CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bobcats arrived to Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday to clean out their lockers and meet for exit interviews, but the bitter taste of a 4-0 series sweep remained, too fresh for the positivity of a 22-win reversal to come to focus just yet.
"Series sucked. I said last night it’s embarrassing to be swept," said forward Josh McRoberts. "You’re not thinking about if you had a good season or not. Obviously, (the Heat are a) championship-level team, but it’s still embarrassing to go out the way we did."
It didn’t matter that Carolina was swept by the two-time defending champions (Miami) or that, for many Bobcats, this was their playoff baptism. Only victories matter in the postseason, and team leader Al Jefferson hopes the ‘Cats will remember this feeling heading into the summer months — the time for self-improvement.
"We’re heading in the right direction, but my biggest thing is we have to continue to keep going," Jefferson said. "I will not be satisfied with 43 (victories) this year and 30 next year. Got to continue to move up, continue to build and continue to get better. We had a bad feeling in our gut last night, and we can use that heading into the offseason."
Team owner Michael Jordan met with the Bobcats (soon to be Charlotte Hornets) in the locker room after Monday’s loss to remind them about the importance of the offseason. The NBA season is a long one with little turnaround between games and not a ton of practice time; so, the heavy focus on individual skill work and development must come during the summer.
Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson both mentioned more consistent perimeter shooting as their focus. Rookie Cody Zeller will be looking to develop "strength, add range, and become a better isolation player" in the coming months.
"43-39, that was a big upgrade and everyone in that locker room is expecting improvement next year," said Gary Neal. "That’s what we’re all aiming for, all striving for. It’s up to everyone individually in the summer."
The summer is also about getting healthy and getting your body prepared for the 82-game grind. Jefferson said heâll spend two weeks completely off and then two more weeks just riding a bike.
He says surgery (left foot) isn’t necessary and isn’t worried about the injury lingering. The Game 1 injury simply needs time to heal.
"Four weeks, that’s when I’ll be able to get back on the court. I’m going to be here pretty much the whole summer, so I’ll be around the trainers and doctors," Jefferson said.
Jefferson should be pleased the core of Charlotte’s roster will likely remain intact. Backups Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts will be unrestricted free agents, but the main question lingering Tuesday is this:
Will McRoberts, the only starter not under contract for next season, use his player option or opt of his deal, in hopes of securing a long-term deal?
McRoberts said it’s "too early" to think about whether or not he’d opt out, but he wants to be back in Charlotte, where head coach Steve Clifford allows him to play to his strengths.
"I want to come back and build on what we were able to do this year because we have a good core group of guys, and I love the staff here," McRoberts said. "Just hope to be a part of the future moving forward."
McRoberts is set to make $2.77 million next season (if he doesn’t opt out) and isn’t under contract for the following season, so expect the 27-year-old to pursue a long-term term deal.
But how much do the Bobcats value McRoberts?
His coach has repeatedly praised McRoberts and there’s definitely merit to the impact his passing makes on an offense with a shoot-first point guard. However, McRoberts’ starting minutes come at the expense of Zeller, the Bobcats/Hornets’ long-term answer at power forward.
Going further, Charlotte is also in desperate need of wing scoring.
"Josh was our point guard, even though he played the power forward," said Jefferson. "He was the guy out there to make everything go. He made great decisions and he has a very high IQ of the game, so it’d be great to have him back."
Whether McRoberts returns or not, the Bobcats feel strongly about their future prospects.
"I think [this season] was a stepping stone for us and just a measurement to where we were. No one expected us to get to the playoffs this year. We did and it’s disappointing that we got swept," said Walker. "But at the same time, the experience was great. Now we know what it takes to get here and can come back even better next season."
To get back into the playoffs, many of the players will spend the summer in Charlotte, working out together like they did last offseason.
Cliffordâs first season was a resounding success and even resulted in some votes for Coach of the Year. Much of that came on the defensive end, where the Bobcats ranked fourth in the league in scoring defense. For the Bobcats to get further in their return to the Hornets namesake, though, theyâll have to improve on their 24th ranked scoring offense.
"I just know one thing: we’ve learned so much from that man," Walker said of Clifford. "He’s been nothing but great all year. His principles are great. He got us to work extremely hard on a consistent basis, and it showed. It showed in our record. It showed in our play. You know, next season I’m sure it’ll be even better. I’m sure he’ll come back as an even better coach."
Gerald Henderson went through two seasons where the franchise won 28 games combined, so heading into an offseason after a 43-win season is sweet, regardless of how fresh the postseason exit may be.
"Like I said, this is a base for us. But having a base where we’ve had some success, instead of starting from 21 [wins], so now our potential is unlimited," Henderson said. "But we have to put the work in."