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Hornets need to keep free agent Josh McRoberts

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for more than 20 years and has been at the paper for more than 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts is a free agent, opting out of a contract that would have paid him $2.8 million next season.

Josh McRoberts is a free agent, opting out of a contract that would have paid him $2.8 million next season.

He’s worth more. McRoberts ought to command at least $5 million in 2014-15, and I trust the Hornets will give it to him.

Owner Michael Jordan, general manager Rich Cho and coach Steve Clifford have praised him effusively. On Wednesday, when the news became public, Cho said “We definitely want to try to re-sign him.”

Two years ago McRoberts, 27, was a player who sat near the end of the bench and operated on the periphery of the league. If you want proof, all Charlotte had to give Orlando to get him was Hakim Warrick.

The McRoberts-Warrick trade was February 21, 2013. Fans expected little more from the new guy than an Adam Morrison-like big man without the moustache.

Many had seen McRoberts at Duke. He did not fit there and is the rare Blue Devil that does not drop to one knee when he hears coach Mike Krzyzewski’s name.

McRoberts had averaged fewer than 4 points per game for Orlando, so obviously his game was flawed. We waited to see the flaws. We still are.

McRoberts played 26 games for Charlotte in 2012-13, started 19 and averaged 9.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Last season, McRoberts averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and a career-high 4.3 assists.

I’ve written the following sentence so many times I should be able to tap a single key to summon it.

Passing is the least respected facet of basketball.

McRoberts is an excellent passer. At 6-foot-10, he’s a taller version of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw. One difference: McRoberts doesn’t hate playing for Charlotte.

When the ball is in McRobert’s hands, teammates move like wide receivers trying to ditch defensive backs. They know if they get open he likely will reward them.

Some of you prefer a prototype power forward that posts up defenders and plays inside.

Hair down to his shoulders, McRoberts works on the margins. That he lurks outside creates space inside for Al Jefferson. Defenders have to respect McRoberts; he shot 36.1 percent last season behind the 3-point line.

I realize I’m making the guy sound like Larry Bird. He’s not.

But he is a player teammates want to play with, and not only because he gives up the ball.

The signature play of the Charlotte-Miami playoff series, other than the one in which Jefferson hurt his foot, involved McRoberts.

About 50 seconds remained in Game 2 and, with a 3-point lead, LeBron James went to the hoop for a dunk that would thrill fans and titillate SportsCenter. As LeBron began to rise McRoberts intercepted him and hit him with a forearm in the throat.

Of course McRoberts was trying to foul LeBron. But he wasn’t going for the throat. In a high-speed collision that’s more about reaction than a plan. It’s tough to aim and deliver a hit to the throat.

McRoberts immediately became a bigger villain in South Florida than teenagers that park in front of old people’s condos.

In Game 3, and to a lesser extent Game 4, Miami went after McRoberts, especially with Chris Andersen. McRoberts took the shots from the Heat, didn’t overreact, continued to play hard and, when the occasion called for it, fouled hard too. Charlotte needed a bad guy, and McRoberts volunteered.

McRoberts has played for five teams in eight seasons. In Charlotte, he has finally found one that appreciates his work.

It’s a nice story. No reason for it to end.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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