Felton, Chandler Seek Return to Up-and-Coming Bobcats
Point guard Raymond Felton (right), who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, said in an interview with FanHouse before Friday's 87-86 overtime win over Milwaukee he wants to re-sign this summer with the Bobcats. Felton's long-term future with the team was in doubt last summer when he turned down a multi-year deal as a restricted free agent to instead sign a one-year contract.
"No question, this is where I want to be,'' Felton said. "So hopefully we can work something out.''
Then, in a post-game interview with FanHouse, center Tyson Chandler said he doesn't plan to opt out of his contract this summer, meaning he will return next season to the Bobcats rather than become an unrestricted free agent. It's pretty much of a no-brainer decision considering Chandler is due $13.2 million next season, an amount no other team would pay him. Still, he's very enthusiastic about being with the Bobcats.
"I'm sure I'll be here,'' Chandler said. "I'm sure this is going to be where I'm going to be. I'm sure. I'll finish out the final year of my contract. This team is continuing to go in the right direction.''
The future of coach Larry Brown is another story. But a return of Felton and Chandler, who has been on the mend lately after an injury-plagued start to the season, would give the up-and-coming Bobcats all of their key players back for next season. Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw are all under contract.
With Friday's win, the Bobcats (40-35) lowered their magic number for clinching the first playoff berth in the team's six-year history to four. Felton is sure excited about when the Bobcats might clinch, saying it "would be a dream come true for me.''
Felton's enthusiasm for Charlotte wasn't as clear-cut last summer, when general manager Rod Higgins said he turned down a multi-year contract offer. Higgins wouldn't give specifics, but the Charlotte Observer reported last fall the offer was for about $7 million annually, more than the $5.5 million qualifying offer he got in order to become unrestricted this summer.
"We maintained a willingness last summer. We tried to get something done long term,'' Higgins said of negotiations with Felton, in his fifth season. "So we'll continue to see how the season goes. [Felton turning down last summer's offer was] what negotiations are all about. It takes two to tango. You don't take it personal. That's just the way of the business. We all [still like Felton].''
There's been more to like this season, with Felton calling it "probably my best year as a point guard as far as running the team and scoring when I need to.'' Felton is averaging 12.1 points and 5.5 assists, which is down from last season's 14.2 and 6.5. But the Bobcats have an additional backcourt weapon in Jackson and Felton is playing less minutes, with his per-minute averages actually not all that different.
Perhaps most importantly, Felton's turnovers are down and his field-goal percentage has soared from 40.8 to 45.6. Felton struggled Friday, shooting 4-of-15 for 12 points, but in the previous eight games he had shot 61.8 percent while averaging 15.8 points.
"He's had a pretty solid year,''' Brown said. "You know what you can expect from him every night. He tries to guard. He tries to do the right thing. And I think he's getting there. He's had periods this year where he's played at an unbelievably high level.''
Felton didn't want to talk about why he chose to sign a one-year deal last summer. But Felton, a native of South Carolina who played at the University of North Carolina, emphasized Charlotte is where he wants to remain.
"This is where I want to be,'' Felton said. "I mean, this is Charlotte. Charlotte is like home. Close to home. Close to where I went to college at Chapel Hill. It's just like being at home so, of course, I would love to be here.''
As Higgins said, it takes "two to tango.'' But it takes one to tango when it comes to Chandler (right), who holds all the cards as to whether he will return to the Bobcats.
When asked if it wouldn't make sense to walk away from all that money, Chandler said, "Exactly.'' But it's more than that for Chandler, acquired last summer from New Orleans.
"I'm sure this is where I'll be,'' said Chandler, averaging 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. "I love it here. I'm just starting to come in and playing with the guys and being healthy and they're starting to see who I am. We're starting to jell.''
Chandler, who has missed 30 games this season primarily due to ankle and leg problems, said he only recently has fully recovered from left ankle surgery last summer. Chandler never has been one to put up big numbers, but over the past two weeks he's had a 15-point outing, three games of eight or more rebounds and a three-block night.
It was only appropriate Chandler and Felton combined for the game-saving play Friday. With three seconds left in overtime, Chandler tapped out a rebound to Felton, who ran out the clock to secure the win.
The two would like to combine for some more key plays next season in Charlotte.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter@christomasson