Charlotte Hornets 2014 Offseason Tracker: UPDATED

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Last updated: 2:00pm, July 16th, 2014

NBA head coaches and general managers are on slightly different timelines. The coach’s job is to win on game nights and he can’t do that without NBA ready talent. A GM’s job is sustain said coach’s ability to win for as long as possible, over the course of many seasons, upgrading the roster along the way.

There can be special arrangements of course. Philly’s Brett Brown and Boston’s Brad Stevens were head coaches hired last summer by win-later teams more interested in building culture and developing young talent than adding W’s in the standings. But by and large, coaches want to compete now and they can’t showcase their stuff if they’re forced to rely on guys who are easily bested by their competition.

Which brings us to the first six weeks of Charlotte’s summer. The team built a tremendous amount of momentum last season by adding an All-NBA center and qualifying for the Playoffs. Steve Clifford proved to be the coaching world’s best kept secret – a defensive maestro who garners tremendous respect from his players and peers. The rebranded Hornets were set to enter the offseason with an immensely popular new coat of paint, two first round draft picks, massive cap space and subsequent expectations for improvement.

The franchise’s goals are two-fold: make the Playoffs in their rebrand year but don’t mortgage the farm to do so; the Hornets name change will bring a ton of new fans to the arena, sustained success will keep them there.
How have they done? Let’s take a look at the roster moves in chronological order:

ADDITION: Noah Vonleh, PF/C

First Round | 9th Overall Selection
Charlotte lucked into Detroit’s number nine pick after Cleveland miraculously won the Lottery and pushed the Pistons back a slot. The Hornets wound up taking Indiana PF/C Noah Vonleh, an 18 year old prospect with a tremendous amount of potential. The comps to previous CLT developmental bigs like Alexis Ajinca and Bismack Biyombo are way off, Vonleh enters the league with a much higher skill level and an actual feel for the game.

That’s not to say he’ll help Clifford’s cause immediately, he’s still an 18 (!) year old rookie with some raw mechanics and little knowledge of the NBA game. But if all goes well, the Hornets won’t be selecting this high again for a long while and bigs with Vonleh’s skills rarely escape the Lottery. Great long-term value play for Charlotte.
ROLE: 14-18 minute per game developmental power forward.
REPLACES: Anthony Tolliver, D.J. White

ADDITION: P.J. Hairston, SG

First Round | 26th Overall Selection
Rich Cho swapped late first rounders with Miami for some extra assets and wound up taking former UNC shooting guard P.J. Hairston with the 26th pick. From a skills standpoint, the pick makes a ton of sense. P.J. can stroke it from deep and Charlotte was desperate for three point shooting last season. But Hairston comes with character baggage that he didn’t take long to unpack. Punching a guy during a pickup game is hardly an earth-shattering offense but stringing together the subsequent Street Fighter combo of bone-headed decisions is. For a guy who will likely top out as an eighth or ninth man this season, he had better be worth the distraction.
ROLE: Either 20 minute per game bench shooter or end of bench distraction.
REPLACES: Chris Douglas-Roberts or Jeff Taylor.

SUBTRACTION: Brendan Haywood, C

Traded to Cleveland
He was due over two million in salary and didn’t play a minute last season due to a foot injury so Charlotte salary dumped him to the Cavs, using their 2nd Round pick as a sweetener. Interesting side note: as Mark Deeks reported, Haywood’s amnesty’d contract bumps up to an unguaranteed $10m again next season, giving the Cavs all sorts of interesting cap possibilities should they pursue another marquee free agent.
REPLACED BY: Charlotte still needs to add a third center, TBD.

SUBTRACTION: Josh McRoberts, PF

Unrestricted Free Agent | 4 years, $23 million
This one stung (pun intended). Making just $2.7m last season, McRoberts might’ve been the best value in the league. A smart, multi-talented glue guy, Josh is an elite passer and was often the team’s de facto point guard in the half court last season. As an added bonus, McRoberts hit over a hundred threes to keep the paint open for Big Al. His stats may have looked meager, but there are only a handful of bigs in the league who can do what Josh does and those things were all absolutely vital to Charlotte’s Playoff run.

For his efforts, Miami offered him a full four year midlevel deal at $5.75m per. The Hornets balked and instead committed $7m per over two years to the next guy on our list. Given Josh’s fit with his old team and the subsequent departure of Lebron James from the Heat, both sides may regret not meeting on some sort of 3 year, $21m compromise.
REPLACED BY: No one can replace The Basketball Jesus but his duties will be distributed to both Cody Zeller and…

ADDITION: Marvin Williams, SF/PF

Unrestricted Free Agent | 2 years, $14 million
Unlike McRoberts, who had no history of hitting threes on the reg until last season, Williams has been stretching the floor for years as a combo forward. He’s become a very good defender (though the on/off court numbers don’t scream “lock-down”) and has a rep as a solid lockeroom guy. Don’t surprised if he finishes games this season as Clifford’s lone veteran power forward, stretching the floor without giving up much at the other end.

His two year, $14m deal is certainly on the high side but the years are non-threatening and he gives the Hornets flexibility down the road once Zeller or Vonleh develop. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that McRoberts was a no-name veteran castoff who blossomed under Clifford. Cross your fingers that it happens a second time.
ROLE: 26-30 minute per game part-time starter and full-time finisher.
REPLACES: Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver

ADDITION: Brian Roberts, PG

Unrestricted Free Agent | 2 years, $5.5 million
Here’s the deal: Kemba Walker plays a ton of minutes and rarely gets hurt. So if you’re going to spend a bunch of money on a backup point, it better be for a bigger guard who can suck up minutes playing alongside Walker in the backcourt. The Hornets reportedly went after two guys like that (Shaun Livingston and Kirk Hinrich) but couldn’t get a deal done so turned to Plan B: an inexpensive Kemba-clone.

That’s not a one hundred percent accurate comparison, Roberts is the purer shooter and Kemba is an ankle-breaking lightning bolt but you get the idea. Both are score-first lead guards with slight, frisky builds. At 6’1″, 173, Roberts isn’t going to over-power anyone in the paint and he has tendancy to get bullied fighting through screens but he can score and hit distance buckets, most importantly from the left side of the floor – and we all know who likes camping out down on the left block.

In fact both Roberts and Marvin Williams excel shooting from that side – ironically, the side of the three point line Charlotte struggled from last season considering Al Jefferson’s presence. As @DCWLN pointed out on Twitter, Clifford often cleared that side once the entry pass was made and Al would usually score through double teams anyway. Signing Roberts and Williams gives the Hornets another spacing wrinkle however; a way to punish the league’s better defenses who can diffuse Al & Kemba’s inside/out game.
ROLE: Backup PG, 18-20 minutes a game. Also an insurance policy in case Kemba misses any time.
REPLACES: Luke Ridnour’s corpse.

ADDITION: Lance Stephenson, SG

Unrestricted Free Agent | 3 years, $27 million (third year team option)
In June it was inevitable. By mid-July it was unlikely. CUT TO: LAS VEGAS, The Evening of July 15th. Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Steve Clifford came to terms both financially and psychologically with Lance Stephenson as their new starting two guard. It was news Charlotte fans around the globe were waiting for (I had tweets from Hornets fan sites in Spain, Japan and Canada queued up in my mentions) and it was finally here. Born Ready is a Hornet.

This is a huge signing for Charlotte, yet another signal that Jordan, Cho and Clifford have finally turned Bob Johnson’s once sinking ship around. Lance is 23 and has played in two consecutive Conference Finals, the last of which he may have been his team’s best player. He led the league in triple doubles last season with five – which I believe surpasses the total number of triple doubles in the Bobcats ten year history – and, as ESPN pointed out, Lance was the youngest guard to average 7 RPG & 4 APG since Magic Johnson did it in ’83.

After McRoberts bolted for Miami, the Hornets were desperate for another playmaker to allow Kemba more off the ball opportunities and steady the second unit as a lead threat. Lance basically played that very role offensively last season for the one-seed Pacers. Unlike Josh, Stephenson is a reliable second or third scorer who can pick up the slack when Kemba has an off night or when opponents key in on Big Al. He’s turnover-prone (1.7 assist to turnover ratio, McRoberts notched a 4 by comparison) and Clifford isn’t going to enjoy watching Lance go off script at the wrong times but some of that may have been due to the Pacers’ moribund offense and personnel. We’ll have a full offensive breakdown of Lance in a future post but in the meantime, rest assured that this is likely a major upgrade from both a talent and fit perspective over Gerald Henderson.

