Charlotte Hornets Roundtable | Lance Edition

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QUESTION: In the span of just three weeks, Charlotte replaced McRoberts, Tolliver, Haywood, Ridnour and Rufus Lynx with Vonleh, Hairston, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, Lance and Hugo. 


With a “1” being the Kool-Aid man busting through a teal colored wall and a “10” being an MDMA party at Bieber’s crib, where does this summer rank on the EUPHORIA SCALE?

DrE: I’m at a 7, which I believe equates to dropping acid with Bill Walton on a beach in Belize, which is pretty euphorigenic, until the trip goes bad and the ghost of Rick Majerus shows up. But seriously, I’m excited. Can we fast forward to October?

BradfordI’ll go with 7. Cho gets a -3 for losing McRoberts even though I fully understand it. Everything else is a clear upgrade. I’m a big fan of Brian Roberts. Marvin Williams is a good fit on a sensible contract. Vonleh could end up being a steal in the draft (crazy that Charlotte could be considered the “right” destination for a player, right?). Hairston clearly fits a need and I think his “character” issues are extremely overblown. Which brings us to the gem of the off-season, Crazy Eyes Stephenson. Cho clearly preferred Gordon Hayward and took a strategic gamble. I agree with his priorities. He would have been a good fit for the long haul. But Stephenson is the better player right now and fits very well on the court. I’m more worried about a 13.8 turnover ratio than I am blowing in someone’s ear. And can we stop pretending his breaking up the Heat huddle matters? Marcin Gortat does the same thing and it makes him quirky and funny. And as far as the locker room concerns… Paul George bought into his own hype over the off-season and Roy Hibbert is softer than a Drake song. The more I think about it, the less worried I am about Lance. He’s earned everything he’s gotten. New York phenom that goes under-recruited, is a 2nd round pick that barely plays, and builds himself into a potential all-star. I’ll take that on my team. I like his edge, even if it gets a little over the top at times. Until he marries himself and kicks a camera operator in the groin I trust him and the organization to keep it under control without taking away what’s made him successful. Everyone loves Hugo.

ASChin: Currently at a solid “8” but could rise to Bieber-on-goofballs status if the team lives up to its potential. In fact, I’m not even sure I enjoy feeling this way – being a Charlotte NBA fan over the past few seasons has been a bi-polar experience. You had the ultimate low of the seven win season followed by the slow to develop draft picks and the Mike Dunlap mini-era. Now Charlotte is suddenly the hottest team in the Conference – OKC EAST if you will. Got the old name and records back. Dope unis and the illest court in the league. The best offensive big man in the game. An exciting young point guard. Lockdown twenty-one year old wing. One of the NBA’s top coaches. A great GM. And now they add Lance, who’s probably the best two-way SG in basketball at twenty three years of age. Oh, and they got him at a discount. Did I mention the bonus Lottery pick?

QUESTION: Off the court stuff aside, is there any reason to worry about Lance’s fit ON THE COURT?

DrE: The ball handling, playmaking, respectable three-point shooting, and bulldog defense are all godsends. The only thing I’m worried about is the freelancing (pun totally intended) tendencies on offense. Hopefully Lance can direct most of that energy into the minutes when he’s leading the second unit, while keeping the offense running through Big Al when he’s out there with the starters.

BradfordNot as much as some would lead you to believe. Lance has a reputation for being selfish and a ball-stopper. That’s the biggest concern when adding him to the team and wouldn’t seem to mesh when Al Jefferson and Kemba are going to have the ball a lot. Comparing him to the guy he’ll (probably) be replacing in Gerald Henderson, you can see that Lance has a lower usage rate (19.5% vs 22.4%) and a higher assist ration (23.5 vs 14.4). Those numbers come in the context of basically the same number of touches per game (54-55), though Lance did play 3 more minutes per game. Lance also had the ball for 3 minutes each game versus 1.8 for Henderson. Adjusting for time played, Lance had the ball 5 seconds for every minute on the floor and Henderson had it for 3.4 seconds per minute. SportVU shows them having the same number of passes and secondary assists per game, but Lance having 2 more assists, .3 more passes leading to free throws, and 3.4 more assist opportunities (ignores the result of the shot after the pass). Overall, Stephenson added more than 5 points per 48 minutes via passing than Henderson. That’s the really long way of saying I think he fits perfectly.

