Keeping Gerald Wallace in the fold was important for the Bobcats.
Rick Giase/Icon SMI
What Went Right:
Robert Johnson opened his wallet.
As important as acquiring Jason Richardson will be for the Bobcats in providing a go-to scorer at crunch moments, his arrival also signaled that owner Robert Johnson is willing to spend money on his team. Having spent last season flirting with the league's minimum salary cap floor, Johnson was fast-growing a reputation for being cheap, the type of appellation that can sour fans and potential free agents. Agreeing to swallow the remaining $50 million left on Richardson's contract will go a long way toward turning that reputation around.
All in the family.
Head of basketball operations Michael Jordan didn't get Johnson to open his wallet this summer, he got Johnson to open it wide in re-signing Charlotte free agents Gerald Wallace and Matt Carroll to a combined $84 million in new contracts. Expensive, but smart deals. Wallace has worked tirelessly to make himself into a force on both ends of the court, and last season, Carroll had demonstrated the kind of shooting skills most teams drool over. With J-Rich now in the mix, Wallace should have even more room to slash to the hoop and Carroll may become the premier sixth man he seems destined to become.
The Bobcats got a year older.
This is a young group, with an average age less than 25. It is also a group that has grown up together over the past 2-3 seasons. While last season's 33 wins was not the stuff of a playoff contender, it was better than the 26 wins the season before and the 18 the season before that. That smells an awful lot like a team learning to win, and learning to win together. Chemistry may be more important in the NBA than in any other sport, and the Bobcats may have an awful lot this fall.
What Went Wrong:
Brevin Knight departed.
Maybe the Bobcats haven't completely stopped pinching pennies as they bought out the final year of Knight's contract instead of paying the veteran point guard $4 million next season. Though Raymond Felton had long since become the team's starter, Knight was an effective floor general off the bench, but some have speculated that was a role with which Knight was not happy. Worse than losing Knight, who signed with the Clippers in mid-August, the Bobcats gave a one-year deal to free agent Jeff McInnis, a player the Nets recently paid just to stay away from their team.
Bernie Bickerstaff kicked himself upstairs.
A 415-517 career coaching mark indicates Bickerstaff was no Phil Jackson, but he had proven to be a good tutor for this young group, teaching them how to act and play like professionals. No matter the talent difference, the Bobcats were rarely outhustled in any game. Will new coach Sam Vincent be able to squeeze the same kind of effort out of this club this fall? Who knows? Vincent's resume is led by a single year as an NBA assistant and more time as a former teammate of Jordan, the type of connection that didn't always translate into smart hires when MJ was in Washington. At least it wasn't Doug Collins again.
While Jordan's front-office personnel decisions reek of the same kind of "yes-men" mentality that doomed his tenure as the Wizards GM, it's tough to question his roster moves. Adding and explosive scorer in his prime? Keeping an improving nucleus together? Drafting a potential steal in forward Jared Dudley? What's not to like?
What Went Right:
Dwyane Wade got better -- again.
Wade eschewed going under the knife last season to repair a dislocated shoulder in an effort to return for Miami's postseason run. Return he did, but not nearly at 100 percent, a fact the Bulls exploited in sweeping the Heat out of the first round. A summer of surgery and rehab is expected to have Wade back at his floor-sprawling best, although perhaps not for the start of the regular season.
After taking a mid-season sabbatical for hip replacement surgery and a procedure to repair knee cartilage last year, Pat Riley's return to the bench was anything but assured. A quick playoff exit seems to have motivated Riley into signing on for three more seasons. That should be enough to keep Shaquille O'Neal motivated (at least for the 60 games or so he tends to play each season) through the end of his career. It also will give Riley some time to tackle to biggest challenge of his Miami tenure -- keeping a now-aging Heat team competitive enough top re-sign Wade when he can become a free agent in 2010.
What Went Wrong:
Kapono travels north.
This isn't to say Toronto made a wise investment in signing Heat sharpshooter Jason Kapono to a reported $24 million, four-year contract. But we have a feeling Kapono and the Heat are going to feel the pain of their divorce. Chris Bosh and Anthony Parker likely won't free up nearly as much space in Toronto as Shaq and Wade did. And we seriously doubt Smush Parker will hit from outside with the same efficiency in Miami next season that Kapono did last year.
So that's why economics is "the dismal science."
Stuck hard against the salary cap and already paying luxury tax, Miami has had little flexibility to acquire new talent via free agency. That has forced Miami to navigate the far murkier waters of the trade market, complete with unreasonable GMs and players looking to leverage Miami's interest (cough, Mo Williams, cough) into a lucrative deal with their own teams. While Miami has remained a team of interest in many rumors, the Heat had yet to compete a deal as of August's end.
Penny for your thoughts?
In the summer of the veteran comeback, Miami took the speculation a bit too far by inking former Shaq teammate Penny Hardaway to a non-guaranteed contract. On paper, adding a former All-Star with 13 years of NBA experience sounds like a sure hit -- just like the Suns' "Backcourt 2000" of Hardaway and Jason Kidd did before it went on to win a total of one playoff series in two seasons. Considering the last time Hardaway suited up was in November of '05 before knee surgery chased him from the game, this won't turn out much better.
A club that looked old, slow and disinterested last spring needed a lot more than a 36-year-old former All-Star and a marginal backup point guard. Riley has had trouble in the past balancing the dual roles of coach and GM, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Riley kick himself back upstairs to retool the roster before the summer of '10.
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