CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The slow trickle of player departures began last summer. Now owner Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats are leaving no doubt that they’re in rebuilding mode.
And it could be a slow, painful process.
A dizzying three-hour stretch Thursday virtually eliminated the final elements of the Bobcats’ last and only playoff team in 2010. What’s left makes Charlotte one of the youngest, thinnest and inexperienced teams in the NBA.
“I wouldn’t necessarily view it as a step back,” general manager Rich Cho said. “We got two top-10 picks.”
Hours before the draft began Thursday night, the Bobcats agreed to send top scorer Stephen Jackson and backup point guard Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee in a three-team trade that netted the No. 7 pick from Sacramento and forward Corey Maggette from the Bucks.
Charlotte used the seventh pick on athletic forward Bismack Biyombo. The 18-year-old Congo native could be years from being a significant contributor. Cho also acknowledged Biyombo has a “dispute” with his Spanish team over the terms of a contract buyout, but expects it to be resolved before next season.
The Bobcats used the ninth selection on Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker, an explosive scorer, but who at 6-foot-1 seemingly doesn’t fit in a backcourt that already includes the undersized, 6-foot D.J. Augustin.
The Bobcats gave up the 19th pick to Milwaukee in the Jackson trade, and later sold their second-round pick, 39th overall, to Golden State for $2 million. So not even late in the draft did the Bobcats address their lack of a true small forward following Jackson’s departure.
In the span of less than a year, the Bobcats have traded Jackson, sent former All-Star Gerald Wallace to Portland for draft picks, dealt Tyson Chandler to Dallas for salary-cap space and made no effort to re-sign point guard Raymond Felton.
The remaining roster includes no true, healthy center, a giant hole at small forward and no proven, consistent scorer on a team that went just 34-48 last season _ a year that also included coach Larry Brown’s dismissal.
The moves do mean the Bobcats will have plenty of salary-cap space next summer when a crop of players that could include Chris Paul and Dwight Howard might become free agents. And while the Bobcats owe Chicago a first-round pick from a previous trade, it’s lottery protected in 2012.
“We’re trying to sustain success over a long period of time,” president of basketball operations Rod Higgins said. “The success, hopefully, is not far away.”
But it would appear the short-term prospects are dim, and coach Paul Silas will have plenty of teaching to do as he enters the last year of his contract.
Biyombo is an athletic, shot-blocker and rebounder with limited offensive skills. He also looked much shorter than his listed 6-9 when he worked out for the Bobcats Wednesday. But Cho, who went to Spain to work him out, pushed to take him.
“When I was with Oklahoma City and we drafted (fellow Congo native) Serge Ibaka, nobody knew who he was,” Cho said. “Bismack’s got a long way to go before he’s the player Serge is, but he’s got a lot of physical tools.”
Walker, the star of this spring’s NCAA tournament, averaged 23.5 points and put on a dazzling display in leading the Huskies to the Big East and NCAA titles. Without Jackson, the Bobcats will need to find scoring in any place they can find it.
But in giving up Livingston, the Bobcats are left with two point guards each 6-1 or shorter, which could lead to major matchup problems on defense.
“Now that I’m with Charlotte I’m going to try to bring a winning attitude,” Walker said. “I’m going to work extremely hard to get better. I’m not 6-3, 6-4, but I have a big heart.”
Jackson’s departure leaves Charlotte without its captain and leader. A volatile player who collected technical fouls but also wasn’t afraid to take big shots, Jackson stayed away from off-court problems that had plagued him in earlier stops and averaged 18.5 points last season despite several injuries.
“He loved it here in Charlotte and he was disappointed,” Higgins said. “He felt he could be a piece to help us get back to the playoffs. But he understands the business. I’m sure it’s an emotional time for him, but he’s a pro. He’ll suit up wherever he goes.”
Maggette, who has a similar contract to Jackson and is owed just over $21 million over the next two seasons, failed to become Milwaukee’s sixth man last season following ankle surgery. It’s uncertain what kind of role the former Duke star will play on a team that will need scoring.
The Bobcats, who brought in Cho to the front office last week, made it clear they were looking to deal before the draft. And the moves may not be finished.
Thursday’s deal marks the 16th trade made by the Bobcats since Jordan become a part-owner with the final say on personnel decisions in 2006. Jordan bought the team outright last year.
“We’re always going to be looking to improve the team,” Cho said.
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