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Bobcats will be active at trade deadline. But a blockbuster? Highly unlikely

I get asked constantly these days to handicap whether the Charlotte Bobcats make a trade before the NBA’s Feb. 20 deadline.

Will they try to do something? Absolutely. Will they make some sort of deal? History says probably. Will it be something huge? I doubt it.

But just because something isn’t “big” doesn’t make it inconsequential. About a year ago the Bobcats dealt Hakeem Warrick to the Orlando Magic for Josh McRoberts. When I broke that on Twitter, I got an abundance of “so what’s?” in reply.

Now McRoberts is a starter at power forward, the player owner Michael Jordan calls this team’s “connect-the-dots” guy. McRoberts so improves the Bobcats’ ball movement that Jordan said he dreads the possibility of McRoberts opting out of his contract after this season.

So just because someone isn’t a “name” doesn’t mean he can’t help. The Bobcats tend to trade a lot. They’ve generally been more successful in that aspect of team-building than in their draft selections.

The obvious thing the Bobcats could use is another shooter/scorer. Good as they are on defense, they continue to be among the NBA’s worst teams in shooting, particularly from range. They’re 21st among 30 teams in 3-point percentage, with forward Anthony Tolliver the only really consistent shooter from 3.

One of the challenges in the Bobcats making a deal is most of the roster is either core players or spares without much trade value. The biggest chip the Bobcats can play is moving Ben Gordon’s expiring contract, with a cap value this season of $13.2 million.

That means a team looking to trim long-term payroll could move a veteran with additional seasons under contract for Gordon’s expiring. The Bobcats also potentially have extra first-round picks – owed by Portland and Detroit – that could be dealt for a veteran.

Adding at least some short-term help would improve the Bobcats’ playoff chances. But here’s the rub: They’d have to get back something really good to justify sacrificing the payroll flexibility Gordon’s expiring represents.

These decisions aren’t just about the next three months; they’re about the next several years. Point guard Kemba Walker becomes a restricted free agent the summer of 2015. Based on point guards of comparable ability (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, Detroit’s Brandon Jennings), Walker would logically demand an $8-10 million salary to sign a long-term extension.

Using up the payroll flexibility that Gordon’s expiring represents could complicate the back-end ability to re-sign Walker. Sometimes you must value what you have over what you might get.

Five thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA

•  It’s always sad to watch someone get fired, but it’s easy to see why there was a shakeup in Cleveland last week. General manager Chris Grant was fired after a series of missteps: No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett has done nothing, the team had to discipline and move free-agent center Andrew Bynum and there seems a tug-of-war between guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to be this team’s alpha dog. What a mess.

•  I think most of the NBA is practicing Schadenfreude, watching the Los Angeles Lakers disintegrate this season. Schadenfreude is the German term for taking pleasure in others’ pain. The Lakers have been so good for so long, but these injuries can’t really be overcome. It will be interesting if they move Pau Gasol at the deadline, and what he’s still worth in trade.

•  Speaking of the Lakers, that was pretty odd late in their victory over the Cavaliers, when they didn’t have five players who were both healthy and hadn’t fouled out. The NBA has a seldom-applied rule that a team must play five players, so the guy who fouled out – Robert Sacre in this case – remained in the game. However, there’s an additional penalty involving a technical foul any time Sacre committed a foul.

•  Regardless of how much or little happens at the trade deadline, this one is going to have a baseball-like tone, where there will be a distinct divide between “buyers” and “sellers.” A team like Phoenix, for instance, that is having unexpected success and multiple first-round picks to deal, could just about cement a playoff spot by acquiring a solid veteran.

•  Kind of striking how fast Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is flying up draft boards. In November, I don’t know how many mock drafts would have had him in the first round. Now he looks like a lottery pick. I watch a lot of Syracuse basketball, and the kid’s court vision is really impressive.

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