the Charlotte Bobcats. Having a coach, GM and a bright orange logo is nice. But nothing really happens until a few living, breathing players show up on the roster.
Knowing the parameters Charlotte general manager and head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has given himself, and with a very good idea of who will be available, what might the expansion draft look like a week from today?
The Bobcats obviously are playing their cards close to the vest, but Insider, drawing on several interviews with Bickerstaff and other GMs around the league, is willing to take a shot.
Bickerstaff made it clear the team is looking for young, athletic players. It will shy away from veterans in the expansion draft, especially those with huge contracts. While the team could nab big names like Antoine Walker, Penny Hardaway, Eddie Jones and Jerry Stackhouse, Bickerstaff has been clear over the past few months that the team would only spend that kind of money on a player who "makes a real difference." None of the high-priced veterans on the unprotected list would qualify as "difference-makers" by any stretch of the definition.
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 whom Charlotte can clear off the books quickly 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. A team with fewer than eight players on its roster to protect still must leave at least 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 (which should be around $29.5 million next season, 66 percent of the full cap number).
# If the Bobcats waive a player selected in the expansion draft before the first day of the regular season, the player's remaining contract will not count against the team's salary cap.
# Restricted free agents selected in the expansion draft automatically become unrestricted free agents.
# Teams are allowed to entice the Bobcats to select players by offering cash (up to $3 million), draft picks or agreeing to additional trades in return.
# If a team has a player selected by the Bobcats, it 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 Insider's opinion on how things might go down next Tuesday.
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 and a future first-round pick, perhaps the one Cleveland owes them (that pick is lottery-protected, so Phoenix won't get it until the first year the Cavs make the playoffs). The Bobcats would jump at the chance to have another first-round pick but will try to hold out for the Suns' No. 7 pick this year. Suns GM Bryan Colangelo says he isn't budging, but you never know -- getting White off the books gives Phoenix roughly $16 million in cap space to make a run at Kobe Bryant this summer. They know they're $6 million 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 Charlotte $1.4 million for the season. Throw in a future first-rounder (Detroit already traded this year's), and the Bobcats just might bite. What's in it for Detroit? An extra $4.4 million in cap space might allow them to re-sign both Mehmet Okur and Rasheed Wallace this summer.
PF/C Christian Laettner Wizards 1 year, $6.2 million This is another deal to look at. The Wizards also are interested in clearing cap space and want to move Laettner. If the Wizards threw in $3 million in cash and their lottery pick (No. 5), would the Bobcats bite? That's probably what it would take. The Wizards, in return, clear enough room to throw $10 million or so at a free agent. They're not enamored with anyone in the draft anyway, so why not pull the trigger and use the free agency money to find a real center?
PG Troy Bell Grizzlies 2 years, $2.8 million 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.
SG/SF Aleksandar Pavlovic Jazz 3 years, $4.3 million He was a surprise entry on the list. Either the Jazz gave up something so the Bobcats wouldn't take him, or the Bobcats agreed to give the Jazz something in return for making him available. If the first is true, obviously he won't be taken. If the second is true, you're looking at a young, athletic player who could be a great fit long-term in Charlotte.
SG Gerald Wallace Kings 1 year, $1.7 million Wallace is another guy with huge upside who just never really found his groove in Sacramento. At one time he was considered the best high school player in the country. The Bobcats could give him a starting role and lots of shots next season.
SF Qyntel Woods Blazers 1 year, $1.1 million Woods is loaded with talent and athleticism, but a few drug-related incidents have derailed his career. The Bobcats might prefer to pass because of his past. But based on his talent, they've got to take him.
PF Brandon Hunter Celtics 1 year, $620,000 (team option) Hunter had a stretch in late February where he looked like a real keeper. Obviously this list isn't littered with serviceable big guys. He's a little undersized for the position, but Hunter is worth taking a gamble on for a year.
