Five Things To Watch: Charlotte Bobcats

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bobcats small logoThis offseason was an eventful one for the Bobcats and their fans. It started the same as the previous one: looking for a new coach. This time, the search did not last quite as long as they snapped up long-time Jeff Van Gundy assistant Steve Clifford. Then they stunned analysts and fans alike at the draft by selecting Cody Zeller over Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Alex Len at fourth overall.

With newfound financial flexibility because of DeSagana Diop’s expiring contract, the Bobcats played more aggressively in free agency. They set their sights squarely on former Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson, a big man with an offensive arsenal in the post the team has never had. After years of languishing in the paint struggling to get much offense out of Bismack Biyombo or Byron Mullens, the Bobcats leapt at the chance to sign Jefferson for about $41 million over three years.

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Nets Edge Knicks at MSG; Curry Too Hot For Clippers

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Now 11-2 under coach P.J. Carlesimo, the Nets rode the hot hand of Joe Johnson (25 PTS, 5 AST, 3 REB) at the beginning and end of an excellent game. Brooklyn earns temporary NYC bragging rights and is now just one game back of the Knicks in the Atlantic Division.

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The Free Agency Scrapheap

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We are down to the bargain bin of free agency.

Reduced for clearance! Everything must go! Up to 90 percent off!

Yes, we know Mickael Pietrus and Derek Fisher aren’t exactly scrap heap material. Both were key players for playoff teams last season, as were Leandro Barbosa and Kenyon Martin.

But most of what is left falls into three categories: Olympians, amnesty victims and veterans too proud to take minimum deals.

There is some variety remaining at both forward spots and shooting guard but little left at center and the point.

Here’s a positional look at the 20 best available free agents.

SMALL FORWARD

MICKAEL PIETRUS: Became a victim of a money game in Boston, which is strange given that the Celtics still don’t have a true backup for Paul Pierce. Agent Bill McCandless has said Pietrus won’t play for the minimum, which may mean he is headed overseas.

JOSH HOWARD: Can still have an impact off the bench as a slasher and defender. Once a borderline knucklehead, his experience could help a young team in need of a veteran presence.

MATT BARNES: The irony here is that last season, Barnes was the best of an awful group of Lakers small forwards that included Metta World Peace, Devin Ebanks, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono. Now he is unemployed and apparently being stalked by cops. Hard to imagine his toughness and experience not being valued by any team.

ANTHONY TOLLIVER: Like Pietrus in Boston, one of the odd men out in Minnesota. There is some interest from Washington, Charlotte and Indiana, as there should be for an athletic 27-year-old combo forward with arc range.

MARTELL WEBSTER: Since he was waived by Minnesota, there has been virtually no buzz around him. That’s strange, given that he is still just 25 with good size and athleticism. Maybe it’s his haircut, one of the worst in the NBA in some time.

ALONZO GEE: Did not sign a $2.7 million qualifying offer from Cleveland, looking for a better offer that never came and never will. If he returns to the Cavaliers, he will now have to battle C.J. Miles for minutes.

TERRENCE WILLIAMS: Could be the steal of free agency – or a huge headache. When given minutes, has shown awesome skills for the 3-spot. Has also shown himself to be a clown and doesn’t seem to be in Sacramento’s plans. He needs to land where he can play rather than just deepening a bench.

POWER FORWARD

KENYON MARTIN: Still available because he wanted more than a minimum deal, based on his defense, toughness and 100 career playoff games. But he is 34 and has had two microfracture surgeries. Philadelphia, Phoenix and the LA Lakers all could use his snarl.

ANDRAY BLATCHE: Undoubtedly the most talented player with the biggest upside on this list. Also has the most work to do in rebuilding his wrecked reputation, which has him on the verge of being out of the league at age 25. Amnesty victim has $25 million coming over the next three years, so he should pick a place that will afford him minutes and the right surroundings. San Antonio has been mentioned and would be ideal.

LOUIS AMUNDSON: Always seems to be overmatched but always finds a way to contribute. Still not yet 30 and would be an ideal fourth or fifth big on any roster. He may be holding out for the mini-midlevel exception with a contender.

YI JIANLIAN: Could a 7-foot stretch-4 really be done at age 24? He averaged 15 points and 10 boards in group play in the Olympics, not a bad audition after sinking to the end of the bench in Dallas last season. If he returned to China, he would instantly become the league’s biggest homegrown star. But he wants to play in the NBA.

