• Russell Schmidt

NBA Future Rankings 23. Charlotte Hornets


*Photo via AP

After making the 2013-14 postseason with a 43-39 record, the rebranded Charlotte Hornets were poised to improve with the acquisition of Lance Stephenson. One year later, Stephenson is no longer with the team and Charlotte found themselves back in the lottery. The Hornets are currently stuck in no-man’s-land as a mediocre team; they are not good enough to contend, but they are also not bad enough to land a top pick.

The Hornets have an interesting blend of veterans and young talent that may be good enough to reach the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.

After this season the Hornets may go through another rebrand; there are only four players ($22MM) currently under contract for the 2016-17 season. Three other Hornets have contract options, and another three are potential restricted free agents. With RealGM projecting the cap around $90 million, the Hornets could have enough cap space to buy an insane amount of retro J’s. Like $45+ million worth.

Three key players the Hornets will have to evaluate for a new deal after this season are Nic Batum (unrestricted), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (restricted), and Al Jefferson (unrestricted). Batum has proven during his time in Portland, that he is an extremely valuable jack-of-all-trades player. With Batum and the incumbent MKG both traditionally playing small forward, it’ll be interesting to see how they fit, as both will be starting. With Kidd-Gilchrist, a top defender, being matched up on the opponent’s best wing, the versatile Batum will need to be aggressive on offense this season.

The biggest question for the Hornets will be what to do with Al Jefferson. After averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in 2013-14, his first season with the Hornets, those numbers fell to 16.6 and 8.4. The drop can be somewhat attributed to injuries (Jefferson missed 17 games), and should concern the Hornets. Jefferson is now 30 years old entering the last year of his contract. While an excellent post scorer and rebounder, Jefferson has always been a subpar defender. Before giving Jefferson a big extension after this season the Hornets must consider Jefferson’s possible regression as he ages.

*Photo via USA Today

The Hornets most questionable move of the offseason was on draft night. With the 9th pick in the draft the Hornets were rumored to be targeting Frank Kaminsky, the player they would wind up drafting. The selection itself was a solid pick, but a rumored trade proposal from the Celtics would have been better. According to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, the Celtics offered the Hornets a package of six draft picks (four first round picks) for the ninth pick in order to select Justise Winslow. If this rumored trade proposal was true, the Hornets would have been better off taking the picks than Kaminsky.

With an uncertain roster, it’s difficult to project where the Charlotte Hornets will be a couple of years. ‘Buzz City’ has just four postseason appearances since the turn of the century; cap space may not sell top tier free agents. The Hornets also haven’t selected a star since they drafted Baron Davis in ’99. It’s only right that Charlotte comes in at 23.

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Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com, ESPN.com

Salary cap and contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com, Hoopshype.com, Basketballinsiders.com

Future draft commitments and rosters information courtesy of RealGM.com

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