And defensively? Let’s just say that an MKG/Lance/Marvin Williams/Jeff Taylor wing rotation has a chance to the best perimeter D in the league. Lance is strong, has good size and length and we know he won’t back down from any assignment. For better or worse, he basically demanded to guard Lebron in the EC Finals and held his own more often than not. Again, we’ll have the full scouting breakdown of Lance soon but rest assured, he should be great at both ends.

Finally, there’s the character concerns. Some say Lance’s antics cost him $6m per season. I say it saved the Hornets $6m per season. Charlotte’s getting a potential max-salary type player for a massive discount just because he’s an occasional idiot. Cho’s masterful manipulation of Stephenson’s market, combined with the organization’s cohesive recruiting effort led to the Hornets getting a similar and potentially superior player for around $36m less than they offered Gordon Hayward – who’s never even won a Playoff game mind you, much less sniffed a Conference Finals. Thank you Utah!

It’s that last point I find most important. You can argue teams and situations all you want, but if you want to build a winning culture, you gotta bring in guys who’ve won. Who have been there and performed. The advanced stat guys will hate that statement. You can’t boil it down into a metric. But hoops intuition is real. Kemba has the big game gene. MKG has the gene. Lance has the gene. Those guys are bulldogs who want the pressure; the high stakes. Michael Jordan knows a winner when he sees one. This one was Born Ready.

ROLE: Starter, 36-38 minute per game.
REPLACES: Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts’ playmaking.

WHAT’S NEXT

Gerald Henderson

With Stephenson’s signing, the Hornets co-captain and incumbent starter is suddenly the odd man out. The team now has four other guys under contract who play his position either most or part of the time. Some folks on twitter have imagined a move to sixth man for Hendo but I’m not buying it. His game doesn’t really translate to that role and it’s unlikely he’d take the demotion well given that he’s just entering his prime. Gerald’s $6m per year salary is a bargain compared to what the market’s been paying out this summer and he could very well opt out of his player option next July, making his contract an even more attractive expiring deal. Chances are that Henderson will be starting somewhere this coming season and it’s not going to be in Charlotte. Keep an eye on this situation, especially if the Hornets make a play for…

Carlos Boozer

Fellow Blue Devil and former Bull Carlos Boozer was officially amnestied just a few hours after the Lance signing and there have already been a few rumors linking him to Charlotte. If the Hornets hold off on signing Brian Roberts*, they should still have around $4m in cap space (counting Lance, Williams and rookie/roster cap holds) to place an amnesty bid. But I don’t think that will cut it. Atlanta and a few other teams with $8m+ cap space have been rumored as potential suitors. If Charlotte truly wants Carlos in teal next season, they’ll need to dump salary and they’ll need to decide fast. Teams have 48 hours to place a bid. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

*As pointed about by Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Brian Roberts’ contract fits nicely into the Hornets’ bi-annual exception should the team use the remainder of their cap space first. Rookies can and generally do sign for as much as 120% of the rookie scale but only count for 100% of the scale until then.

Charlotte Hornets Roundtable | 2014 Post-Draft Analysis

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Q: This was the first draft where Cho was the emperor of the war room. How would you say he did?

DrE: (@BaselineDrE) I think Cho has been running the draft for the past couple of years — I remember there was a quick peek in the Bobcats/Hornets draft “war room” in a documentary that Fox SportsSouth put together after the 2012/MKG draft, and Cho was pretty clearly running things then. But anyways, great job this year. The Vonleh pick was easy. But the machinations with picking Napier to extract some assets from the Heat, still getting PJ Hairston, then turning those second round picks into cap space — that was good stuff.

Bradford: (@bradford_NBA) It’s useless trying to look into the future to judge a draft. It’s more productive to judge the value of the asset relative to the lost opportunities of other assets. Business-y enough for you? That’s the boring way of saying Cho extracted maximum value out of the available picks. Noah Vonleh was in a different tier than the other prospects left on the board. I think that when a prospect falls, what often happens is teams that didn’t expect a player to be available are so locked in on their prep work with the players they expected to be available and they end up sticking with the original plan. Vonleh didn’t even work out in Charlotte. Cho has said they had him rated much higher than the 9th pick. And he didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Charlotte was in the enviable position of being in the top 10 but not needing a player to make an immediate impact. You absolutely have to swing for the fences and work out the details later. Hairston was an obvious pick. Everyone says he has lottery talent and it’s the type of talent the Hornets were desperate for. It was the perfect match of talent and need. Grabbing some cash and freeing up some extra cap space is icing on the cake. The 55th pick is almost certainly not worth the $2 million on Haywood’s contract. Any time I feel dismissive about a seemingly minor deal, I remember Cho trading Hakim Warrick for Josh McRoberts.

ASChin: (@BaselineBuzz) Instant draft grades aren’t worth much since we have no idea how any of these prospects will develop over time BUT if we’re talking about managing Draft Night and getting as much perceived value out of those picks as possible, it’s difficult not to be impressed. Cho gets Vonleh, a guy who many thought would crack the Top 5, with a the free Lotto pick he finagled from Detroit two years prior. Then he picks Hairston, who has Lottery talent (and some character concerns) late in the first. Nabbing an extra future second rounder, dumping Brendan Haywood’s contract and netting some cash to pay off some of the T-Time amnesty was just gravy.

Q: What are your thoughts on Noah Vonleh? What type of role do you expect him to play this season and how does he fit in the Hornet’s long term plan?

DrE:I honestly hadn’t watched much Vonleh video in the weeks leading up to the draft, as I figured he was going somewhere between 5-7. The only unfortunate thing is that he overlaps quite a bit with Cody Zeller. Not totally, mind you — Vonleh’s a little tougher, a better rebounder and on-ball defender, while Zeller actually appears to be the more fluid athlete — but still there’s a lot of overlap. And I think that you’ll see Clifford bring Vonleh along much like he did with Zeller. I do wonder if one of them (Vonleh?) could guard some of the lighter centers in the league — which would be a path to more court time.

Long term, you hope that the LaMarcus Aldridge/Chris Bosh comps are true for Vonleh. The ninth pick, as we’ve seen, is often a good place to get a future star that slipped — generally because teams in the spots immediately preceding often start reaching to fit specific needs.

Bradford: I’m not a college guy, outside of NC State so the extent of my experience with Vonleh is on Draft Express. He has all the physical tools you want in a big and clearly has some skills. His footwork and feel for the game aren’t great. You know who has great footwork and an excellent feel for the game? Al Jefferson. Apparently there are questions about his work ethic, but he seems to work really hard on the court so we’ll see.

It can’t be said enough, but Vonleh is not ready to contribute. He’s not Bismack Biyombo, but he has a lot to learn to be a productive player. Luckily for him, he doesn’t have to be. I expect Zeller’s minutes to get bumped a little and Vonleh might see 15 minutes per game. Steve Clifford will bring him along slowly, something Biz could have benefitted from. He’ll need to work hard in practice and be a willing listener.

A lot of people think this pick means the end of McRoberts and Zeller. I think that’s way off. Vonleh isn’t ready to contribute and doesn’t fit what the Hornets need right now. And there’s no reason Zeller and Vonleh can’t play together. I think they can compliment each other really well in time.

ASChin: You never know with bigs. Especially ones as young as Vonleh is (18). He’s physically close to being ready. Wide base. Strong lower and upper body. Fantastic mobility. But it’s the mental part of the game I’m worried about. He played wing and some point guard in high school and the low post game looks raw on tape. The nba is so fast. Cody was further along coming out of Indiana last year and Clifford stripped down his offense to the bare minimum. For example, we saw Cody pull some nifty post stuff in Summer League last July and we haven’t seen it since. Clifford will likely do similar stuff with Vonleh. Keep it simple and bring him along gradually. He has tremendous upside for sure.

Q: PJ Hairston was clearly a target from day one. Same questions as with Vonleh. Do you have any reservations given his character concerns?

DrE: Sure, you have to have reservations with Hairston. Not many potential NBA players managed to get kicked off their college team like he did. But young, talented guys are always going to get second (and third, and fourth) chances, especially when their transgressions didn’t cross a certain line and they say the right things about having learned from their mistakes.

