What's Up with the Hornets?
*Photo via NBC
The Charlotte Hornets probably provide very little relevance to the average NBA fan, besides the fact they are owned by Michael Jordan. If you are a diehard fan of the Hornets, the way you feel about their offseason may come down to your personal character traits. It can go one of two ways:
If you are a natural optimist, you can be excited that the team may have finally developed an offensive identity and could be ready to compete for a playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference. To the more pessimistic person, you are concerned the team has no long-term plan and is sacrificing sustained success for a low playoff seed.
Looks like I'm a pessimist.
The worst thing you can be in the NBA is mediocre with minimal assets. Sure, making the playoffs as a seven or eight seed and getting swept in the first round will get fans excited and bring in revenue for those two home playoff games. It also offers some experience on the big stage to your young players, but what else? You will miss the lottery and any chance at a top draft pick. This puts front offices in a situation in which they feel the need to throw big money at risky free agents hoping they can take you out of mediocrity and move you up to a top tier team. When inept franchises are put in this position they are often irresponsible (see Lance Stephenson).
I'm very concerned about where this team is headed. I’ve captained the Kemba Walker bandwagon for some time, but let's be honest here, he’s an inefficient point guard signed to a big deal. They traded Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, who have value now and could have been even greater assets in the future, in return for Nicolas Batum. As always, you have to give up talent to get talent and Batum is a talented player. We won't know who won that trade until we see if Vonleh reaches his full potential, which may several years.
The club took Frank Kaminsky with the number nine pick in the draft. I will admit, I am not a college basketball aficionado, but I did see the four-year senior perform in this years tournament. The pick is somewhat of a head scratcher to me. He doesn't show a ceiling much higher than we have already seen. His potential doesn't show an ability to grow outside of the skills he has already shown, as with most four-year seniors. If they were dead set on taking Kaminsky, they probably could have traded down for him and gotten him later. It feels as if they left players on the board that aren't as close to their ceiling (Justise Winslow is the first name that comes to my mind).
To keep your head from spinning from a whirlwind of transactions, we will keep it simple and say they basically moved Lance Stephenson for Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lamb. So now we have an Al Jefferson/Frank Kaminsky combo along with Spencer Hawes in the front-court. Jefferson, Kaminsky, and Hawes may be an ideal frontcourt offensively for Steve Clifford. However, defensively, like most of the roster, the front court leaves a lot to be desired. Knowing this, it is confusing Charlotte chose not to send a qualifying offer to rim protector Bismack Biyombo.
Maybe the team could win me over with their free agent pickups, or maybe not. Charlotte’s big splash this summer was... drumroll... Jeremy Lin. Let’s just say this move doesn't move the needle much for me especially considering he is replacing Mo Williams, who they let walk with very little resistance. They signed former Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough, and this left many people (including me) scratching their head. Hansbrough is, at best, an average player. This is just the latest questionable move in an offseason that should have fans unimpressed and confused. Other than these mediocre moves, they have been relatively quiet this offseason.
Now I suppose I could be more optimistic and focus on how improved offensively the team should be or that the chemistry should be improved with the subtraction of Lance Stephenson. They may be in a better position than they were this time last year, when they banking on Marvin Williams to revive his career and Stephenson to grow into a superstar. Acquiring Batum was a smart move. As inefficient as Walker is at the point, his big contract will look like an average deal once the new salary cap kicks in.
That being said, I'm still concerned about where the team is headed. Really I'm more confused than concerned. Charlotte traded away Noah Vonleh, a top ten pick, in what seemed like a knee-jerk reaction. It feels like the Hornets never really gave him a chance. Now, he will get to develop in Portland, while the Hornets seem to be running uphill with no certainty that a bright future is at the top. They added Spencer Hawes after the worst season of his career, and he's just getting started on a new contract. Trading out Nicolas Batum for Lance Stephenson may be an upgrade and should improve locker room morale. However, Batum will be a free agent next season, making this most likely a one year rental.
The Hornets traded away their future in Vonleh, and replaced it with Kaminsky's limited upside. Then they entered a strange win now state, and signed veterans like Lin and Hansbrough, to fill out the roster instead of opting for youth. The team has set a ceiling which doesn't seem very high and a future that doesn't seem very bright.
These moves led me to question, what exactly are the Hornets doing? What's the ultimate goal? Are Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the core they want to build around for the future? I'm sorry Hornets fans; I do not see this team even contending for a playoff spot.