Not in pursuit of a playoff spot anytime soon, the Charlotte Hornets must implement an offseason plan as the next step towards getting there.
Kemba Walker spent eight years as a member of the Charlotte Hornets.
He was the player you might not be able to build a championship contender around, but as a three-time All-Star in Charlotte and a 2019 All-NBA Third Team selection, there’s a baseline of success higher than what most teams are capable of reaching.
And yet across the four seasons in which Kemba averaged at least 20 points per game, he never got to play with another All-Star. He never even played with another 20 point-per-game scorer.
It’s scary to realize, but Walker’s best teammate during those years might have been Dwight Howard, whose one-year stint in Charlotte came amid a stretch of five teams in as many years.
Kemba wanted to remain a Hornet, but their horrible cap management played a part in his signing with the Boston Celtics this past summer. In this next era of the franchise, one has to wonder if they’ve learned from those mistakes to breed confidence moving forward.
Charlotte’s cupboard is actually not as empty as most franchises coming off the departure of their All-Star and best player.
Devonte’ Graham was a diamond found in the rough, the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game with some pending consideration for Most Improved honors. Miles Bridges has kicked up his play as of late, having averaged 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds a game across 11 February outings.
P.J. Washington has had his moments shooting 38.0 percent from deep. Before being suspended, Malik Monk was showing signs of life with 17.0 points per game over his last 13 games.
Graham is the youngest among them at just 25 of age. There’s no telling what their ceiling is as both individuals and collectively, but the best course of action is to throw them into the fire as much as possible, allowing them to discover that point on their own.
Going down that route signifies a complete relinquishment of whatever playoff hopes might be simmering around the organization.
Given the absence of established talent, it’s one the front office should embrace and act accordingly, taking on bad contracts to obtain draft assets in a way that doesn’t impede the playing time of their intriguing youngsters.
Bismack Biyombo’s $17 million salary comes off the books at season’s end as do the bought out contracts of Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That offers quite a bit of trade flexibility for a small-market team unlikely to be players in what is anyways a weak free-agent class.
Where the financial side of things gets complicated is in regards to Monk, who’s up for a rookie extension this offseason.
His recent play signaled a potential turnaround in what had been an otherwise disappointing start to the former 11th overall pick’s career. An indefinite suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program has to have soured some of the Hornets’ optimism and will keep them from seeing just how legitimate his newfound production was capable of being.
There never seemed to be any progress with Kemba in town. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but the effort was clearly misplaced.
Whether it’s Nicolas Batum (five years, $120 million), Kidd-Gilchrist (four years, $52 million) or even Terry Rozier (three years, $58 million), Charlotte has been downright negligent with its spending in recent years. Its what cost the franchise its all-time leading scorer.
The odds will always be stacked against a team with slim free-agent appeal, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the ones building a more difficult wall to climb over.
Give the keys over to the young guys and let them drive where they may. Position yourself for a net-positive deal in the future by making those with underlying value in the present. Most importantly, stop handcuffing yourself to horrid contracts.
We’ll get a glimpse at how closely Charlotte follows suit with its pending decision on Monk. Where they go soon after will say a lot in dictating the future of Hornets basketball.