CHARLOTTE – Rod Higgins said the Bobcats are interested in adding another impact player this offseason. And the team’s president of basketball operations is optimistic Charlotte has what it takes to land one.
Higgins said the team’s dramatic improvement this season – the Bobcats won 43 games and reached the postseason – combined with the success of last year’s top free agent signee Al Jefferson and steady development of point guard Kemba Walker should help lure other top-tier players to Charlotte.
“If I was a free agent as a player, I would think I would want to go play with good players,” Higgins said at a post-season press conference Wednesday at the team’s downtown arena. “Al and Kemba, among others, are good players.”
Higgins didn’t name potential targets. However, when was asked if he could see the Bobcats adding a player of Jefferson’s caliber this offseason he responded, “Of course.”
Added Higgins: “We will identify some free agents, and we will talk about it. But of course, we will go down that route if need be.”
Higgins said Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is motived to improve the team.
He cited the fact Jordan used the amnesty clause on Tyrus Thomas last season – a move that helped free up the salary cap room needed to sign Jefferson.
The 6-foot-10 center received a three-year, $40.5 million contract last July, the largest deal ever handed out by the Bobcats to a free agent.
General manager Rich Cho estimates the Bobcats will have roughly $17-$19 million to spend this offseason under the salary cap, plenty of room to sign a top-tier player – or acquire one in a trade.
Higgins said one of the top goals is to improve Charlotte’s perimeter shooting, thus alleviating some of double teams Jefferson faces in the low post. The Bobcats were 23rd in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 35 percent.
He also said the Bobcats need to add depth, particularly at point guard.
Higgins said “it’s hard to find superstars in free agency” but added the trade option is something the Bobcats could explore.
Charlotte has a big asset when it comes to owning a first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons.
If the Pistons fall below No. 8 spot in the May 20 draft lottery, the Bobcats receive that pick.
If not, the Bobcats will automatically receive Detroit’s first-round pick in 2015 unless it’s the No. 1 pick overall.
Either way, the Bobcats can use that as leverage in a trade.
“We will have a lot of flexibility, a lot of different options,” Cho said.
Jefferson’s impact in Charlotte was immediate and the Bobcats are hoping that could prompt potential free agents looking to make a name for themselves to consider the Bobcats as an option.
He averaged 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game while helping the Bobcats finish 43-39 in the regular season and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010 under first-year coach Steve Clifford.
Although the Bobcats were swept by Miami in the first round, it was still a successful season considering they were 28-120 over the previous two seasons.
Clifford said Charlotte has suddenly become an attractive place to play because if fits all the criteria top-tier free agents desire.
“Hey, free agency in this league is always going to be about what – money, right?” Clifford said. “But next it’s going to be about who am I going to play with – and can they win? I think there are a lot of things that are in order here. That and it’s a great place to live.”
Higgins and Cho don’t have much housekeeping to do on their owner roster.
Their only key potential free agent is starting power forward Josh McRoberts, who is expected to opt out of a contract that would pay him $2.8 million season.
McRoberts has outperformed that deal this season and would almost certainly make more when he hits the free agent market. Clifford said McRoberts is a player the Bobcats don’t want to lose.