Bradford: Let’s quickly rehash why there are character concerns with Hairston. The concerns stem from his suspension at UNC. The infractions include borrowing someone’s rental car, speeding, and throwing weed and a gun out of a car at a checkpoint. The weed thing is whatever. Nobody is entirely sure about the gun situation and charges were dropped. So he essentially dropped out of the lottery, where his talent and production placed him, because of the NCAA’s draconian rules in an environment at UNC that hasn’t exactly been a harbour of compliance of late. We’re not talking throwing your girlfriend down the stairs types of concerns (yet Lance is still going to get PAID). No DUI. I have no reservations character wise. PJ can shoot, he’s built like an NBA player, and he’s done it at the college level and the D-League level. He’ll have to improve defensively to be a starter. He’ll need to work hard in practice. But so does every other rookie. He was a steal at 26 and exactly what the Hornets needed: a straight long range gunner with size.

ASChin: He’ll be a rook in a lockeroom full of good guy vets (unless they sign Lance) – maybe it’s just what he needs: to be surrounded by role models. On the court, he’s gonna have to get into top shape and I’d love for him to turn into at least an average defender. His stroke is insane and I’m excited to see what he’ll be able to do off the ball eventually as a cutter given his strength and size. Looks like he’ll rebound well for his position too. Lots to like…as long as he stays out of trouble. Seems much further along than Vonleh and I wouldn’t be shocked if he was playing 20mpg come PLYF time.

Q: With the draft now complete, it’s time for free agency, summer league, training camp, and preparation for the upcoming season. What do you expect out of the team over the next 4 months?

DrE: With the caveat that some free agency dominoes will likely fall by the time this is posted so this will probably sound idiotic in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that the Hornets will be looking for another wing player and a backup PG (or two) in free agency. Lance Stephenson, Gordon Hayward, Luol Deng and Chandler Parsons are probably the best wing players that the Hornets realistically have a shot at. Hayward is restricted, Stephenson and Parsons aren’t but seem highly likely to return to their teams, Deng is truly unrestricted but not as good of a spacer/shooter, and is also older and likely to start declining over the next few years. But it is safe to say that adding any of those guys would be a significant upgrade for the Hornets and cause for much celebration. It’s just hard to see it happening — surprise me Rich Cho!

At backup PG, Ramon Sessions’ return has always seemed likely. The Hornets have been specifically mentioned (along with numerous other teams) as potential Shaun Livingston suitors. Patty Mills might be an interesting option, too.

As far as any departures (in trades) I think we all know that Gerald Henderson is by far the most likely, followed by Gary Neal, who is on a really reasonable deal and may now be expendable with PJ Hairston on the roster. If there is a bigger sign-and-trade deal to be had, the inclusion of MKG or Zeller wouldn’t totally shock me either. I would say Bismack Biyombo, but I’m not sure what his value is around the league as he nears the end of his rookie scale contract.

Summer league wish list is pretty standard: hope that Hairston and Vonleh look good and ready to play some right away, and hope that Zeller has expanded his shooting range some. It will be interesting to see if Vonleh and Zeller can play together, too. And for training camp, my biggest wish is probably the same as everyone else’s: that MKG can improve that jump shot.

Bradford: Honestly, not too much. Cho doesn’t strike me as one to spend for the sake of spending. They’ll sign McRoberts to a new contract to bring the young guys along slowly. He’ll sign a cheap shooter like Anthony Morrow or Anthony Tolliver. They clearly need a back-up PG, probably a Sessions or Livingston type. McRoberts will get a mid-level type deal but I don’t expect more than a couple minimum – $3 million contracts. Keep the phone lines open through the trade deadline and go from there. Zeller and Vonleh will get a chance to get their legs under them in summer league (don’t expect them to play all the games though). Jeff Taylor is the biggest question mark. How healthy is he and what can he contribute. I’ve got something going up later this week on his shooting numbers. I don’t expect much from him but I’m hopeful he an get healthy physically and mentally.

ASChin: CLT has six guys 24 or younger on the roster and at least five of them will be in the rotation. Veteran mentors and backups at PG, C and a starter on the wings are all on the shopping list. See my full answer here.

Q: It’s been a whirlwind 2 months for the Charlotte franchise. From officially changing the name to Hugo, new jerseys, a new court design, and the draft. How excited are you about the future and why? Don’t forget MJ is the worst owner in sports, right national media?

DrE: I’m pretty excited, and it goes beyond last season’s playoff appearance and the flawlessly executed transition to the Hornets name. What is even more important to me is that it seems like Jordan has really settled in as an owner. From Rich Cho as GM, to Steve Clifford as coach, to the un-named Jordan Brand folks that have helped with the name/logo/uniform change, Jordan appears to be putting good people in the right spots and letting them do their thing. There are good reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future of this franchise.

Bradford: I could not be more excited. The re-brand has been handled perfectly. The team is on the upswing with solid veterans, guys in their prime, and young, budding talent that has so much potential. It appears that MJ has learned the best way to build this team is to let someone else do it and he clearly has faith in Cho, as do I. The hope is that these guys can stay together for the long haul. If Cho and Clifford are still with the organization in 5 years what they build could be great for the city of Charlotte and the Carolinas in general.

ASChin: If they play free agency right, this is a Top 4 seed in the East with lots of room to grow. Clifford is a phenomenal coach and Cho has proven to be a top flight GM. MJ has turned the ship around 180 degrees from the Friends of Michael era and should be applauded for that. The city is excited, fans of the league in general are excited..the Bugs are Back and you can make a good argument that they’ve never been better.

2014 Charlotte Hornets Free Agency Primer

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A Playoff team on the rise, the new and improved Charlotte Hornets will enter this week’s Free Agent Frenzy with a few key positions to fill.

Starting Wing

Both of last year’s starting wings, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, are under contract and could return – but the lack of shooting and overall scoring from their positions severely limited Coach Clifford’s offense last season. The chances of Charlotte snagging a new starter in free agency are extremely high:

Luol Deng

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Clifford and Bulls head coach Tom Thibideau come from the same Van Gundy coaching tree. Thibs LOVED Deng and the Hornets will too. Deng gives Clifford incredible length, smarts and tenacity on defense and a multi-dimensional third scorer when opponents key on Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker at the other end. The Hornets could start Deng next to Henderson (if they keep him) or MKG and rotate Jeff Taylor, Gary Neal and P.J. Hairston off the bench. An MKG/Deng wing combo would give opposing offenses nightmares.

The common argument against Deng is that, despite the fact that he’s only 29, he’s played too many minutes over his career and is likely due for a breakdown. I’m not so sure that’s given. Let’s look at the combined minutes (regular and post-season) of a few All-Star wings (rounded, via BasketballReference.com)

  • Lebron James (29 years old) 33,000 minutes played
  • Luol Deng (29 years old) 26,000 minutes played
  • Kobe Bryant (35 years old) 54,000 minutes played
  • Kevin Durant (25 years old) 23,000 minutes played
  • Joe Johnson (33 years old) 38,000 minutes played

Deng has four years and twelve thousand less miles on his odometer than Joe Johnson, who (somewhat controversially), made the All-Star team last season. All these players have different styles and body types and its always a risk handing out big money to any player, regardless of circumstance. I just don’t think the narrative over Deng’s wear & tear matches the reality.

Contract: A two-year $24 million offer makes sense for both sides; big money up front for Luol and it times just right with MKG’s eventual extension.
Odds: VERY LIKELY

Lance Stephenson

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
I was convinced Lance would be the Hornets primary offseason target right up until the Draft. But once the team selected former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston, the odds of Charlotte introducing two shooting guards with character issues into their peaceful locker room dipped dramatically. Lance is 23, unrestricted, immensely talented and shows up in big games. He can create offense where there is none and rises up to any and all defensive challenges. But he’s going to cause headaches for any coach due to his quirky personality and tendancy to “wing-it” on the court. Steve Clifford already has his hands full trying to win games while developing very young players. And he doesn’t have any more hair to pull out.
Contract: Tyreke Evans got $44 million of 4 years. Lance is better than Tyreke Evans.
Odds: Likely.

Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward

Status: Restricted Free Agents
Parsons and Hayward are both big wings who can shoot and score in a variety of ways. Hayward has more upside as a defender and Parsons has more consistent range. If they were unrestricted free agents, Charlotte would be sending them teal colored dump trucks full of cash but their restricted status all but takes them off the table. Offer them fair money and their respective teams tie up your cap space for 72 hours as your backup targets get taken off the market one by one. Wildly overpay and you might be stuck in a Joe Johnson/Atlanta situation with no room to upgrade your team in the future. Sure, the Hornets could approach either Houston or Utah with a sign and trade offer, but would you really want to give away, say, Cody Zeller, MKG and a future pick for the right to overpay Chandler Parsons?
Contract: Both guys will receive $10-$12 million per season on four year contracts from their current teams.
Odds: Very Unlikely.

