NBA Future Power Rankings: 19. Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets: With the number of free agents the Hornets had it was unavoidable to lose some value. Losing Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin will surely hurt in the short term, but the two departed Hornets signed for $76 Million combined over the next 3 years. Replacing them with Roy Hibbert (1-year $5 Million) and Ramon Sessions (2 years $12.5 Million) was a smart move that preserves future cap flexibility while helping Charlotte remain competitive. On the other hand trading the 22nd pick in the draft for Marco Belinelli was a questionable decision. I understand that the Hornets want to remain competitive and trust a veteran like Belinelli more than a rookie to replace Courtney Lee, but this was a bad move. The Hornets would have been better off keeping the pick and taking a shooter like Malachi Richardson (the eventual 22nd pick) rather than acquiring Belinelli, a shooter coming off a season where he shot just 30.6% from three. The Hornets prioritized the right free agents by re-signing Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams, but they both came at hefty prices. Batum signed a massive 5-year $120 Million deal while Williams agreed to a 4-year $54.5 Million contract. The Hornets will now be paying about $60 Million per year to the Batum, Williams, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for at least the next three seasons. This core of players will prevent the Hornets from being bad enough to acquire a top pick, but is not good enough to compete for a title. The Hornets will need to rely on signing a big time free agent and/or development from some of their younger players. If Jeremy Lamb, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky continue to make strides perhaps the Hornets have enough to surprise people. Steve Clifford has shown that he is one of the top coaches in the league with the ability to mold a strong defense out of any roster he has been given. Free agency will be tough to rely on for improvement since Charlotte is not a big market and has no track record of recruiting big free agents. Perhaps the Hornets can get lucky by signing a player that wants to play for a Michael Jordan owned team. The Hornets are on the right track and in much better shape than they ever were as the Bobcats, but I still need to see at least one more strong season before moving them into the top half of these rankings.