The gradual decline of the Charlotte Hornets has been one of the more overlooked storylines in the league. They’re only a couple of years removed from their 48-win season and entertaining first-round showdown with the Miami Heat. Since then, their defense has nosedived, their clutch time execution has disappeared, and the win total has dwindled.
The Hornets finished with a 36-46 record this year, despite having a net rating of zero. That was mostly due to the stark contrast between the starters and the bench. They performed like a high-level playoff team with Walker on the floor, but had a net rating on par with the Sacramento Kings with him on the bench.
Now, the Hornets have one of the murkiest futures in the league. Their cap sheet is atrocious, there isn’t much of a young pipeline, and Walker triples as their best player, best asset, and biggest question mark. He’ll be up for an extension soon, but how much sense would it make to max out a 6’0 point guard nearing 30? Within that framework, the Hornets should blow it up.
On the other side of the coin, they weren’t far off the Heat in net rating this year despite winning eight fewer games. The Hornets were almost laughably bad in close games — winning just a handful of those would’ve put them in the playoffs. And for a team that isn’t a major player in free agency, there’s value in remaining a good team for as long as you can. There’s no easy answer here.
8. Once again, the Hornets were much worse record-wise than their net rating would indicate. Injuries played a major part in their woes, but they were also an awful clutch team for the second straight season. What exactly is this team?
The answer is in the question: the Charlotte Hornets have been the worst clutch team in the league over the last two seasons.
Despite having a positive point differential for back to back years, they finished out of the playoffs in both years. This team has players who aren’t playing up to the money they’re making. Although Nicolas Batum got injured early in the season, he is being paid to be the second option on the Hornets. It could potentially lead to a roster overhaul, but because of the infamous 2016 salary cap spike, no one is going to want some of the contracts the Hornets currently possess. The team strayed away from Steve Clifford’s defensive identity, especially when the season was lost. The goal for the Hornets in 2018-19 is to find themselves under new management and a new coaching staff.
7. If you were the GM, would you blow things up?
The only way I’d decide on a rebuild is if we can receive picks and cap relief. That has been the biggest question for the Hornets going into the offseason. There are not many good trade chips on this team. Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, and Dwight Howard (for cap relief reasons) are the three biggest assets in my opinion. If there is any way the Hornets can gain a first round pick in 2018 or 2019, I’d pull the trigger. It also depends on the players the Hornets acquire. Cap relief and extra draft picks could help the Hornets down the road when a rebuild could likely be starting or already happening.
6. It feels like Michael Jordan decided to clear the decks in the front office. How do you feel about Mitch Kupchak and James Borrego specifically?
Mitch Kupchak does have championship level experience as a general manager and a connection to MJ (both former Tar Heel legends). While his early success included a Lakers three-peat in the early 2000’s, he has made quite a few controversial decisions.
From trading Shaquille O’Neal to Miami to acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in an experiment that failed, Kupchak has been aggressive in the market a couple of times. However, most Lakers fans know he infamously gave Luol Deng and Timofey Mosgov contracts that ended up backfiring for his team. Luckily, they were able to trade Mosgov, but Deng is still on the books. With no cap room and a lot of bad contracts, its up to Kupchak and company to right the ship.
As for James Borrego, I love that the Hornets hired the first Hispanic-American NBA head coach and another member of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree. He plans on playing an up-tempo style of basketball while also getting the team to buy into playing good defense once again. Borrego showed confidence in the team’s young players (Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon) and is looking for all three to improve their respective games. In the end, Borrego will be dealt a tough hand early if the team doesn’t make any changes. I’d be really impressed if he got a improvement in the teams record and got the team to the postseason in 2018-19.
5. Why on earth didn’t Steve Clifford play Malik Monk more than he did?
I will never understand why Steve Clifford played Michael Carter-Williams over Malik Monk. I will also never understand how the (widely-regarded) greatest player in the history of basketball can’t identify talent in the draft (but I digress). When Monk got serious minutes at the end of the season, he was significantly better than MCW was. There were signs of Malik Monk’s potential throughout the season and especially at the end of the year. Coach Borrego has to develop a good relationship with the players and the front office in the coming season.
4. How much faith do you have in Monk moving forward?
I still have faith in Malik Monk. Earlier in the season, I made a comparison between Monk and CJ McCollum. The Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard averaged 5.3 points per game in his rookie season and 6.8 points per game in his second season, all while not getting many minutes. Over the last three years as a starter, McCollum has been a consistent 20 point per game scorer.
It took a lot of development, playing time, and confidence from Blazers head Terry Stotts and his coaching staff. That is what I’m hoping Malik Monk can become. His rookie year definitely had very high peaks and very low valleys. While he still has work to do defensively, Monk has a promising offensive skill set. Ten of the last 13 games featured a Monk double figure scoring game and in those 13 games, he averaged 14 points per game and shot a shade under 40 percent from three (on seven three-point attempts per game). As mentioned in the previous question, I will never understand why Steve Clifford played a guy who peaked only in his first NBA game over Monk. Hopefully, the last few games Monk played can translate into improvement for him in 2018-19.
3. Shifting gears, the Hornets will be in the late lottery again with the 11th pick. Who do you have your eyes on?
The talent in this year’s draft class is ridiculous. When you look further down the draft, there is still some high upside talent that can contribute to teams right away and that’s what the Hornets need. In some of the previous drafts, I was able to pinpoint one player I’d love to see in a Hornets uniform (Devin Booker and Donavan Mitchell come to mind). This year, I can’t name just one player. Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, Zhaire Smith, Collin Sexton, Robert Williams, and Lonnie Walker are players I think could make an impact for the Hornets. Everyone knows the Hornets have a history of messing up in the NBA draft, 2018 can’t be more of the same.
2. Are there any sleepers that intrigue you at #55?
Ray Spalding, Gary Clark, Rawle Alkins, and De’Anthony Melton are players who come to mind when it comes to the Hornets’ second round pick. However, with how talented these players are, they could very well be gone by the time the Hornets are on the clock. I think Dwayne Bacon can become a really solid NBA player for a long time and the Hornets have to find someone who can contribute right away in the second round.
1. The Hornets are … not the most fiscally free team this summer. Who are some bargain-bin free agents you’d like to see them target?
I don’t think the Hornets are going to be able to attract free agents considering their cap situation. However, if there is any possible way to trade for cap relief going into next summer, that would be a big win for Kupchak, MJ, and company.
A few names I think would be essential trade targets are Cleveland Cavaliers guards George Hill and J.R. Smith (both have non-guaranteed money on the last year of their deal. In addition to that, Orlando Magic guards Terrence Ross and Shelvin Mack come to mind (Mack has a non-guaranteed final year of his deal). Of the four players, Mack would be a really good backup point guard option and the Hornets haven’t had a good backup to Kemba Walker since Jeremy Lin was in the Queen City.
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Brooklyn Nets | Toronto Raptors | Philadelphia 76ers | Minnesota Timberwolves | Miami Heat | Washington Wizards | New York Knicks | Indiana Pacers | Dallas Mavericks | Charlotte Hornets