CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Having discarded the label of NBA's worst team, Michael Jordan's Bobcats are hoping to build off this season's momentum heading into a crucial offseason for the nine-year-old NBA franchise.
The Jordan-owned Bobcats tripled their win total from a season ago and finished 21-61, a game ahead of the Orlando Magic. It was a marked improvement over their 7-59 record last season, the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history.
"I want more wins," coach Mike Dunlap said. "I never thought that we were going to blink our eyes and have 35 wins. I thought it was always going to be a slog. We're slowly moving this thing around and again, what's perspective? The worst team in the history of the NBA (last season), all right, so how you go from seven wins to, say, 40 wins? That's pretty tough to do.
"So I'm proud of the fact of what's going on in the last month. There's a verve that the team's playing with that's undeniable."
But while Dunlap was happy his team finished the season strong on a three-game win streak to pull out of the NBA cellar, he fully understands there is still plenty of work to be done before the Bobcats are a serious playoff contender.
"We need some help in terms of our size, for sure," Dunlap said. "Rebounding was an issue all year long. And we need shooters. We need to shoot the 3-ball better."
Gerald Henderson couldn't agree more.
Henderson, the team's two-guard, was the Charlotte's best post-up player this season which illustrates the team's need for a big man — perhaps a free agent like Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson — who can play effectively on the low block.
"To have a big be able post up and do that and have the guards be able to play on the perimeter would be a plus," Henderson said.
For the second straight year the Bobcats struggled shooting from long distance, hitting just 33.5 percent from 3-point range, fourth-worst in the league.
"With a lot of teams they have guys out there just to shoot 3s, especially good teams," Henderson said. "They have a guy out there who will knock your head off with the 3-ball. We have good 3-point shooters but we don't have a cold shooter."
The Bobcats have the means to upgrade at both positions.
They'll likely have a high lottery pick and up to $21 million to work with in free agency if they use the amnesty clause on seldom-used forward Tyrus Thomas, who is owed slightly more than $18 million over the next two seasons.
While the Bobcats would still have to pay Thomas, removing him from the roster immediately saves $8.7 million under this year's salary cap as part of the one-time league rule.
The Bobcats will still carry Ben Gordon's $13.2 million contract into next season — a deal they agreed to as part of acquiring a future first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons — but should be in even better shape cap-wise in 2014.
Dunlap said he's particularly excited about the Bobcats young backcourt with Kemba Walker and Henderson, both of whom showed tremendous progress in the final two months of the season and combined to average 33.2 points per game.
Henderson is a restricted free agent the Bobcats want to re-sign.
Charlotte also got surprisingly solid production from power forward Josh McRoberts, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent who started the final 19 games after being acquired from the Magic at the trade deadline.
Former lottery pick and starting center Bismack Biyombo and rookie small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor also figure into the team's future plans.
The Bobcats started the season 7-5 and then were derailed by an 18-game losing streak.
But they closed strong, particularly at home where they won eight of their last 10 games, including three straight to finish the season.
Henderson believes the Bobcats are headed in the right direction and is eager to see what the front office does in the offseason.
"We had a better season than we did last year," Henderson said. "I thought we underachieved this year but we're headed in the right direction. Coming in next year guys will improve and build on what we did this year."
Walker echoed that sentiment.
''I think we can compete with anyone in the league when we want to," he said. "We just have to be more consistent."