Backup Point Guard

In February, Charlotte downgraded from a solid, non-traditional backup PG who fans disliked (Ramon Sessions) to a poor, traditional backup PG who fans tried to fool themselves into liking (Luke Ridnour). Fortunately Ridnour was on the last year of an expiring contract and won’t be back. Charlotte will enter the offseason in search of a veteran backup for Kemba Walker.

Jameer Nelson

Status: Under Contract (Partially Guaranteed)
Clifford and associate head coach Patrick Ewing had him in Orlando for many years and there’s been no shortage of rumors linking Nelson to Charlotte if the Magic release him before July 12th. Jameer’s three point percentage hovered around 40% three seasons ago while playing with a dominant big man (Dwight Howard) and there’s a good chance he could reach those levels again playing off of Big Al.
Contract: Given Jameer’s ties with Charlotte’s coaching staff and city’s proximity to his family in Orlando, 2yrs, $10 million or 3yrs, $15 million could work.
Odds: Likely.

Mario Chalmers

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
He pooped the bed in this year’s Finals but rewind the tape a year prior and Chalmers was a big reason Miami won the title in 2013. He can hit spot up threes and, similar to his role in Miami, wouldn’t be asked to do much playmaking with Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng making cameos with the second unit. Also, as Lebron’s whipping boy, you’d think he’d love the opportunity to hit a few daggers against his old team and division rival.
Contract: Anything over $4-$5 million per year is an overpay.
Odds: Likely.

Ramon Sessions

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Speaking of whipping boys, I’ll never understand why Bobcats fans hated Sessions so much. “He’s selfish!” “He can’t shoot!” “He looks like a real asshole!” I’ll concede the shooting at least. As for the selfish claims, Ramon was often in charge of leading a second unit that consisted of McRoberts (pass first), Jeff Taylor (37% FG, 27% 3PT FG), Bismack Biyombo (no comment) and either Ben “The Humbler” Gordon or Anthony Tolliver. There’s only so many pick and pops you can run with AT until the opposing defense figures it out. Ramon’s job was to manufacture offense and that’s what he did. Sessions is one of the league’s best at getting to the line and its no surprise that Charlotte’s inability to do so in the postseason coincided with Ramon playing in Milwaukee.
Contract: Somewhere between $4 and $5 million sounds right.
Odds: Likely.

Kirk Hinrich

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Another Thibs guy, Hinrich gets hurt a lot and is not even close to the same player that he was during the Bulls’ mid-2000s mini-renaissance but as a smart, solid-shooting backup point who tries hard on defense, you could do much, much worse.
Contract: Again, the magic number for quality backup PGs is around $4-$5m per.
Odds: Somewhat likely.

Backup Center

It’s difficult to imagine a more polarizing Charlotte Draft pick than Bismack Biyombo. Twitter seems to be equally divided into “You’re an Idiot, He Sucks” and “No. You’re an Idiot, He Doesn’t Suck” camps*. The truth is that Biz has some solid value today and will likely become a decent big man in time but at the moment, he can really hurt a team that’s trying to win meaningful NBA games. Proponents can point to the semi-esoteric “rim-protection” metric and finagle an argument via quantum physics as to how Biz is a more imposing defender than Roy Hibbert. Critics counter with Biyombo’s inordinately high turnovers given his lack of touches and his overall lack of feel for the game. All I can say is that Clifford didn’t feel comfortable playing Biz for long stretches even though he desperately needed to get Big Al some rest. Expect a veteran backup to arrive this summer either in free agency or via trade.
*Then again, this could describe a large proportion of all arguments on the internet.

Channing Frye, Spencer Hawes

Status: Unrestricted Free Agents
Non-traditional centers who love to hover around the three point line. They’ll be pricey and in demand by teams that crave unorthodox bigs. Pairing Frye and McRoberts in the frontcourt could allow MKG and Kemba to do lots of damage driving inside.
Contract: Minimum $6 million per.
Odds: Somewhat Likely.

Emeka Okafor

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Okafor in One-Four? The Bobcats first ever draft choice is coming off of a back injury but has a made a ton of cash (thanks to former Cats President Rod Higgins) and could be a nice backup and safety net should Big Al miss any time. He might not be ready for a reduced role quite yet though and there have been rumblings that the Heat will make a run.
Contract: Somewhere between $6-$7 million per depending on the team and years.
Odds: Unlikely.

Thank You, Mr. Dumars

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Hornets-Offseason

2014 Charlotte Hornets Draft Review

Two years ago, just before the 2012 NBA Draft, Charlotte Bobcats GM Rich Cho struck a deal with his Detroit counterpart Joe Dumars that sent the aging, soon-to-be retired & expired Corey Maggette to the Pistons for free agent bust Ben Gordon. Maggette’s contract had one year left, Gordon had two. Dumars – perhaps sensing his imminent demise — wanted to make a splash in free agency the following summer so bribed Cho with a lightly protected first round pick in order to take on Gordon’s extra money.

When teams make trades like this, the logic is that they’ll be good enough, soon enough that the chance of the pick coming back to haunt them will be next to nil. But this was Joe Dumars (again) over-estimating himself and instead of using the early cap space to bring in an All-Star that could push the team into the postseason promised-land, he ended up splurging (yet again) on a disgruntled, ill-fitting veteran (Josh Smith) who sunk the franchise further and further down into Lake Rebuild. Presto-change-o. The Hornets received a 2014 Lottery pick from Detroit.

Conversely, for the seemingly low price of two seasons and $25 million worth of Gordon’s bullshit, Cho netted the Hornets a bona-fide, super-intriguing Draft surprise in Noah Vonleh. A surprise in that I can’t recall a single mock that had the Indiana freshman falling so far. He’s skilled, has ridiculous length and size for his age (he won’t turn 19 until August) along with a non-stop motor. There were no character concerns or fatal flaws to his game. No nagging injury problems. No lack of scouting coverage. I have absolutely zero idea how any organization could come to the conclusion that Aaron Gordon (he of the 40% free throws and lack of position) was somehow a safer prospect than Vonleh but that’s exactly what Orlando – a team many had pegged as the Vonleh landing spot – did at pick number four.
Here’s another surprise: good teams usually don’t get a hold of prospects like Vonleh. Unless you’re one of the psychics who run the Spurs or Thunder, it’s rare for a franchise in win-now mode to ever get this sort of opportunity. Massive props to Cho by the way for not getting cold feet and wasting the gifted Detroit pick on a plug & play rotation player – basically what Washington did last year with Otto Porter. He took a homerun swing to find a star.

Expect Great Things…Eventually

Vonleh’s an interesting player. He has Emeka Okafor’s lower-body girth, strength and defensive aggression (along with some of his “mechanical” moves in the post). He also has Chris Bosh’s length, shooting range, and offensive versatility. Noah was projected as an NBA wing coming out of high school – one look at his handle will tell you that – but we still have no idea what his position will ultimately be. Like I said, Vonleh turns 19 in August – he’s currently 6’9″, 247 and could very well still be growing. Let’s say he tops out at a legit 6’10”, 265. That’s somewhere between Tiago Splitter and Nikola Pekovic – neither of whom have a 7’4″ wingspans. To me, that’s a future NBA center – one who can hit from the perimeter, bang with bigs inside for boards and protect the rim at an above average level.

BUT…it will take him a while to get there, it always does for big men and Hornets fans should be patient with Vonleh as he apprentices for a few seasons behind the most gifted post-scorer in the game, Al Jefferson. In the meantime, if you hear anyone talking about Noah starting for the Playoff-ready Hornets this upcoming season, do yourself a favor and MUTE, UNFOLLOW or turn off the radio. He’s gonna be good, just give him time.
GRADE: A+

An Unprecedented Risk

For better or for worse, the Charlotte Bobcats franchise never gambled on any Draft prospect with off-the-court character concerns during their entire ten year history. The team was conceived at the end of the polarizing Iverson-Era and the league’s first black majority owner (and founder of the hip-hop-centric BET network) was wise not to further cool lukewarm regional support for his eponymous expansion team by way of knuckleheads. Bobcats Draft picks might not make any headlines on the court, but at least they wouldn’t make any off of it.

