The newly renamed Charlotte Hornets are a team that has a tremendous amount riding on the 2014-15 season. Last year the franchise saw its win total jump from 21 to a stunning 42, good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference and the team’s second playoff appearance in franchise history.Sure, they were swept by the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in four games, but just making it to the postseason was an accomplishment for a team that had been considered a second-rate organization for years.
Funny how Michael Jordan buying your team and signing Al Jefferson can change a franchise’s fortunes.
There can be no understating how important the addition of Jefferson was to Charlotte. It was the kind of signing that fans will look at and break the history of the team into pre-Jefferson and post-Jefferson eras.
In his first year on the roster his stats were just ridiculous, scoring 21.8 points and brining down 10.8 rebounds per game as well as 1.1 blocks. Most teams in the NBA can only dream of having a big man who can put up numbers like that and also make the rest of the team as a whole better.
It’s a huge part of why the Hornets (then the Bobcats) were able to double their win total last season.
I would even go so far as to say that Jefferson is more important that newly signed free agent Lance Stephenson. Stephenson has a long way to go before he proves to Charlotte and Jordan that he was worth all the money they are going to be paying him.
While Stephenson is good, Jefferson is the foundation on which this team’s future is built on.
Which makes it all the more important that the Hornets have options at center if Jefferson gets hurt or needs a break.
Jefferson is 29 years old and is entering his 10th NBA season. The strained plantar fascia he suffered in Game 1 of the playoffs last year effectively ended any hopes the Bobcats had of advancing or even taking a single game from the juggernaut that was the Heat.
And odds are that, since he is such an important part of the Hornets’ roster, he will be piling up the minutes in 2014-15. Which means that the chances of him getting hurt or simply re-aggravating the foot injury are pretty high.
At the very least head coach Steve Clifford will want to rest Jefferson on occasion to keep him fresh for the bigger games of the season.
Currently Bismack Biyombo is the backup center but one look at his line from last season and you can see that he isn’t in Jefferson’s league. He managed just 2.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in his third year in the NBA and hasn’t made the kind of impression that will have fans breathing easy if he has to step in and try to fill Jefferson’s shoes.
Right now the Hornets’ only other option is second-year player Cody Zeller, but he is pencilled in as the teams’ starting power forward after the loss of Josh McRoberts to the Heat in free agency and the Jazz matching the max contract offer the Hornets made to Gordon Hayward.
With their 2014 first-round pick Noah Vonleh looking like he will need time to develop, if his unimpressive summer league performance is any indication, it leaves the Hornets woefully thin at both positions, but especially at the 2.
If the Hornets are going to compete and build on last season, finding a reliable third option at center is a must. It’s a position that has become incredibly important to the future of this team and, if Jefferson was to be unavailable for a period of time, they have to know it won’t result in the bottom falling out of the season.
The success of the Hornets’ 2014-15 season revolves around Jefferson and what he brings to this team. Finding a solid backup should be their number one priority before anything else.