Maybe Michael Jordan's team could dangle that salary-cap friendly contract to bring North Carolina native Chris Paul home. Perhaps it could be used in a big deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to town. At worst, the Bobcats could pick up a needed point guard or maybe a center.
In the end, Charlotte didn't fare much better than the Dallas Mavericks, the team that had Dampier earlier this summer.
In a move that helps their bottom line and creates needed financial flexibility but is hard for fans to gets excited about, the Bobcats waived Dampier, a former Mississippi State star, on Tuesday to get below the dreaded luxury tax after being unable to pull off a trade.
Once the 35-year-old Dampier clears waivers, he'll be free to sign with any team, perhaps even the superstar-filled Miami Heat.
"We explored several trade possibilities involving Erick, but ultimately we have been unable to find a viable option that we felt made our team better," Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins said. "Out of respect to Erick, we have decided to release him at this time so he may pursue opportunities with other teams prior to training camp."
The move is key in Jordan's quest to avoid the luxury tax, a dollar-for-dollar penalty when a team's payroll exceeds $70.3 million. Waiving Dampier clears $13 million and leaves the Bobcats about $5 million shy of the tax, but connecting the dots shows just how much Charlotte surrendered to get to that point.
In the summer of 2008, the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor, their starting center and first draft pick, to New Orleans for center Tyson Chandler. After one injury-filled season in Charlotte, the Bobcats sent Chandler and disappointing 2008 first-round pick Alexis Ajinca to Dallas for Dampier and reserves Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.
Waiving Dampier means the Bobcats, in effect, traded the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft for cap relief.
Jordan hinted at a move like this shortly after buying the team outright in the spring. He said they might have to make a decision that looked bad from a basketball standpoint to gain financial flexibility.
A series of moves over the past few years, like acquiring little-used DeSagana Diop and his deal that calls for him to paid about $7 million a season for three more years, put the Bobcats well over the salary cap. And while other moves, such as acquiring Stephen Jackson, helped put the Bobcats in the playoffs for the first time last season, getting under the luxury tax was one of Jordan's top priorities.
Charlotte made no attempt to re-sign starting point guard Raymond Felton, who signed with New York. Chandler's departure left a hole at center.
Dampier, whose seven-year, $73 million deal included a rare playing-time requirement he didn't meet that made the final year of his deal non-guaranteed, could've helped changed Charlotte's roster dramatically.
But like the Mavericks, who couldn't use his contract for their grandiose plans to get LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, the Bobcats couldn't package Dampier in a trade for a star such as the disgruntled Paul or Anthony.
New Orleans refused to trade Paul, a Winston-Salem, N.C., native, and instead sent backup point guard Darren Collison to Indiana. There has been little movement with Anthony, who could leave Denver in free agency next summer.
The Bobcats also considered waiving Dampier and then re-signing him for much less to plug their hole in the middle. But after signing point guard Shaun Livingston to a two-year, $7 million deal, the Bobcats only had had $2.2 million left to spend from the midlevel exception. Dampier declined that deal.
So the Bobcats waited until Monday, when it could've packaged Dampier in a multiplayer trade. But they found no takers for what would've been a complex deal because Charlotte didn't want to take in more than $5 million in salary to stay under the luxury tax.
The Bobcats also faced the danger of holding onto Dampier too long. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in May, and if he was injured the Bobcats wouldn't have been able to dump his salary.
Now the 6-foot-11 Dampier, who has averaged 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in 14 years in the NBA, will go on the market less than two weeks before teams report to training camp, perhaps giving a contender a needed big man.
And the Bobcats head into training camp with a lighter payroll and a thinner roster.