D.J. WHITE: His 36-minute numbers last season (12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds) were not bad. The question remains can he do it with a team other than Charlotte, which had no interest in bringing him back. Also may be hoping for a mini-midlevel deal somewhere.

CENTER

DARKO MILICIC: He has $7 million due over the next two years as part of his amnesty release. Given his size and age (27), he can be a little picky regarding minimum deals. Would be a good fit for any team with a defensive-minded starting center because he can put the ball in the hole a little.

JERMAINE O’NEAL: His experience makes him a nice addition who can back up the center and power forward spots. It is hard to believe he is just 33 because he has looked 43 at times over the last couple of years. He claims to be healthy now, but still no one is biting.

CHRIS ANDERSEN: Apparently not looking for more than the veteran’s minimum; with $9 milion due via amnesty over the next two years, that seems like smart way to continue his career. However, he also has some legal issues hanging over his head.

SHOOTING GUARD

LEANDRO BARBOSA: Led Brazil in scoring at 15 points per game through Olympic group play and probably will have plenty of offers as long as he emerges healthy, which has been an issue in the past. The Lakers and Cavaliers are said to be interested, with LA offering a chance at a title and the Cavs able to offer more money and minutes.

CARLOS DELFINO: Has always had an inflated opinion of himself, so it’s not surprising he is unsigned, especially considering he is still playing in the Olympics. Undersized for small forward and not quick enough for shooting guard but could back up both positions.

MICHAEL REDD: Nowhere near the player he was in his prime but still a dead-eye shooter who bounced back a bit last season in Phoenix. Was that due to the awesome work by the training staff of the Suns? His agent says he is taking his time picking a team, but his name has been quiet this summer.

LESTER HUDSON: Averaged nearly 13 points in 13 games with Cleveland – which let his second 10-day deal expire. Then Memphis signed him – and did not make a qualifying offer. Already 28, he is worth a one-year deal as a fifth or sixth guard.

POINT GUARD

DEREK FISHER: If he wasn’t so steadfast in wanting more than the veteran’s minimum, he would have been snapped up long ago. Even though he turns 38 this month, his postseason with the Thunder showed he has plenty left in the tank both on and off the court. Might still get an exception from a contender.

JANNERO PARGO: Not really a point guard but can handle the ball for brief stretches. Those who consider him a journeyman should note that he has played 40 playoff games – and averaged double figures in two postseasons. He has no fear of taking a big shot.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. During the season, his columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.

Fantasy Spin: Wednesday March 7

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The lowly Charlotte Hornets upset the Magic as Corey Maggette scored 29 points and teenager Bismack Biyombo, matched up against Dwight Howard, had 10 PTS, 15 REB and 7 BLK. Boris Diaw, who wants to be traded or released, was benched in favor of D.J. White. This is fantasy gold in some deep leagues. You can pick up White as a FA, then get Diaw ridiculously cheap and hope he ends up in a better situation. If you already own Boris, my sympathy.

Elsewhere

ATL @ IND: Once again it was Josh Smith (27 & 9) leading the way as the Hawks have won three straight. Jannero Pargo (16 PTS) is outplaying Kirk Hinrich (2 PTS) and may stay in the rotation even when Joe Johnson is back. David West had 24 for the Pacers and George Hill (15 PTS, 6 REB) appears back up to full speed.

HOU @ BOS: With 11 points and 17 boards from Samuel Dalembert in 41 minutes, the Rockets fully extended Boston. Paul Pierce had 30 and Ray Allen 21 as the Celtics won in overtime.

LAL @ DET: Kobe Bryant scored “only” 22 as the Pistons shocked the Lakers despite a monster line from Andrew Bynum (30 PTS, 14 REB, 3 BLK). Rodney Stuckey led the upset with 34 points and Ben Gordon chipped in 15.

NJN @ MIA: Chris Bosh returned with 20 points, Dwayne Wade played just 15 minutes after tweaking his ankle and everyone on both benches saw extra action in this rout. The Nets trailed 64-37 at halftime and are in big trouble with Shelden Williams at C against most teams.

NYK @ DAL: Tyson Chandler got his championship ring but that was the main highlight for the Knicks, along with 26 points by Amare Stoudemire. Dirk Nowitzki had 28 for the victorious Mavs, with the energetic Rodrigue Beaubois adding 18 in less than 20 minutes.

Wednesday Night

The Spin is here Monday through Saturday at 8:00 Eastern and Sundays at noon. Follow me on Twitter for updates or to ask questions. With 13 games this evening, it’s “moving day” in H2H leagues and my WPG (words per game) will be low.

