Last year, the Charlotte Bobcats finished with a 35-47 record, the best record in team history. The team certainly looked a lot better after trading Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley for Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Sean Singletary, but as I've argued before, even though they probably did improve, Dudley was the most valuable player in that trade.
We gave up Shannon Brown, a perfectly decent guard, and Adam Morrison, a useless train wreck in need of repair, for Vladimir Radmanovich, who's probably better in a one to one comparison at the two-guard and the three than either of those guys, but not by that much over Brown. To boot, we're now on the hook for his contract while Morrison most likely will never get another million dollar NBA contract and Shannon Brown will still get paid far less than VladRad to ply his trade somewhere next season. So it goes. Get a small upgrade in talent in exchange for a hit on salary value.
This strategy makes plenty of sense. While everyone else is trying to clear cap space for 2010, we may as well acknowledge that we won't be players in that game and instead try to find bargains among the teams that want to dump talented players signed to longer contracts. The problem is that we didn't really get all that more talented, and now, with the team pushing up against the luxury tax if they use their full mid-level exception, we're pretty much tied to improving the team through the draft unless we can move a large contract... which everyone else is trying to do.
So here's a back of the envelope projection for next season. I'll be optimistic, putting Augustin in the starting lineup instead of Felton, and assigning playing time based on my common sense. Like I said: back of the envelope.
Numbers are based on eyeballing Basketball Prospectus player cards and Basketball-Reference player pages. The totally average team would win 41 games, and a replacement level team would win about 10 games. All wins listed are above replacement level.
Projected Wins Above Replacement
Derrick Brown? Everyone else at the end of the bench? No idea. This assumes that Augustin and Felton will switch up their playing time and that everyone will play, roughly, the same number of minutes they did last year. More or less, the real opportunities for improvement will come at the off guard slot, where Gerald Henderson can leap ahead of Bell's production, or at point guard, where DJ Augustin has the potential to up his game and be a major upgrade over the PG play the Cats got last season.
But that assumes Wallace, Okafor, and Diaw will all still be very good to borderline All Star. Take away wins from their performances, and we're back where we started. As I'm fond of saying, this team, as currently constructed, tops out as the six seed, and it looks like that's our lot for the foreseeable future, until at least the 2011-12 season, when we'll be guaranteed freedom from Mohammed's and VladRad's contracts, but probably farther, until Diaw's deal expires.
The only way we break free from that fate is if our draft picks are revelations. Augustin could be a seven-win player. Henderson could be an eight-win player. And if that comes to pass, and everyone else holds steady, we'll have a 55-win team on our hands and have legitimate title dreams.