Troy Hudson, Ryan Humphrey, and Steven Hunter

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Bobcats must select at least 14 players in the expansion draft and can take as many as 29. The Bobcats will be looking for contracts that expire within the next three years at most, for veterans that can mentor younger players, and for health. They will have their opportunities to take players like Troy Hudson from the Timberwolves, who has health problems as well as a player option this offseason, but they would likely pass. They will also have opportunities to take players still on their rookie contracts, such as Ryan Humphrey of the Grizzlies and Steven Hunter of the Magic: these are not wily veterans but rather seasons professionals who can make an instant contribution, and can also be packaged together as trade bait later for other teams looking to get younger.

Troy Hudsonhas a player option this year, and if he exercises it before the expansion draft, he will not be available to the Bobcats except as a free agent. It is not clear if he intends to test the free market this offseason. He has suffered a lot of problems with his ankle, though when he is healthy, he is a dynamic point guard who can score virtually at will. And he's fearless. Yet if the Bobcats are looking to take injured stars, they will probably be able to pick up Grant Hill of the Magic. Most likely, given the spate of options available to them, the Bobcats will shy away from health concerns and player options.

While they do want some veteran leadership, they would not necessarily be making a huge mistake in considering players still on their rookie contracts. If the players have been performing well, they will tend to be underpaid relative to their value. When the contract expires in several years and their value grows to market price, then the Bobcats can either release them, trade them, or sign them to an extension. Furthermore, when the rookie contracts include a team option, how can you go wrong?

To such rookies areRyan Humphreyof the Grizzlies andSteven Hunterof the Magic. Humphrey is a two-year veteran out of Notre Dame who has already played with two different teams (Memphis and Orlando), and was drafted by a third (Utah). He has never averaged more than 10 minutes per game. His career field-goal percentage is a shocking 29 percent; for a forward that doesn't take any threes that's a low number. Unfortunately, Humphrey hasn't yet shown much to make himself stand out from the crowd. He will be earning $5.3 million over the four years ending in 2006, with a team option that offseason.

Hunter, meanwhile, is a three-year veteran center/forward of the same single team that selected him with the 15th overall pick of the 2001 draft. His minutes have increased consistently to about 13.5 per game this past season. Most impressively, his field-goal percentage is a much more palatable and attractive 50.6 percent over his career. Unfortunately, however, he can't hit his free throws more than once out of two tries. His career free throw percentage is at 46.4 percent, and this past season was his worst to date, as he shot a Shaq-esque 33.3 percent from the line. Hunter has shown flashes of ability, including a double-double in Dallas 13 months ago. Because he was selected as a sophomore, he is only 23 years old, and could be an interesting building block for the Bobcats. He is also on his rookie contract, earning $6.2 million over the four years ending in 2005, with a team option that offseason.

The Bobcats have many choices, and while some of them might be crossed off for health reasons, or production reasons, or financial reasons, sometimes everything comes together and a true gem can be found.

The Bobcats schedule will be announced in late July.

174 days until opening night.


Robert MacLeod ofThe Globe and Mailwrites: This is a busy time of the year for the NBA clubs as they assess players eligible for the draft on June 24. They must also determine the eight players who will be protected for the expansion draft on June 22 that will help stock the Charlotte Bobcats, who will begin play next season.

K.C. Johnson ofThe Chicago Tribune writes: And if the Bulls wind up with the fifth or sixth pick—the expansion Charlotte Bobcats draft fourth—they will ask Commissioner David Stern to cancel the 2004-05 season.That last far-fetched scenario—and attempt at gallows humor—is about as likely as, say, Okafor withdrawing from the draft. But it underscores the importance of the Bulls getting one of the top three picks in the draft lottery, for their future and their flexibility.