UTA @ CHA: If Maggette and Biyombo stay hot, could the Bobcats win two in a row? Gordon Hayward had a great game as the sixth man in a revamped Jazz rotation.

HOU @ TOR: The Rockets have lost four straight road games (including an OT heartbreaker last night) and the Raptors usually play tough D. Scoring might come from DeMar DeRozan and there are whispers about Andrea Bargnani playing one of the weekend games.

LAL @ WAS: Angry with themselves for losing last night, the Lakers will take it out on the Wizards. Nick Young came off the bench for 25 in his return from a 1-game absence.

BOS @ PHI: Was the Sixers’ lineup shuffle a temporary thing? If Evan Turner keeps starting over Jodie Meeks, the sophomore could finish the season strong.

ATL @ MIA: Dwayne Wade wasn’t needed last night after rolling his ankle but says he’s good to go. LeBron James might still get a few extra touches.

POR @ MIN: Kevin Love scores, rebounds, hits threes and is money from the free throw line. Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is iffy. Derrick Williams has been coming on of late. For the Blazers, sorting out PG between Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford is an ongoing problem.

LAC @ NJN: We always like watching Chris Paul and Deron Williams square off, but the Clippers are way too good up front and the Nets are hurting. Blake Griffin could have a field day.

CHI @ MIL: It’s been a frustrating year for Richard Hamilton, whose latest injury is to his shoulder. Ronnie Brewer will pick up minutes while Rip is sidelined. Brandon Jennings has been playing well for the undermanned Bucks.

PHO @ OKC: The Suns are on a modest win streak, but the Thunder are 16-1 at home. Marcin Gortat is a double-double machine, but Steve Nash could have trouble keeping up with Russell Westbrook.

NYK @ SAS: The Texas trip is never easy. After losing in Dallas last night, the Knicks face another tough opponent. Carmelo Anthony must play better than that 2-12 debacle last night. Manu Ginobili played 24 minutes in his return from an oblique injury and is still getting fit.

CLE @ DEN: Danilo Gallinari and Nene are back, they just need to get into game shape and rediscover their timing. Talented rookie Kenneth Faried should still get minutes. The Cavs rely on Kyrie Irving and Antawn Jamison, but that may not be enough.

NOH @ SAC: Gotta like Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton to continue scoring in this one, as the Hornets are slumping. Chris Kaman, very much on the trade block, has been their best player.

MEM @ GSW: The supposedly imminent return of Zach Randolph (knee) remains on hold, so Marreese Speights remains a starter. He might have trouble with David Lee, but the key for the Warriors is whether Stephen Curry is fully healthy.

Draft Street Shuffle

Sure Things Over $14,000
L. James $24,311
K. Durant $19,373
K. Love $19,140
T. Lawson $17,540
Bargains Under $9,000
E. Udoh $7,602
N. Young $7,618
R. Brewer $7,700
S. Novak $6,636
Hunches $9,000 to $14,000
K. Irving $13,983
T. Evans $13,979
R. Foye $7,637
C. Maggette $9,023

Last night I spent $19 total in five leagues and didn’t come close to a payoff. Being down 26 bucks for the week is OK, as the learning curve continues. It was my own fault for using Carmelo Anthony and Kirk Hinrich.

I’ve said the Pick ‘Em format, with eight tiers instead of a salary cap, is good for beginners, because you don’t need to know the 7-8 best players on all 30 teams. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to win, of course, just easy to play. Trying a $5 Pick ‘Em league tonight, along with $2 and $5 Salary Cap leagues.

Today’s salaries for Nick Young and Ekpe Udoh are particularly enticing. It’s predicting which expensive stars will shine that I’m finding more difficult. Given the possibility that D-Wade is not 100%, LBJ may be worth every penny of his high price tag.

It’s easy to join Draft Street where you can try all the versions, including a Snake-Draft, in free leagues that offer credits and prizes.

Fantasy Spin: Monday, Feb. 27

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There will be better recaps of the All-Star game than mine, because the main fantasy takeaway is Kobe Bryant’s broken nose and Luol Deng falling on his already very sore wrist. Neither returned, but both are warriors who won’t miss many games, if any. Andrew Bynum was a surprise starter after having his knee injected two days earlier, and lasted just five minutes.