That streak was broken last night when Jordan, Cho and the re-christened Hornets selected former UNC shooting guard P.J. Hairston with the 26th pick. Hairston was deemed so unprincipled as a collegiate player that he was kicked out of a school that makes up fake classes for its players to attend. Note to PJ: Drive the speed limit when you have green and guns in the car.

So why would the Hornets risk their lockerroom sanctity and the swell of re-brand fueled regional goodwill on a question mark like P.J.?
ANSWER: He has unlimited range on his shot and the Bobcats were a tremendously poor jump-shooting team last season. The Cats ranked 19th in 3PT shooting percentage and 24th in attempts. In other words, nobody could hit from deep and they knew as much not to even try.

Any team with Al Jefferson as its offensive centerpiece needs to spread the floor in order to punish double-teams and guys cheating off their assignments. Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker did solid work keeping their defenders honest, shooting around 35-ish% from deep. We all know Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can’t shoot (yet, fingers-crossed) but you need him out there guarding on the perimeter to make up for Al’s lack of rim-protection. That brings us to Hairston’s position, Shooting Guard:

Have a look at the following two shot charts.
GH_14

PJH_14
Hint: The top chart is of a guy whose name rhymes with “Gerald Henderson”. To be fair, Hairston accomplished his in the D-League – the level of competition isn’t remotely the same but you get the idea: P.J. loves to launch it from way out and he’s likely better at it than anyone currently on Charlotte’s roster. Hairston also has the size and skill level to play right away. He shouldn’t be anywhere near the Opening Night starting lineup but as a change-of-pace bench weapon, P.J. could be a key cog of the Hornets Playoff rotation next Spring. And who knows, if Charlotte strikes out in its pursuit of an All-Star caliber starting wing in free agency or via trade (Lance Stephenson, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Luol Deng), Hairston could be playing big minutes by the All-Star break.
GRADE: A-

Trader Cho*

The Hornets used Miami’s 26th overall pick to take Hairston, a selection they received as part of the Shabazz Napier trade minutes earlier. Once the dust was settled, Cho ended up turning the 24th and 45th picks into PJ, a future 2nd Rounder from Miami, cash and cap relief. I haven’t seen the specifics of the money but believe the league limits “cash considerations” at around $3.2m per transaction. Judging from Pat Riley’s “extortion” claims, Miami may have paid that amount (along with two second rounders) in order jump up two spots and get Napier.

Cho then traded the Hornets own 2nd Rounder (Dwight Powell) to Cleveland for the rights to dump the final year of Brendan Haywood’s $2.2 million salary**. Getting rid of both the pick and Haywood trims an additional $3 million from the Hornets cap number – more on this in a bit. Finally, Cho sent this year’s 2nd Round pick from Miami (Semaj Christon) to OKC for yet more cash considerations.

Twitter was going a little berserk over such minor moves – but like most of the decisions Cho has made since arriving in Charlotte, they were savvy and could lead to bigger and better things down the road. Such as…

Free Agent Players

Perhaps most impressively, Charlotte ended Draft night both more talented AND more cap-flush. Check out the updated salary chart:
Baseline_Salaries_PostDraft14
The Hornets now enter July with over $14 million to spend on a free agent, more than enough to add, say, Luol Deng or Lance Stephenson, and that’s BEFORE renouncing Josh McRoberts’ rights or shipping Gerald Henderson or Bismack Biyombo off in a salary dump. Make any combination of those moves and that number jumps to $20 million plus – otherwise known as Lebron/Carmelo territory. Will either of those guys sign with Charlotte? Doubtful. But Cho’s ability to improve both the team’s present and future on the same night speaks volumes of this franchise’s growth from the top down. Retire the jokes along with the Bobcats name. This organization is legit.
OVERALL GRADE: A++

*Whoever came up with that nickname is a genius by the way
**Cleveland also sent forward Alonzo Gee to Charlotte but his 2014-2015 unguaranteed salary is guaranteed to be declined.

Charlotte Hornets Roundtable | Post-Lottery Edition

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Big Al and Kevin Love Reunited?

Baseline contributors past, present and future weigh in on the ramifications of Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery:

QUESTION ONE: The Hornets have lucked into Detroit’s 9th overall pick and are now armed with two first rounders (including Portland’s 24th overall selection) and a second rounder in a deep Draft. Should the team keep the picks and add prospects or bundle them with either young vets and their roughly $17 million in cap room to bring in a proven All-Star?

Ben (@benweinrib): I would be shocked if the Hornets make selections at 9, 24, and 45, and had them all on their roster on the first game of the season. The Hornets are at a crossroads where they have the assets (picks and cap space) to pick up a quality player and need to make a playoff push, since their window is as long as Big Al keeps playing at a high level. They could bundle up their picks to move into the 5-7 range to grab Julius Randle or (more likely) will make a run at Kevin Love, Greg Monroe, or Gordon Hayward.

Dr. E (@BaselineDrE): I think the Hornets should be and will be pretty active in trade talks over the next few weeks. With these 3 picks in the 2014 draft, all future picks intact, and some young talent on the roster, the Bobcats could put together a competitive package of assets to snare a big name. With Big Al in his prime and Kemba approaching his, young talent developing, a great coach and a seemingly stable front office, and in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets could actually look pretty attractive to Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony if they are looking to win. Bringing a star like that to our small market is a longshot, obviously, but the Hornets owe it to themselves to sniff around some deals like that.
I also think a small deal for Arron Afflalo makes a ton of sense — if the price is right (i.e. not the #9 pick) it would be a low-risk upgrade at the 2.

Jason (@jasonjefferies): Hendo and a pick to Indy in Sign & Trade for Lance Stephenson.

Bradford (@bradford_NBA): This answer is pretty straightforward for me. If you can grab Kevin Love with a godfather offer, you do it. Maybe Gordon Hayward depending on the package. Otherwise, you have to keep the pick. While I think the top of this draft is overrated, the Hornets are in an interesting position in the top 10 where they don’t really need a franchise guy. They just need to fill out the team with talent and this draft is full of specialists with upside. As for trades, Afflalo is a popular name and he would fit the team well. But he’s 28 and at his peak. He’s essentially a sunk cost. He might add a couple wins, but he’s posted an above average PER once and his value can only go down. The Harden trade taught us that youth and potential are (over)valued with Jeremy Lamb being the centerpiece for OKC. Drafting a young guy with potential can help the team now while leaving them with options down the road. The Hornets have to look at the present with an eye towards the future. I would assume they don’t plan on having a lottery pick for the foreseeable future so you have to take a chance on a young guy with potential that you can develop on the cheap. Or you go grab Kevin Love, who would be awesome with Jefferson and Kemba. But that seems unlikely.

ASChin (@baselinebuzz ): This really comes down to whether the Hornets want to go all-in now while the East is weak or if they want to guarantee a prolonged period of competitiveness. If the number nine pick can nab a potential All-Star, Charlotte gets one on the cheap who can develop and grow with Kemba/MKG/Cody. That core might not lead to a Finals appearance but it would be sustainable and fun. On the other hand, sending the picks to Minnesota for Kevin Love would immediately put the Hornets in the Eastern Conference title conversation – BUT the chances of K-Love staying in teal & purple for more than 18 months are 50/50 at best. Tough call.

QUESTION TWO: If the Hornets keep the picks, who should they target at each spot?

Ben: They desperately need shooting, which means Gary Harris and James Young make a lot of sense. The ninth overall pick is a tad early for Rodney Hood, but he’d be a steal at 24. Of course, I’m going to advocate Jarnell Stokes at 24 (huge hands, great athleticism, at worst a great rebounder) and the incomparable Isaiah Austin (worst-case scenario: superstar) at 45. (Editor’s note: anyone who follows us on twitter knows that Ben is higher on Ike Austin than either of Isaiah’s own parents)

DrE: The biggest need is perimeter shooting/scoring in general, whether that comes from a 2, 3 or 4. So if the Hornets keep the #9 pick, I think it would come down to Zach Lavine, Gary Harris, or Doug McDermott. Obviously at #9 everyone has a shortcoming. LaVine doesn’t have much consistent production to show for his enormous potential and is a little smallish. Harris is on the small side for a 2 as well, with more of a track record of production but without the high ceiling. And McDermott is the more polished shooter/scorer, but with very questionable quickness/athleticism.
I saw where DraftExpress has the Hornets picking Dario Saric at #9, but that doesn’t make much sense to me unless you think he has real breakout/star potential. Because when I watch the video, his game looks a lot like Cody Zeller’s.
PJ Hairston would be intriguing if he’s still there at #24. If any team in the league would be fully clued in to his issues at UNC, it would be the Hornets. If he’s there and they pass on him, you can bet that they think he’s a likely career knucklehead.
Backup PG is another need, but the Hornets will almost certainly deal with that via free agency or trade (think Ramon Sessions or Jameer Nelson).

