Chandler won't opt out; Felton leaving?
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While not a factor in the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh sweepstakes, the Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats face some intrigue of their own as free agency begins Thursday.
The first question was solved Wednesday morning, when agent Jeff Schwartz told the Bobcats their center Chandler wouldn't opt out of the final year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent.
Chandler had been hoping to get a contract extension, but the Bobcats declined. With uncertainty surrounding the terms of the next labor agreement, Chandler and his representatives considered forfeiting $12.7 million due next season and search for a long-term deal elsewhere.
But the 7-foot-1 Chandler, who was held to 50 games last season and 45 the year before in New Orleans because of foot and ankle injuries, didn't have bargaining power. While it means the Bobcats keep their depth at center, they're also strapped for salary-cap space with Chandler's contract.
After giving Thomas a one-year, $6.2 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent, the Bobcats have nearly $67 million committed to 11 players for next season. That includes an extra $1 million for bonuses Gerald Wallace received for making the All-Star team ($500,000) and all-defensive team ($500.000) that will count toward next season's cap.
With the luxury tax projected to kick in around $68-69 million - and with Jordan stating publicly he won't exceed it - Felton's future in Charlotte looks bleak.
His uneven career - and major struggles in the playoffs - don't help him, either.
Felton averaged 12.1 points and 5.6 assists while shooting a career-best 46 percent from the field last season. But he was then thoroughly outplayed by Orlando's Jameer Nelson in Charlotte's first-round playoff sweep.
General manager Rod Higgins has called Felton's impending unrestricted free agency a "delicate subject." The team has no meetings set up with Felton, who has changed agents and is now represented by Tony Dutt.
"Raymond is looking forward to continuing his career where ever it might be, as he understands the business," Dutt said. "I also know he loves the fans in Charlotte."
If Felton, who turned down an offer from the Bobcats last summer that would have paid him roughly $6 million per season, doesn't return, the Bobcats will almost certainly have to make a trade for a point guard. D.J. Augustin, who struggled for much of last season, is the only other point guard on the roster.
The team pursued Indiana's T.J. Ford last season. The Bobcats could also try to pull off a larger deal that could include Chandler. A player with a large salary would likely have to be involved for the Bobcats to clear enough payroll.
The Bobcats' payroll situation may also mean Thomas will play in his one-year qualifying offer instead of a long-term deal. Thomas, acquired from Chicago in a February trade, provided Charlotte with a needed rebounder and shot blocker and has become a favorite of coach Larry Brown.
The Bobcats could match any offer Thomas may receive from another team, or Thomas could sign his qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. But Thomas said last week he hoped to stay with the Bobcats long-term.
"They're feeling like they're excited about bringing me back," Thomas said, "and I'm very excited about coming back."
The one thing that the Bobcats have been willing and often successful in doing is make trades. It's how they got Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Chandler, and it may be the only way for Jordan to improve the roster as he prepares for his first full season as majority owner.