As the conference finals matchups take shape, the Charlotte Hornets find themselves in a familiar position. The Hornets will be watching the final four of the NBA from their living rooms, having never reached the semifinal round in franchise history.
Entering the offseason, the Hornets are not merely “a piece” away from contending for championships. They also aren’t in total rebuild mode with gaping holes to fill either. Charlotte is somewhere in between those two scenarios, with a handful of young talent paired with some important gaps that need occupied by the time November arrives. Below are the most glaring team needs for the Charlotte Hornets, and some potential solutions for each. You’re welcome, Michael Jordan.
1. Physicality– I think Head Coach Steve Clifford was getting paid royalties for every time he muttered this word in his postgame press conference after being eliminated by the Miami Heat. Steve knows it, the fans know it and hopefully General Manager Rich Cho knows it as well. The Hornets were pushed around way too easily in the Miami series, and need to toughen up in order to contend.
Solution: A dream scenario would be finding a way to sign either unrestricted free agent Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat or Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. A more realistic solution is to sign Joakim Noah and draft Maryland big man, Diamond Stone with the 22nd pick.
2. Inside scoring– The Hornets’ top scoring option in the paint will turn 32 next January and is on the heels of two injury-shortened seasons. I love Al Jefferson, but Charlotte desperately needs more help scoring the ball near the rim, after ranking 29thin the NBA in points in the paint this year. Three-point shooting has become table stakes for competing in the modern NBA, but without a consistent offensive threat in the post, your ceiling is remains limited.
Solution: Whiteside and Horford remain dream scenarios here as well, but a few more realistic options include Ryan Anderson (N.O), Nene (WAS) and Ersan Ilyasova (ORL – restricted).
3. Nic Batum– Yes, Nicolas Batum is a team need. He’s the spoon that stirs the drink. If Kemba Walker is the heart of the team, Batum is the brain. The soon-to-be free agent does a little bit of everything very well, and the Hornets need to keep him on the team at all costs if they plan to continue their Eastern Conference ascension.
Solution: Give the guy a max contract and move on with life.
4. Swagger– Is Courtney Leethe only guy on the team with tattoos? I know body ink isn’t necessarily the best or only indicator of swagger, but this lack of “tats” somewhat epitomizes the overall blandness of this Hornets squad. They play hard, they hustle and follow the rules. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if I found out Frank Kaminsky apologized every time he committed a foul. This is a problem. The Hornets need more of an edge. Maybe a few more technicals for taunting or hanging on the rim would do them well.
Let’s look at the remaining four playoff teams for comparison’s sake. The Toronto Raptors have guys like Bismack Biyombo (yep, former Hornet) and Jonas Valanciunas that aren’t afraid to get in your face. The Golden State Warriors have Draymond Green’s never-closed mouth. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook, Russell Westbrook’s clothes, Russell Westbrook’s dancing and Russell Westbrook’s endless attitude. And last but not least, the Cleveland Cavaliers may have written the book on NBA swagger. The Charlotte Hornets need more of an edge.
Solution: Sign defensive-minded role players with attitude. Options include Kent Bazemore (ATL), Matt Barnes (MEM) and re-signing Courtney Lee.
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1