We’re going around the league today, in alphabetical order. The string of numbers after each team is games remaining by week, not a zip code. If you’re focused more on making the playoffs, look closely at the first five digits. To add extra GP during the playoffs, it’s the last four weeks. For example, the Spurs are just 3-2-4-3-3 in the remainder of the regular season for most fantasy leagues, but finish 4-4-5-3 to help their H2H owners in the playoffs.

It’s one more consideration as your league’s trade deadline approaches. For more of my trading tips, see Saturday’s Spin if you missed it.

ATL 3-4-4-5-4-3-3-4-2 Josh Smith is a fantasy all-star and Joe Johnson will be if he’s healthy. I’m not bullish on Jeff Teague, but he’s better than Kirk Hinrich. Just before the break, Jannero Pargo was playing well.

BOS 4-4-4-4-4-4-5-3-2 It’s a four-man team. The fifth-best Celtic in fantasy is Brandon Bass, who should be back soon. Mikael Pietrus is the only other bench player worth owning.

CHA 3-4-4-3-4-4-5-4-3 As bad as the Bobcats are, they are often overlooked by fantasy owners. Gerald Henderson is a great pickup if he’s been dropped, and Bismack Biyombo is intriguing, especially in keeper leagues. Although D.J. Augustin starts, Kemba Walker usually finishes.

CHI 4-4-4-3-4-3-3-4-2 Derrick Rose owners (and Bulls fans) just hope he stays healthy. C.J. Watson is a nice handcuff, assuming he’s OK after concussion symptoms. Almost forgotten because he’s missed so many games, Richard Hamilton could still have an impact.

CLE 4-4-3-4-4-4-5-4-3 With 16 games in the playoffs, Antawn Jamison is a sneaky trade target. Kyrie Irving is terrific, and Anderson Varejao was having his best season before getting hurt. My fantasy crush is Tristan Thompson.

DAL 4-5-3-4-3-4-4-4-1 We rarely mention Dirk Nowitzki. He’s owned, he’s not being shopped, and he’s remarkably consistent. Shawn Marion is still contributing, but Vince Carter shows only intermittent flashes of his former self.

DEN 3-4-3-4-4-3-4-4-2 Once Ty Lawson is 100% healthy, Andre Miller will go back to reserve duty — unless he’s traded. Until Danilo Gallinari returns, Corey Brewer could continue to be useful.

DET 3-3-4-3-4-4-4-4-2 Greg Monroe is great to own, there’s still some life in Tayshaun Prince and the three combo guards (Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon) are all capable of big scoring outbursts.

GSW 4-4-4-5-4-4-4-5-2 The diagnosis for Stephen Curry is a sprained deltoid ligament in his right foot. Not sure about his status this week, with Nate Robinson the best backup plan. Monta Ellis and David Lee are reliable, but other Warriors are consistently inconsistent.

HOU 4-4-4-3-4-3-4-5-1 Somehow, Kyle Lowry is still slightly under the radar compared to other elite PG. Kevin Martin has been one of the Rockets to feel the playing-time wrath of Kevin McHale, but Samuel Dalembert may be locked in the doghouse, making Patrick Patterson more valuable.

IND 2-4-4-4-5-4-4-4-2 George Hill is back, serving as the main backup to Darren Collison and Paul George. He’s a decent option in mid-sized leagues. The Pacers starters are all good fantasy plays, the bench not so much, except for Tyler Hansbrough.

LAC 4-4-5-4-4-4-4-4-2 That’s a great schedule over the next five weeks. The problem is, the six best Clippers are owned everywhere, and there’s really nobody else to recommend. I was briefly on the Kenyon Martin bandwagon, as he ate into the minutes of DeAndre Jordan, but K-Mart’s body is breaking down.

LAL 3-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-1 Here’s where monitoring the NBA trade news is critical. There are countless rumors about Pau Gasol leaving and all kinds of players have been mentioned as coming in. The Lakers need a PG, a SF and an offensive spark off the bench. If Michael Beasley ends up in L.A., grab him.

MEM 3-3-3-4-3-5-5-4-2 Very quietly, without Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have stayed in the hunt. When Z-Bo returns — soon — Marreese Speights could be a useful seventh man. All the starters and O.J. Mayo are fantasy assets.

MIA 3-3-4-3-4-4-4-5-2 What’s not to like? The big three are playing very well, Mario Chalmers is shooting over 50%, Udonis Haslem finally seems healthy and Norris Cole makes the most of his minutes.

