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Will the Bobcats Ever Use that Cap Room?

10/19/2006

Chris Sheridan does a nice profile of the situation in Charlotte, and the money trouble sounds significant:

Season Two was defined, at least locally, by the fan backlash over steep ticket price increases when the Bobcats moved from the old Charlotte Coliseum to the new uptown arena built with taxpayer funds. With many seats doubling in price, the 'Cats season-ticket base dropped from about 9,000 to 5,800, and the continuing absence of Bobcats games from over-the-air television -- a remnant of the TV deal they signed with Time Warner Cable -- has kept the local populace more apathetic than enthusiastic.

Johnson still doesn't have a naming rights deal for the new arena, though Jordan said he'll do whatever it takes -- playing golf with a CEO, for instance -- to help secure a naming rights deal that will bring in some badly needed cash flow. The Bobcats, who lost between $10 million to $20 million last season, have thus far been unsuccessful in securing a long-term sponsor willing to pay the $3 million to $3.5 million annually that it'll cost to affix a new name to a building that for now is still known as "Charlotte Bobcats Arena."

Charlotte currently has the league's lowest payroll and still must spend another $1.1 million to meet the league-mandated minimum of 75 percent of the cap. If the Bobcats don't spent it on a player, collective bargaining rules require them to send a check for the unused portion of the minimum to the NBA Players Association.

Johnson is developing somewhat of a tightwad reputation, but the true test will come next summer when the Bobcats will have between $20 million and $25 million in cap space. Will Johnson be willing to spend the type of money that will bring in a free agent such as Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis who can take the franchise to the next level? There's that potential cost, along with the contract extensions that are eventually going to have to be negotiated with the team's young core, at least the ones that Jordan thinks are keepers among young building blocks: Emeka Okafor, Adam Morrison, Ray Felton and Sean May, and veterans Gerald Wallace and Primoz Brezec.

I'd imagine Michael Jordan wouldn't have bought in without assurances from owner Bob Johnson that the team would do what it had to be perform at a high level. But still, all that cap space they have next summer by no means makes it certain that the Bobcats will be major players in the free agent market.