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NBA AM: Bobcats Planning For Aggressive Summer

Bobcats GM Rich Cho says the team has the money to spend on free agents this summer and will explore their options

Lang Greene

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Bobcats GM says team has the cap room and ownership approval to be buyers in free agency this summer

After winning just 28 games combined the previous two seasons, the Charlotte Bobcats ran off 43 victories during the 2014 campaign and secured the franchise’s second ever playoff berth in the process.

While the Bobcats  would ultimately be unceremoniously swept at the hands of the reigning two-time defending champion Miami HEAT, there is no question about the positive energy now surrounding a team that was recently considered a laughingstock. With a little taste of success, the Bobcats have no intention of revisiting their old stomping grounds as one of the league’s doormats and the club has enough options to pull it off.

Charlotte is strongly positioned to be players in the draft, free agency and the trade market this summer. The team has just $41 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for the 2015 campaign and the number could increase depending on if forward Josh McRoberts opts out of the final year of his contract ($2.7 million).

Bobcats general manager Rich Cho says the combination of being in a strong place financially and possessing draft options is a blessing. The team could get the Detroit Pistons’ lottery pick this season (Corey Maggette trade, top eight protected in 2014). The pick is only top one protected in 2015.

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“We’re going to have some cap room this summer ,” Cho said during the team’s exit interviews with the media. “We’ll also have some assets to play with and a future pick if we don’t get the Detroit pick this year. But you always have to balance short term versus long term. We’ll have a nice range of cap room this summer. It depends on a lot of different variables if Josh [McRoberts] opts out and so forth and if we get the Detroit pick or not.

“If we get the Detroit pick the cap room can go up to about $17 million. If we don’t get the Detroit pick it could co up to $19 million. Again, a lot of that depends on what Josh does and if he opts out. The good thing is we’ll have a lot of flexibility. A lot of different options.”

President of basketball operations Rod Higgins echoed Cho’s assessment and confirmed that Bobcats owner, Michael Jordan, doesn’t have a problem with the franchise opening up its wallet.

“That’s why you try to create that flexibility, to have an opportunity to get an Al Jefferson,” Higgins said alluding to the team’s ability to sign Jefferson last summer. “So we’ll identify some free agents and we’ll talk about it ,so of course we will go down that route if need be. I think our owner is motivated to get our team better so with that being said Rich and I are hitting the ground running trying to do that.”

While the Bobcats will have the money to spend on free agency or bring in a top dollar guy via trade, Cho warned that it will be important to keep its team chemistry intact. One way Cho plans on accomplishing  this is his continuation of only bringing in good players with high character and a competitive streak.

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“When you’re trying to build a team from the ground up it is important to have guys you want to build around and have the same common thread,” Cho said. “Which is, one, for starters they’re good people and two they’re good teammates and unselfish with a high degree of competitiveness. I think that’s the common thread with the kind of guys we’ve brought in the last few years.”

Jefferson wasn’t selected for an All-Star nod earlier this season, but his development and leadership along with third year guard Kemba Walker has the team pointed in the right direction.

Higgins feels the presence of Jefferson, Walker and head coach Steve Clifford will attract some free agents and have many of them wishing to join the Bobcats this summer.

“I think the short answer would be yes,” Higgins said on whether the Bobcats should be high on free agents’ list this summer. “If I was a free agent as a player I would think that I would want to go and try to play with good players and Al and Kemba, among others, are good players. Combine that with the success we’ve had over the last year and having a coach that players want to play for, of course.

“I think our fan base is there and the uptick of us rebranding. All of those things are hugely positives for free agents to come to this market and help us establish ourselves as a legitimate playoff caliber team.”

Today’s Six Things: Every day we try and give you six things you may have missed, so without further ado; here are today’s Six Things:

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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