Fifty percent is a pretty solid rate for making the postseason as an NBA head coach. Steve Clifford has seen his Charlotte Hornets (and Bobcats) qualify for the second season twice in his four year tenure in North Carolina. While this seems respectable on paper, losing both times to the Miami Heat in the first round isn’t exactly something worthy of a celebration. The blame can’t all be on Clifford’s shoulders, however.
So what’s next for the Hornets? After losing some key pieces in guys like Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee before the 2016-17 season, Charlotte has looked a lot like a team searching for its identity. Playing stout defense and leading the NBA in turnovers only gets you so far in a league fueled by superstars. When it comes to matching up against the much-improved Eastern Conference, Charlotte has Kemba Walker, Nic Batum and a bunch of role players. Heck, Batum could even be considered a role player – a $24M a year role player that is.
Bottom line is there is much room for improvement, and this offseason is as important as ever for GM Rich Cho to take strides in upgrading the roster. Below are some additional thoughts and buzz about the Hornets as they enter a very important offseason.
1. To make you feel even better about the absurd contract the Hornets gave Batum, let me remind you that it is also back-loaded, meaning that it increases each year of the deal. With four years remaining on the deal, Batum will be collecting roughly $27M for his services in the 2020-2021 (at which point he’ll be 31 years of age).
2. This isn’t to throw any shade at the Hornets ultimate glue guy, and irrefutably second most important player behind Walker. I simply think Cho’s decisions have been questionable at best lately, from emptying the Brinks truck for Batum to head-scratching draft selections the past few years.
3. Lastly on Batum… It’s still difficult to digest the fact that he’s making more than guys like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler. Ok, I’m done now I promise.
4. Meanwhile, questions have also been raised about Cho’s mid-season decision to swap Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes for Miles Plumlee. Sure Hibbert is a much stodgier version than his prime years in Indiana, but he seemed to be revitalized under Coach Clifford. Plumlee also arrived with a precarious contract situation.
5. Per 16 Wins a Ring, “the Hornets somehow decided that trading for a man with a horrible extension [Plumlee] who was just signed would be a good man to trade for. Sure, in his 13 games he shot 58 percent from the field on less than two shots per game, but the big was only playing just over 13 minutes per game. That’s practically a million per minute.”
6. You get the point, more glowing endorsements for the Hornets brass. It’s one thing when you overpay and win (see: Cavaliers, Cleveland), and another when you overpay and miss the playoffs.
7. I’m not the only one critiquing the Hornets roster decisions, either. Per ESPN, “Cho had his 2017-18 team option picked up recently, and Observer reporter Scott Fowler thinks the Hornets GM could be let go next year, if the team doesn't make the 2018 playoffs.” This upcoming draft could have huge implications for Cho as well.
8. Speaking of the NBA draft, it’s still early but after two seasons Myles Turner (11th overall) and Devin Booker (13th overall) look like superior picks to Frank Kaminsky (9th overall). On draft night many believed passing on local Duke product, Justise Winslow was the blunder that would haunt the Hornets for years to come. After an inconsistent sophomore year, Turner and Booker are likely the guys keeping Cho (and team pres. Michael Jordan) up at night.
9. Per Swarm and Sting, “after an up and down sophomore season, Frank puts his focus on becoming more consistent going forward. Kaminsky started the year slow and once he finally found his rhythm, a shoulder injury set him back. He eventually rebounded from that and put together a solid season but being a bit more steady could go a long way.”
10. Also per Swarm and Sting, “the Charlotte Hornets will surely be active in the trade market this summer as they look to make positive additions to their roster. Marvin Williams isn’t the most attractive player on the trade market for them but could they get Enes Kanter in return for the veteran stretch four?”
11. Personally I don’t think this is the answer for Charlotte. Williams provides outside shooting and endless tenacity on defense (he yells a lot, you guys!). Kanter indeed has some smooth low-post moves, but is practically a mannequin in a department store on defense. If anything the Hornets need more floor spacing, not less, and also can ill afford the downgrade that would come with this potential swap.
12. Also, why do you think Sam Presti and the Thunder are considering shopping Kanter? It’s likely that his transparent defense is to blame for his falling out of head coach Billy Donovan’s rotation. Or perhaps they simply reached their quota of creepy mustaches on the team, with center Steven Adams and his part-walrus-part-horseshoe facial hair experiment also residing in Oklahoma City.
13. Some final thoughts on the draft, NBADraft.net and Draft Express both currently have the Hornets selecting Gonzaga 7-footer Zach Collins with their first selection. He played limited minutes in the Bulldogs tournament run, and is still just 19-years-old, but could develop into a two-way force for Charlotte.
14. Others to keep an eye on are swingmen Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State and Justin Jackson from nearby UNC Chapel Hill. Both are long, athletic wing players that were born to get buckets, a proficiency the Hornets could definitely use more of.
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1