Jason: Anyone but McAdoo. Seriously, anyone.

Bradford: Outside of NC State (class of 2008, GO PACK!) I don’t watch college basketball so all I have to go on is what I’ve read and some Draft Express videos. I have to think it’s between Zach LaVine, Nik Stauskas, and Gary Harris. Harris is the best 2-way player of the bunch. He’s an absolute bulldog on defense and a competent shooter on offense. Basically a more refined Oladipo. But he’s small for a shooting guard and not an elite athlete. Stauskas is an underrated but still average athlete, but an elite shooter with a quick release and deep range. He can also handle the ball in the pick and roll. There’s lots of talk of him playing point guard in spot duty. He makes the right pass and his shooting off the bounce opens up opportunities. Zach LaVine is one of the best athletes in the draft and a decent shooter. But that’s about it from what I can tell. I’m taking Stauskas personally, but with a low level of confidence. I love the shooting too much and I think the defensive weaknesses can be covered up with a strong scheme. He just needs to be a good team defender like JJ Reddick. He might not have the potential of other guys due to his athleticism, but we know for sure what he can do. As for the 24th pick, I don’t think it matters quite as much. You’re looking for a productive bench player. Shabazz Napier, TJ Warren, Rodney Hood, Jerami Grant, KJ McDaniels. Hood probably doesn’t last that far. I’d probably lean Napier or Warren (what a homer) but all are great pickups that late. PJ Hairston is the wild card if he’s there. I think he needs to get away from the state of North Carolina and start fresh. Too many bad influences for him around here. I’d steer clear.

ASChin: The Hornets are desperate for a dynamic scoring, floor-stretching off-guard and I’m all in on UCLA’s LaVine. He needs to add strength and get smarter on both ends but man, when he’s on he looks like a future NBA star. Long, explosive and oozes confidence. Remember: he just turned 19 in March. LaVine can shoot off the catch and is a transition weapon. He won’t be ready for a couple of seasons but that’s why you trade for a guy like Afflalo as an interim starter. Kemba/LaVine/MKG/Cody could be Charlotte’s core for the next 8-10 seasons. DREAM FOR LAVINE!

QUESTION THREE: Who was the bigger winner in last night’s Lottery: Hornets fans or Rod Higgins? Draft euphoria has completely overshadowed the fact that Charlotte will send its own pick to Chicago as part of his disastrous Tyrus Thomas trade four years ago.

Ben: I’m just still in shock that a Larry Brown trade had cataclysmic long-term effects.

DrE: Everyone associated with the Hornets won big yesterday, but yes, Rod Higgins particularly has to be breathing a sigh of relief that some things have broken his way. Rich Cho is the best thing to ever happen to Rod Higgins. Obviously the Hornets were lucky that the Detroit pick slipped to them, but it was Rich Cho that really made that even possible via the Corey Maggette/Ben Gordon trade. With Gordon’s contract expiring, and the Hornets own pick being conveyed to the Bulls this year to complete the Tyrus Thomas trade, all vestiges of the mismanagement of the Larry Brown era are gone, and Cho has the Hornets positioned very nicely for the next few years.

Jason: Both. Hornets pick ended up being less than stellar, and maybe the lessons learned from the T-Time debacle were worth giving the pick up for.

Bradford: Love this question. I’m leaning towards Hornets fans, but Higgins is certainly happy. As is Cho. Go back in time 3 years and find slightly younger you. Tell them that in 3 years, that aging, cap strapped team that owes a future pick to Chicago would make the playoffs and enter that off-season with a clean cap sheet, no outstanding assets to send out, and the 9th and 24th picks in a deep and productive draft. Oh, and the Hornets are back. Also, not just back as a name and color scheme, but all the records and statistics as well. Then watch younger you either laugh at you, stand with his/her mouth agape, or watch them cry in happiness. For all of MJ’s accused nepotism in running his organization it is clear Higgins isn’t doing much other than running press conferences these days. It hasn’t been perfect, but the Cho and MJ partnership is something to be excited about.

ASChin: Higgins apparently received some Executive of the Year votes earlier this month – but anyone who pays attention knows that Cho runs the show. Pre-Cho Higgins was like Ernie Grunfeld gone wrong. Sure, Rod’s a marginally better public face for the team’s basketball operations and I’m certain he has other talents behind the scenes – but his personnel record speaks for itself. The Tyrus trade was and continues to be a tremendous stinkbomb. Let’s just hope that Chicago doesn’t nab a future star with the pick.
Notice that no one’s talking about this stuff now that Cho’s Gordon/Maggette deal has produced a surprise Lottery pick. WINNER: Rod Higgins

Greatest Bobcat Ever

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BEST-EVER-COVER

The Charlotte Bobcats/Neo-Hornets have been to the post-season twice, being swept both times by a Florida team. They’ve had a single All-Star representative in their 10 years, 1 All-Defensive 1st Team member, 1 Rookie of the Year, 1 All-Rookie 1st Team member, and 5 All-Rookie 3rd Team members. That’s not many accolades for a team that just celebrated its 10th year of existence with a complete rebrand. Reflecting on 10 years of consistently not good basketball naturally leads to debating who has had the best season in that 10 years.

The majority of players that have worn the orange and blue (and the other blue, then the next blue) can be ignored. Tamar Slay (props if you didn’t have to look him up) didn’t exactly set the NBA on fire. The list can be trimmed pretty quickly. A quick Family Feud survey on who the best players in team history are and will return some mix of Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Kemba Walker, and Al Jefferson. Jason Richardson’s name will rightfully show up with 1 or 2 votes. If Stephen Jackson showed up, just no. He might make love to pressure, but that stat doesn’t seem to exist anywhere.

The goal is to identify who had the best individual season, regardless of overall team performance. Impact on the team as a whole does matter, just not the final win/loss record. Players won’t be penalized for unluckily ending up on one of the many bad Bobcats rosters or reward Stephen Jackson for being on one of two playoff teams. Individual seasons can be compared using composite ratings such as PER and points per 100 possessions, plus-minus information, tempo adjusted performance rates, and individual play type performance. All stats come from ESPN.com, NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com, 82games.com, and mysynergysports.com.

During the research process, it became apparent that it wasn’t fair to single out one season as the best. Too many good and often underrated performances would go unnoticed and since the Bobcats no longer exist (or won’t soon? It seems nobody knows the timetable on this)* they deserve some recognition. Apologies to any that have been missed.

Honorable Mentions

Charlotte Bobcats, 2004-2005

In honor of the re-brand, the entire team gets some space. Brevin Knight led the team with an 18.2 PER, followed by Jason Hart at 16.91. Yes, Jason Hart was an above average NBA player by PER on this team. Jason Kapono shot 41% from deep. Emeka Okafor began his career with an impressive 16.39 PER and Rookie of the Year award. Aside from gaining cult status over time overshadowed by only Walter Hermann’s hair, Primo Brezec had the best career of his season with a 16.19 PER while averaging a career high 31.6 minutes and 13 points per game. Melvin Ely was on the team. Apparently Steve Smith was too, shooting 42% on three and 87% from the line then calling it quits because NBATV money is better than wearing yourself out on an expansion team. Eddie House posted a 15.88 PER while averaging 11.1 points and shooting 41.4% from downtown (this team sure had a lot of shooting… that must have been nice). Jahidi White had a 17.5% usage rate for some reason, along with an 18.2% turnover rate. Bernard Robinson scored 18 points in Madison Square Garden, the ultimate King Maker Arena. Gerald Wallace began his ascension, posting a 14.12 PER in more than triple the minutes from his previous season. Tamar Slay finished his final NBA season with a 1.49 PER which may be the lowest in team history if it was worth looking up. And orange jerseys. Because just look at them.

okafor-profileEmeka Okafor, 2008-2009 Season

The adjective for Okafor’s tenure in Charlotte is solid. Never spectacular, never terrible, just consistently solid. That being the case, it’s tough to single out an individual season as the stand-out but, as the onlyRookie of the Year amongst a plethora of failed lottery picks, he deserves to be recognized. Forced to p
ick just one, 2008-2009 comes the closest to a marquee Okafor season. Posting an 18.01 PER, the second highest of his Charlotte tenure, and an offensive rating of 102.2, his highest over that same time period, with a .581 true shooting percentage and a .561 effective field goal percentage, this was his best offensive season. Defensively he was solid as ever with the Bobcats being 4.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. While he pales in comparison to Dwight Howard who was drafted just before him, Okafor was a solid rim protector and a decent offensive option, something Charlotte could definitely use behind Al Jefferson right now.