MIL 4-4-3-4-4-4-4-3-3 The absence of Andrew Bogut is probably worse for Scott Skiles than for the Aussie’s fantasy owners. Drew Gooden was filling in admirably until he got hurt. That leaves Ersan Ilyasova to grab a lot of REB, and undersized rookie Jon Leuer starting at C.

MIN 4-4-4-4-4-3-4-4-1 The rotation is settling. Luke Ridnour is the SG and J.J. Barea the primary backup guard. Darko Milicic got Wally Pipp-ed (please excuse a baseball reference from the 1920’s) by Nikola Pekovic. The T-Wolves continue to use Wesley Johnson at SF, but it’s just not coming together yet for the sophomore.

NJN 3-4-4-4-4-4-3-3-2 Another team beset by trade rumors. Will they add Dwight Howard or lose Deron Williams? Until the dust settles on March 15, we can only guess. Yesterday, colleague Marc Kravitz made the excellent suggestion of stashing Jordan Farmar, just in case.

NOR 4-4-4-3-5-3-4-4-2 As Grievis Vasquez keeps playing well, he’s earned a timeshare with Jarrett Jack. While Eric Gordon is out indefinitely, Marco Bellinelli is the SG. Up front, it’s an injury-riddled mess, with Chris Kaman and Gustavo Ayon holding the fort until Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry and/or Jason Smith can play.

NYK 2-4-4-4-4-3-4-4-2 Suddenly, there are “too many” weapons. Landry Fields is the least-secure starter because J.R. Smith will get lots of run off the bench. Deep leaguers note: Josh Harrelson is almost back, though with Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak playing well, there’s a minutes crunch.

OKC 3-4-4-4-3-4-4-4-2 A very nice team, just hard to use in fantasy unless you own one of the stars. For now, Daequon Cook is starting for injured Thabo Sefalosha, but James Harden takes over early for either one.

ORL 3-4-4-3-4-3-4-4-2 It’s not easy for the other Magic players to concentrate, let alone Dwight Howard. Until the trade deadline has passed, all we know for sure is that Ryan Anderson was this year’s best value pick in most drafts.

PHI 4-4-3-4-3-4-3-4-3 Injuries in the middle have slowed the Sixers somewhat. Spencer Hawes won’t be fully healthy all year, leaving rookies Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen to learn the NBA the hard way. I love the Philly bench, though Evan Turner has been a slight disappointment.

PHO 3-3-5-4-3-4-4-4-2 They are old, not really in the playoff hunt, and only Marcin Gortat can be called consistent. Channing Frye is all-or-nothing, Steve Nash may get more “surprise” rest days and Grant Hill has been plagued all year by various aches and pains.

POR 3-4-4-4-4-4-4-3-2 Just before the break, Jamal Crawford started at PG and Raymond Felton came off the bench. What a perfect spot for the return of Andre Miller in a trade. Wesley Matthews is now the sixth man, as Nicolas Batum is finally starting.

SAC 4-4-4-3-4-5-4-3-2 Fantasy coach of the year Keith Smart turned DeMarcus Cousins from problem child to asset, inserted Isaiah Thomas at PG to free up Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton on the wings, and recently benched an ineffective John Salmons for Francisco Garcia. The Kings are much improved.

SAS 3-2-4-4-3-4-4-5-3 Note the terrible schedule the next five weeks. It will be much better to own Spurs in the H2H playoffs. A sneaky value play could be backup PG T.J. Ford, who has missed the last 24 games with a sore hamstring but is near a return.

TOR 4-4-4-4-4-4-4-3-2 If Jose Calderon is traded as rumored, run to the waiver wire for Jerryd Bayless. I’m hoping Linas Kleiza returns this week; he can be quite productive as the main bench scorer. Leandro Barbosa may also be moved; he’s not a favorite of defence-first coach Dwane Casey and may blossom in a new situation.

UTA 4-4-5-4-4-4-4-3-2 The epitome of a borderline-useful fantasy PG is Devin Harris, who might lose his job if Earl Watson was just a little bit better option. SG is a revolving door; Josh Howard has been the beneficiary while Raja Bell is injured. Keeper leaguers, think about Alec Burks and Enes Kanter for next year.

WAS 3-3-5-4-4-4-4-3-3 John Wall, Nick Young and JaVale McGee should be in your lineups, Jordan Crawford is explosive off the bench and rookie Jan Vesely has a future.

Tomorrow, at last, we get back to games that matter — the ones that count in fantasy leagues. I’ll be here bright and early (early for sure) with a Tuesday preview and more free advice. Until then, see you on Twitter.