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Fowler: A good under-the-radar deal for Bobcats

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a deal Thursday. It wasn’t an enormous deal. It wasn’t a deal that was going to knock the Duke-North Carolina game result off the front of the sports page.

But to me, it was a good deal, and a risk worth taking.

The Bobcats kept their most important pieces – all their starters and all their first-round draft picks – and still bettered their team. In a 2-for-2 player trade with Milwaukee, the most significant move was that the Bobcats added the floor-spacing, 3-point shooter the team desperately needs in Gary Neal just before the trade deadline.

They had to give up Ramon Sessions to do it, and that will have some consequences. Sessions was a consummate professional and a combo guard with a great knack for getting to the free-throw line. But Sessions’ place as backup point guard should be adequately filled by Luke Ridnour, the other new Bobcat. Charlotte also threw in Jeff Adrien to make the deal work. Adrien was Charlotte’s 11th or 12th man and was not going to play meaningful minutes this season.

So the Bobcats got two decent veteran guards and gave up one. They also gave up a bit of salary-cap room since Neal is signed for the 2014-15 season, too, at $3.25 million. By NBA standards, though, that is a bargain price if he shoots the ball the way he did in San Antonio last season.

“We were trying to improve our team both short- and long-term,” said Rod Higgins, the Bobcats’ president of basketball operations. “We didn’t want to sacrifice assets for a short-term fix only. This deal does some of that.”

I would grade the trade as a solid “B” for what it is – an exchange of role players. It has the potential to reach “A-minus” range if Neal can get it going from deep.

Ridnour and Sessions are close to even as backup point guards – although Sessions is a bit better. That makes Neal the wild card who will make this deal either a good one for Charlotte or simply an OK one. “We think we’ve improved without ruining our financial flexibility,” Bobcats general manager Rich Cho said.

Neal was on-and-off in Milwaukee, where he didn’t have as many wide-open shots because his teammates weren’t nearly as good as they were in San Antonio. But the guy can score from way out – especially when Al Jefferson is drawing a double-team and kicking the ball out to him – and that’s what the Bobcats have to have.

The Bobcats (25-30) need to fortify themselves for a playoff run. What they have right now is an OK team that needs more offensive explosiveness – a team high on effort but lacking in points on any night that Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker aren’t scoring.

The Bobcats currently sit at No. 8 in the playoff standings in the Eastern Conference. They would play Indiana if the playoffs began today. In such a series, the Bobcats would be very fortunate to win more than one game and could get swept.

But what if Neal gives them just enough to win a couple of games, and those couple of games give Charlotte just enough to end up as the No. 6 seed instead of the No. 8? That is the difference between being first-round fodder for Indiana or Miami or playing someone you actually have a chance to beat.

In general, the Bobcats have gotten a lot more out of their midseason trades (acquiring Stephen Jackson, Josh McRoberts) than they have with a lot of their lottery draft picks (Sean May, Adam Morrison). This sort of move has become their forte.

There is not much room for standing still in the NBA. At the free-throw line, yes. Other than that, no.

I don’t believe the Bobcats made this move simply for the sake of making one. I think they are trying to get a little bit better. And I think they just did.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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