Jason Richardson Illustration by Mike SJason Richardson, 2007-2008

Richardson’s tenure in Charlotte was (too) short, but merits a mention. With a PER of 18.6 and an offensive rating of 103, he was one of the best offensive players the Bobcats have seen. He got torched on defense, but a player that shoots 40.6% from 3 has been a rarity in the Queen City over the past 10 years. It would have been interesting to see that team develop with a decent coach. Instead J-Rich got shipped out to Phoenix for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw and the rest is painful, eye gouging, Larry Brown hating history.

Adam Morrison, 2006-2007

Haha. Just kidding.

kemba-sketch-01

Kemba Walker, 2013-2014

Kemba is a key piece of the Charlotte Hornets moving forward and has been worthy of the 9th pick in the 2011 draft. It would be easy to select 2012-2013 as his best season as he improved his shot selection and had easily his best shooting percentages in his (extremely) short career thus far. It’s hard to disentangle Kemba’s performance from Al Jefferson’s in 2013-2014, but that’s the beauty of what he’s done this past season. Walker has been the number one option on every team he’s played. He’s been expected to create shots for himself first and involve his teammates second. This is delving into “intangibles,” but Kemba’s ability to change his mindset and learn to play with a post player was impressive. While his shooting percentages regressed, his assist ratio improved and turnover rate dropped. Defensively he had his best season with a 99.1 rating and 3.3 defensive win shares, continuing to block shots and get steals with his quickness and athleticism and rebounding well for a small guard. His biggest defensive concern is his size, yet in isolation plays the opposing player scored .73 points per possession on 31.6% shooting. He’s doing just fine. Plus/Minus stats aren’t particularly helpful here because Luke Ridnour was the backup for 1/3 of the season and Ramon Sessions is a known terrible defender. Kemba’s future is bright as he had arguably his best season yet even if it wasn’t a massive statistical improvement on his 2nd season.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.3. Al Jefferson, 2013-2014

Jefferson came to Charlotte and made an immediate impact, leading the team to the playoffs and even receiving MVP votes. This speaks to the dearth of centers in the league and the massive improvement in the Bobcats record from 2012 to 2013, more than doubling wins. This is not to diminish his accomplishments. Jefferson is a low post savant that found a way to be competent on defense in a way he hadn’t been at any other point in his career. Jefferson posted the highest PER in team history at 22.7. He was the focus of the offense and the main focus of defenses every night, allowing other guys to find their spots. Despite all that attention, his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage were the 3rd best of his career at 53.2% and 51%, respectively. Jefferson had the highest assist percentage in his 10 years at 12.8%, a welcome improvement in his game. All of this while posting his highest usage percentage ever at 29.3%. He also had his best defensive rebounding percentage at 28.2%, an important part of finishing defensive possessions. Defensively he was solid, helping hold opposing players to less than 1 point per possession in all significant play types (play types run more than 40 times). He struggled with stretch 5’s like Chris Bosh as they shot 40.7% on 3’s in spot up situations, but that’s a concession that has to be made given Al’s physical limitations defensively. All in all, Al Jefferson had an excellent season relative to both his career and the Bobcats history, with defense being a particular bright spot considering his reputation.

2. Gerald Wallace, 2009-2010

The 2009-2010 season was the year of Crash. He earned the Bobcats first and only All-Star appearance (including a lackluster, at best, appearance in the dunk contest) while earning All-Defensive 1st Team honors and finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also lead the Bobcats to their first ever playoffs appearance. He had no chance at an All-NBA team due to the glut of quality wing players in the league, but that shouldn’t take away from a great season. Based on accolades, this was easily Wallace’s best season and the best individual Bobcats season. He was a defensive beast, averaging 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 10 rebounds per game with a defensive rating of 100. Overall, Charlotte was a great defensive team and with Wallace on the court they were 1 point per 100 possessions better than when he rested. Offensively, Wallace was solid. He averaged 18.2 points per game, the highest of his career, while shooting 37% from three, a major outlier in his career, and 48.4% overall to go with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. All of this playing a career high 41 minutes per game, often at power forward (not his preference). In the team context, Wallace was a net positive on both offense and defense, though not significantly so. The team was .7 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 1 point better defensively, as noted previously. Why is this not the best season in Bobcats history?

BEST-EVER

1. Gerald Wallace, 2008-2009

While the awards came in the 2009-2010 season, Wallace’s reputation in the league was established in the prior season. That season he had the second highest PER of his career at 18.64. His offensive rating was 101.7, better than his All-Star season.  While his raw stats aren’t as impressive as that season, he played 3.4 minutes less per game, averaging 37.6 minutes. Efficiency is what sets this season apart from that season. Per 36 minutes his scoring average was almost identical at 15.9 in ‘08-‘09 and 16.0 in ‘09-‘10. Despite the unexpected 3 point efficiency the next year, his overall shooting efficiency was also close with true shooting percentages of 58.5% and 58.6% and effective field goal percentages of 50.4% and 51.1% (this is where the 3 point shooting shows itself). He was able to make up for the 3 point shooting by being better at the free throw line, 80.4% to 77.6%, and better from 2 point range, 51.5% to 50.3%. Wallace also had a 12.4% assist rate in ‘08-‘09 but only 9% in ‘09-‘10, all to go with a better turnover rate in the prior season at 12.8% vs 13.1%. All of this offense came at a slightly higher usage rate, going from 20.5% to 20.3%. If these minor differences seem like splitting hairs, it’s because that is exactly what differentiating these 2 seasons is.

The defensive side of the ball is the real clincher.  In that season the team was 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. While individual defensive efficiency can be noisy, that difference is enough to have merit. The defense was anchored by Emeka Okafor who posted a solid 102.3 defensive rating with a defensive +/- of -4.3, but the effect Wallace had from a wing position is extremely impressive. On the court, the Bobcats had the 7th most efficient defense in the league. With him off the court, they had what would have amounted to the 29th best defense. Wallace posted a better steal rate (2.5% to 2.0%) and equivalent block rate (2.1% to 2.2%) in ’08-’09. This was a significantly worse defensive team overall, ranking 14th overall as compared to 1st the following year, but Wallace certainly wasn’t the problem. While the ’08-’09 and ’09-’10 seasons could essentially be combined in regards to defensive and offensive performance, 2008-2009 wins out by virtue of the “doing more with less” axiom. This all comes down to a matter of opinion. You can’t go wrong with either season. Just know that Gerald Wallace is the King of the Queen City. All hail Crash.

*Sadly this joke died as the Charlotte organization has announced the name change will take place on May 20th.

-Bradford Coombs

 


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2014 Charlotte Hornets Offseason Preview

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The Bobcats-era wrapped up with an emphatic BANG of a season that saw the team improve by more wins (22) than it won in total the season prior (21). Instead of trotting out a bunch of could-be’s and haven’t-beens to theoretically improve their draft position, Charlotte’s NBA franchise bucked the NBA’s current trend of tanking and revitalized a downtrodden fan-base in turn. Basketball is again something worth talking about in the QC and thanks to Coach Clifford & Company, the excitement won’t just be about a new coat of teal & purple paint.

Still, as fantastic of a season as it was for Charlotte, the first round sweep against the two time defending champs Miami Heat exposed some well-known flaws within the roster. Addressing those flaws while simultaneously building upon the Bobcats’ success will be the front office’s assignment as we head into the inaugural Hornets offseason. Wait, did I just type “building upon success” and “Bobcats” in the same sentence? #NEWWORLDORDER

STEP ONE: A Shooting Guard who can Shoot

I often found myself in the role of Lone Hendo Defender throughout much of the season. Having watched his development over the past five years – from a quarantined rook at the end of Larry Brown’s bench to a quality two-way NBA starting two guard – I was excited to see what Gerald could become on a good team. The answer was a resounding “passable“, a sometimes scoring, sometimes attacking, sometimes lockdown defensive shooting guard whose poor man’s D-Wade game just doesn’t work all that well on a team desperate for long range shooting. Like most of the Bobcats’ opponents this season, Miami smartly packed the paint and crowded Kemba Walker at the point of attack – knowing that the inevitable ball swing to the open shooter wouldn’t hurt them. That’s a problem.