C Zaza Pachulia Sonics 1 year, $620,000 (player option) There aren't many decent young centers on this list. Pachulia, at just 20 years of age, has by far the most upside. Again, you can't beat the price.
PF/C Jamal Sampson Lakers 1 year, $695,000 (team option) Sampson fits into the same category as Pachulia. He's young, big and has a decent shot of making the team for the price.
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 who could make the team as a role player or just become another cap casuality.
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. Boumtje becomes an unrestricted free agent the minute the Bobcats draft him. No worries, they wouldn't have kept him anyway.
SG/SF Tamar Slay Nets Restricted free agent Slay is a promising talent who could be re-signed, but mostly he allows the Bobcats to conserve their cap space.
Building the Bobcats
This expansion mock draft is really divided into three parts.
With the first three picks, look for the Bobcats to deal with an eye toward picking up draft picks and moving veteran players on to other teams in trades. Here, they pick up one pick this year, two future picks and $9 million in cash to offset the $16.7 million cost of those players next year. Under the rules of the expansion draft, Charlotte could waive White, Campbell and Laettner immediately and clear them completely off their cap. Chances are, under this scenario, they'd do just that.
The next group of players are the ones the Bobcats likely would keep. This group includes Bell, Pavlovic, Wallace, Woods, Hunter, Pachulia and Sampson. If the Bobcats kept all seven players for next season, the total cap hit comes to just $7.8 million. Wallace, Woods and Pavlovic all play similar positions, though, so don't be surprised if the Bobcats take at least one of them with an eye toward using him as trade bait before the draft or later in the summer.
That's not a bad core. Bell is capable of playing point. Pavlovic, Woods and Wallace all can swing between the two and the three. Hunter can play the four. Pachulia and Sampson both can be back-ups at the five.
The last four players -- Jones, Trepagnier, Boumtje and Slay -- would be waived immediately with no cap hit or salary ramifications.
Next, the Bobcats turn to the regular draft to start filling holes. With the No. 4 pick, they're looking at either Luol Deng, Josh Childress, Andre Iguodala and possibly high schoolers Shaun Livingston and Dwight Howard. The guy Bickerstaff really wants, though, is Emeka Okafor, and he's been trying to work out a deal with Orlando to get the No. 1 pick. Would a combination of the No. 4 pick and one or two of the players they just drafted fit the bill for Orlando? Or, if the Bobcats strike a deal with the Wizards, would a combo of the No. 4 and No. 5 pick make the Magic bite? Bickerstaff believes Okafor could give the Bobcats that immediate presence in the paint they're not going to find in the expansion draft. Charlotte also has a second-round pick it likely will use on a big.
The Bobcats won't find everything they need in the draft, but given the extra cap space they'd save by drafting from the expansion pool as outlined above, the team would have roughly $18 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, Charlotte might be able to land a couple of nice, young free agents.
If I were Bickerstaff, I'd conserve cash and offer nice deals just above the mid-level exception to restricted free agents Swift and Crawford. Both are young, immensely talented and really need a change of scenery. If you offered both a starting salary at around $5.5 million to $6 million a year, chances are Memphis and Chicago wouldn't match. Wizards big man Etan Thomas is another possibility, if the price is right.
I'd use the other $6 million or $7 million on a few well-placed veterans who know how to win and play hard. Players like Brian Cardinal, Bob Sura, Bruce Bowen, and Michael Curry would all be good fits on an expansion team.
If the Bobcats follow our blueprint -- and if other teams and players cooperate -- here's what their lineup could look like come October.
PG: Jamal Crawford, Troy Bell
SG: Gerald Wallace, Qyntel Woods
SF: Alexsandar Pavlovic, Michael Curry
PF: Stromile Swift, Brian Cardinal, Brandon Hunter
C: Emeka Okafor, Zaza Pachulia, Jamal Sampson
That's a pretty decent team to put on the floor in year one -- high-octane, fun to watch, with a real eye toward developing some young stars for the future.