Charlotte Hornets lose free agent Josh McRoberts to the Miami Heat

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJuly 7, 2014 

— Back in October, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan said one of his biggest concerns was that power forward Josh McRoberts might exercise the opt-out in his contract.

Eight months later, Jordan’s worry was justified. After opting out last month, 6-foot-10 McRoberts decided Monday he’ll sign with the Miami Heat. ESPN, which first reported the deal, said McRoberts will get a four-year, $23 million contract with a player option after the third season.

As a team over the salary cap, that’s the most the Heat could offer – its mid-level exception. The Hornets, with abundant cap room, had the resources to offer more.

This is a huge raise over the $2.7 million McRoberts was scheduled to make under the terms of the contract he voided.

McRoberts’ agent, Mike Conley Sr., told the Observer the Heat offered slightly more than the Hornets’ best offer. Conley added that McRoberts struggled with the choice because of his relationship with Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

“He just labored over it because he so loves Clifford,” Conley said.

McRoberts’ departure means the Hornets lost their starting power forward and a key component to their ball-movement and spacing. McRoberts averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He shot 36 percent from 3-point range. But those numbers don’t fully convey his value.

“The success of this team is McRoberts – how well he can connect the dots,” Jordan said during last preseason.

McRoberts had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the NBA last season at 4:1. He was crucial to the then-Bobcats’ ability to swing the ball effectively from side to side offensively.

Clifford said several times after the season that retaining McRoberts was a priority. When the Hornets used the No. 9 overall pick to draft Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh last month, Clifford immediately texted McRoberts to reinforce that selection didn’t diminish McRoberts’ value in Charlotte.

The Hornets do have a stock of power forwards, having used their past two top-10 picks on Vonleh and 7-footer Cody Zeller. After a slow start, Zeller improved notably in the final two months of his rookie season. He averaged six points and 4.3 rebounds, being named second-team All-Rookie.

“I’m going to miss him a lot on and off the court. He taught me the ropes of the NBA,” Zeller said following summer-league practice Monday. “I feel very fortunate to spend at least one year in NBA with him. Obviously it’s a great opportunity for him.”

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell

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