Henderson doesn’t want to shoot off the catch at all – he’ll be wide open and hesitate before taking a bounce or faking a pass only to throw up a clanker out of necessity. His mid-post and iso games were made redundant once Jefferson was added to the mix and Hendo wasn’t able to transition his game over the course of the season to compensate. I like Gerald and think he gets an unnecessary bad rap from the fans but it’s obvious that he’s a bad fit on a Kemba/Big Al centered offense.

The good news for Charlotte is that there are a few options to remedy the issue either in the draft, free agency or via trade. With Portland’s 24th overall selection, the Hornets will likely have a shot at former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston (controversial, high upside), Duke’s Rodney Hood (safe, lower upside) or the UCLA SG prospects Jordan Adams (good mechanics, iffy results) and Zach LaVine (skinny and raw). None of these guys will step in and be instant All-Stars but could provide a nice boost in the limited role of floor-spacer.

Free Agency offers a couple of high priced young vets in Lance Stephenson (combustible, questionable fit) and Gordon Hayward. Hayward is probably the team’s ideal target as a sweet shooting, shot-creating big wing but he’s a restricted free agent that Utah says they want to keep and there’s rumored to be a long line of suitors should the Jazz change their minds.

One cheaper, under the radar alternative might be OKC’s Thabo Sefolosha. While Thabo’s not a shot creator like Lance or Hayward, he’s been a fantastic “three and D” knockdown guy for many years and shouldn’t cost the team more than $4 million or so per season. Although Sefolosha struggled with his stroke this season, he shot 40%+ from downtown in the previous two. Perhaps most importantly, Thabo won’t kill Clifford’s defense while he’s out there.

On the trade front, Charlotte’s has already been linked to Orlando’s Arron Afflalo (42% 3PTFG) via ESPN’s Mark Stein. Afflalo’s nearly thirty and only has one more guaranteed season on his deal – so don’t expect GM Rich Cho to give up much (maybe a couple of 2nd Round Picks) for Arron’s services – but putting Afflalo in teal & purple could provide an immediate upgrade for Charlotte’s distance shooting without having to break the bank short-term.

STEP TWO: #BringBackMcBob, Part II

In an unexpected karmic re-balancing, Josh McRoberts has provided the answer to a long asked QC Hoops question: “What if Boris Diaw gave a damn? Unlike the bovine Segway Surfer, Josh brings maximum effort every game and is beloved by both teammates and fans alike for his abilities as a floor-spacer and distributor. One of the most unique players in the league, McRoberts functions often as the team’s spot-up shooting point guard in the half court, rarely creating for himself. Outside of Kevin Love, there probably isn’t a better fit for Charlotte’s offense with Kemba Walker still progressing as a traditional point and Al Jefferson desperate for floor spacing.

Retaining McRoberts, who will likely opt out of his two-year deal he signed last summer, is of tremendous importance. With an expected cap increase coming for all teams, expect Josh to command around $5-$6 million per season on the open market.

STEP THREE: Backup Point Guard

Ramon Sessions had his flaws: He was guilty of tunnel vision, he wasn’t a reliable three point shooter and he was a less than stellar perimeter defender. But he was light years less destructive for Charlotte than his trade deadline replacement, Luke Ridnour.

While Luke’s abilities as a traditional floor leader came in handy, he proved to a be a fantastically bad shooter (39%FG, 30%3PTFG) who couldn’t draw fouls and was a gi-normous liability on defense. Fans complained when Ramon’s second unit minutes became a constant barrage of head down drives. But at least “Sesh” turned those drives into trips to the line, easy layups or – at worst – short rebounds. Luke’s second units often devolved into hot potato on the perimeter until the shot clock forced a bad three or a Luke giveaway.

Fortunately, both Ridnour’s and Sessions’ deals expire this summer and Ramon has let it be known that he’d like to be back. That would be a-ok with me and it’s likely that some of his former detractors would welcome Sessions back with open arms after having been subjected to Ridnour for a few months.

Charlotte could also hit the trade or free agent markets looking for a fit. If Jameer Nelson gets bought out by Orlando (likely), Clifford would surely love to have him backing up and mentoring his height-challenged PG of the future. Philly’s Tony Wroten has his warts but offers an intriguing combination of size and potential – he likely doesn’t fit into the Sixers’ future plans with Michael Carter-Williams on the roster so could be made available for the right price.

Unrestricted free agent options includes guys like Greivis Vaquez, Rodney Stuckey and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers in particular would be an interesting signing as a spot up shooting, high-end backup whose acquisition would simultaneously weaken a division opponent.

STEP FOUR: Give Big Al a Break

The Bobcats have $6 million committed to the Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood combo next season and neither is an ideal backup for Big Al. Biz is a complete non-factor on offense as well as a turnover machine and Haywood can’t even get on the court, having missed the entire ’13-’14 season with a foot injury.

In an ideal world, the Hornets could find a rebuilding team to take on Biz’s upcoming $3.8 million salary in a straight dump and use the space created either via free agency or trade to bring in a veteran two-way replacement.

One outside-the-box free agent pick is PHX’s Channing Frye – a legit “stretch five” 6’11” guy who can nail threes (37% 3PTFG on 5.3 attempts per game). Bringing Frye in with the second unit could open up the paint for more drive opportunities for guys like Gary Neal and allow MKG an opportunity to work in the post.

Regardless of who they end up with, Charlotte will need to figure out how to get Big Al some rest – he played 35 minutes a night for Clifford this season and is nursing a ruptured plantar fasciitis. Given his age (29) and body type, Jefferson would be better off decreasing his minutes down closer to the 30 per game mark. For that to happen, Cho will need to find a capable backup.

STEP FIVE: Young Guys Doin’ Work

The Hornets can’t solely depend on outside help if they want to get better, their recent Draft picks have to grow as well.

Kemba Walker should spend the entire offseason working on his shot. As much as we love Kemba, 39% from the field just isn’t going to cut it. There were many nights this season where Walker’s 6-18 or 4-16 shooting actively hurt the team.

Conversely, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might want to shy away from rebuilding a fundamentally broken shot and spend more time on developing a post-up game and maybe even add a floater or hook to his repertoire. Those skills could pay instant dividends, especially if the front office can add shooting around him.

Cody Zeller has voiced his concern about adding bulk, saying that it might hamper his speed and leaping ability. Fortunately, it’s 2014 and there are ways to add core, functional strength without bulking up too much. Cody needs to divide his time between strength training and the mid-range jumper all summer.

Jeff Taylor is a complete unknown at this point. He’s nearing 25 years of age and rehabbing a torn achilles. His shot was ok in theory pre-injury but produced horrific results in practice. He seems like a great young guy and we’re hoping for a full recovery for JT down the road but expectations should be kept at a minimum.

STEP SIX: Keep On Keepin’ On

Coach Clifford somehow turned Charlotte into a Top 10 defense in his first season and has said on multiple occasions that he’s just getting started implementing his advanced scheme. Since you can’t add systematic nuance with a complete roster overhaul, expect much of the Hornets core roster to remain the same. Upgrading the shooting guard position, retaining McRoberts, finding suitable backups for Big Al & Kemba and continuing the youngsters’ development internally will only vault the Hornets higher into the Eastern Conference.

Speaking of which, some have questioned if Charlotte has enough core talent on hand to compete for anything beyond a Playoff seed and those people are sort of missing the point. In the modern history of the NBA, no franchise has ever gone from perpetual doormat to champ and perpetual doormat is exactly what the Bobcats were for nearly all of their ten year history.

Michael Jordan, Cho and Clifford are building a culture of competent, competitive basketball. It may lead to legitimate title contention and it may not but for the first time in forever, Charlotte’s hoops franchise is worth the blood, sweat and tears of a fan’s investment. They will play hard, they will play smart and, for the first time in ages, they will make you proud to let the world know where your allegiance lies.

Go Hornets.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz