The Charlotte Bobcats used their cap space quickly, signing former Utah Jazz big man Al Jefferson to a three-year contract worth about $41 million, with an opt out after the second year. In a concurrent move, they used the amnesty clause on disappointing forward Tyrus Thomas, who had two years and $18 million remaining on his deal.
This sequence of moves saddens me and goes to show why it's not easy to outright stink for several years in a row in the league.
At this point in his career, you know exactly what you're getting with Jefferson. A lot of points, a sizable amount of your offense run through him on the left block, no defense, average passing only when given the right conditions and play just good enough to make you mediocre. This may seem cruel to Jefferson, but there's a reason his teams have never won more than 45 games in a season. He is a specialist that gives up as much as he provides and produces paper-thin statistics. You have to restructure your entire offense around him to keep him engaged, and even then, the payoff isn't great, given his middling scoring efficiency and his inability to produce a lot of free throws.
Though I don't support the Bobcats' decision, I can sort of understand why they made it. For two years, the Bobcats have been the league's laughingstock, and all they have to show for it are rookies that project to being high-impact secondary players in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller. All three are prone to learning bad habits, though Walker has improved and Kidd-Gilchrist was playing decently before a concussion set him back. The Bobcats are hoping that Jefferson will take some of the offensive pressure off those three and provide them with an environment where they can gain confidence in their secondary skills rather than being miscast as primary options. In other words, Jefferson is their pseudo-star until they can get a real star.
It's also worth noting that the Bobcats do need to spend up to 90 percent of the salary cap on somebody. They've decided that Jefferson is a better option to do that than trying to rent their cap space to teams trying to dump big salaries in exchange for additional assets. Jefferson's player option after Year 2 also means this isn't a long-term cap killer.
Nevertheless, this was an impatient move by Charlotte. One of the keys to building a good long-term culture in the NBA is to avoid jumping at the first shiny new toy available on the free-agent market. Cap discipline is key, especially when trying to build around high-character, defensive-minded youngsters that won in college. Jefferson embodies the opposite ideals of Charlotte's young core and therefore undermines that culture by being the franchise's highest-paid player.
I'm disappointed by the Bobcats for this, and the only reason this doesn't get a failing grade is because I understand the temptation Rich Cho and company succumbed to at the end of the day.