ASChin: A few people have been tossing around the “ball stopper” label when it comes to Lance. I’m not buying it. Indy’s offense was a mess last season and Lance finally took it upon himself to create. One look at Big Al’s head-fake, up & under, spin around push-shot and Lance will realize he’s not alone anymore. The offense goes through Jefferson: Lance will facilitate, set up in the right corner for wide open threes. Penetrate and dish. Iso when needed. I am interested in how Clifford handles the rebounding chores. Lance loves hitting the offensive glass and Clifford wants his guys back on D pronto.

QUESTION: True or False: Kemba & Lance will lead the league in “And1 Mixtape” moments.

DrE: Ha, maybe. I’m more hopeful that the professionalism of Big Al, Kemba, Clifford, etc. rubs off on Lance and his game matures.

BradfordBackcourt only? True. Wall and Beal are nice, but Beal is mostly a shooter and straight line driver. Overall duo? Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook have that on lock. Melo and Derrick Rose would have been awesome but alas, money (and actress wives apparently) over everything.

ASChin: Given what we’ve seen of the Gersh Park highlights, I wouldn’t be surprised the TWC bring back “Tone X” to serve as hype-man…

QUESTION: The Hornets are currently carrying five SGs on the roster. Which one doesn’t make it to camp?

DrE: I think Gary Neal has to go — his playing time is going to drop off and he’s unlikely to deal with that well.  I’d love to keep Gerald Henderson around to be Lance’s primary backup.

Bradford: Assuming PJ is prevented from going for non-basketball related reasons, I’m saying all 5. Hairston appears to be a bigger, stronger, more versatile version of Neal so if I had a choice he’d be the one to go. If his ego can stomach it, I love Henderson off the bench. Jeff Taylor is super cheap and I like giving him a chance to re-establish himself, though let’s not indulge a certain local publication’s insinuation that he has a chance at a starting job. Right now he’s a fringe NBA player, but a nice cheap way to fill out the roster with some upside. And Lance is the starter.

ASChin: Still not convinced Henderson is a backup. Lance is playing at least 34-36 minutes a night – and even though he can play small forward, Clifford wants size out there and Charlotte has plenty of it at the three with MKG, Marvin and Jeff Taylor. That leaves around 16-20 minutes per game at SG – ideal for a bench gunner. Both Neal and Hairston fit that role perfectly while Hendo takes forever to get his offense going. Not gonna back off my stance: believe Gerald is on another roster by training camp. And with Vonleh looking good in Summer League, I wouldn’t be surprised if CLT packaged Hendo and Cody to make one more major move; a trade to bring back a legit starting power forward.

QUESTION: Clifford wants another big on the roster and Charlotte currently only goes two deep at Center. Who makes sense and how will they get him?

DrE: I’ve seen the same free agents kicked around Twitter as everyone else. Ekpe Udoh, Emeka Okafor (if he can even still play?). It’s a shame that Jeff Adrien got picked up already. Nazr Mohammed would be great if you’re just looking for a vet to be a good locker room guy.

BradfordNot a lot out there in free agency. I have no interest in Blatche. Elton Brand is a guy I thought would be worth targeting, but he would be pretty small in the middle. Nazr Mohammed could play a little here and there. I think you’re generally looking at replacement level guys.

ASChin: Mohammed makes a ton of sense. Former Bobcat who enjoyed his time in the QC. A vet who can keep the locker room sane. With Big Al and Biz ahead of him, he won’t be required to log crazy minutes. Could be everything the team wanted from Brendan Haywood last season.

QUESTION: Everything goes right for Charlotte next season – health, young guys develop and the new guys mesh – how high is the Hornets ceiling for ’14-’15?

DrE: Eastern Conference Finals.

BradfordThe east is going to be a dog-fight. So many questions exist. Can Bosh be a number 1 option still? Does Deng still have it? How bad can the scoring get in Indiana? Can Derrick Rose stay healthy? Is the Cleveland supporting cast worth anything, and are they willing to grab Love? Who are the Detroit Pistons? What are the Hawks? The Hornets are a good team. With growth from Zeller, contributions from Hairston, a coherent offense from the starters, a move around the deadline… they could be right there in it for a top 4 seed. The roster isn’t the most versatile with an offense built around Jefferson, so a lot of playoff success will depend on matchups. That being said, a lot of the east is pretty conventional outside of Atlanta. I hate predictions, even vague ones. Especially when it involves a team I’m passionate about. My mind can find a way to put the Hornets in the finals. So I’ll say the unlikely ceiling is the Eastern Conference finals. I guess.

ASChin: Someone asked me on twitter if Charlotte will make the EC Finals – my initial reaction, developed after ten years of watching the Bobcats – was a spit-take. Then I thought about it, looked at the roster, the coaching staff and the overall state of the East and, with a straight face mind you, typed “yes”. Guys could get injured, P.J. or Lance could cause problems, MJ could re-hire Higgins, etc. You can never be too sure. But if everything goes right – oh my. No Charlotte NBA has ever made it past the second round. That could very well change this season.

QUESTION: Bigger offseason acquisition: Lance Stephenson or Hugo the Hornet?

DrEI prefer to think that Hugo wasn’t acquired — he’s been waiting patiently for this moment for years, lounging by the Hornets-tiled pool at George Shinn’s old Tega Cay lake house.  So, Lance.

BradfordI’m rolling Hugo. Maybe I’m giving the name too much credit, but after last season and potentially another successful upcoming campaign I think the city has the fever again. While the name is pointless without wins, adding wins to the name will go much further than a successful Bobcats franchise would in my opinion. Lance could be in Charlotte as few as 2 years, Hugo is here to stay.

ASChin: Hugo is Charlotte’s answer to Lebron going back to Cleveland. The return of the Hornets name, history, records, mascot and colors is unprecedented in NBA history. But it happened anyway. Bee-lieve it.

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.

Josh McRoberts Sad Face

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McRoberts-Gone

Josh McRoberts has agreed to join the Miami Heat and a tear forms in the eye of every Hornets fan. After being misused at Duke (Coach K misusing a big? No way!) and wandering the league in various states of hair growth, Steve Clifford finally unlocked the McBeast that had been lurking all along. By moving him to the perimeter, Clifford allowed McRoberts to take advantage of his play-making skills, facilitating the offense and being just productive enough as a shooter to keep the defense honest. By almost every metric (plus/minus, RPM, WARP, EWA) McRoberts was one of the most productive and important players on the team. Losing him hurts. But there’s no value in dwelling on the past, so it’s worth looking at how this affects the team for the upcoming season. We’ll approach it on a mostly individual basis. It should be noted these are just my opinions and don’t reflect any sort of insider knowledge. For whatever reason Rich Cho and Steve Clifford won’t return my phone calls and I was recently delivered a strange piece of mail that says something about a restraining order and being within 100 yards of either of them. I need to figure that out… (none of that is true, except that these are just the opinions of an uniformed nobody).

Rich Cho

Cho is all in on the young players. He easily could have outspent Miami to retain McRoberts. This is pure speculation, but it seems a player option on the 4th year rather than something like a team option or a partial guarantee was the sticking point. Cody Zeller has 3 years left on his rookie contract after which he’ll be getting a raise on his salary. Kemba Walker has one more year and MKG has 2. Cho’s specialty is managing the cap and failing to meet Miami’s offer is, in all likelihood, a matter of doing that aand preparing for extensions to kick in. This is the first real gamble of Cho’s tenure. Betting on Biz, Kemba, MKG, and Zeller in the draft wasn’t making a bad team worse if they didn’t work out. Losing an essential member of a playoff team for the sake of future financial flexibility, just as the team is gaining momentum, is a bold and potentially dangerous move. If the young guys turn out to be what he hopes and the flexibility gives him a chance to make a move down the line he comes out looking great. If the picks are all busts and the team takes a massive step backwards his job might be on the line. Cho will also need to find a 5th big to go with Zeller, Vonleh, Jefferson, and Biyombo. Kris Humphries’s name has popped up and Jeff Adrien is always a welcome addition to the roster.

Steve Clifford

McRoberts was Coach Clifford’s safety blanket. He facilitated the offense, opened up the floor, and allowed Al Jefferson to operate on the block without clogging the lane. He made hustle plays and was always willing to do the dirty work, as LeBron’s throat can attest to. With him moving on, Clifford is going to have to find a way to craft a post heavy offense that lacks elite shooters. He’ll have to find ways to take the burden of creating off solely Kemba’s shoulders. Most importantly, he’s going to need to bring Cody and Noah Vonleh along and make them productive players on offense and defense sooner rather than later. This is an area where Gregg Popovich excels and is part of what sets him apart from other coaches. If Clifford wants to prove himself as one of the elite coaches, this is a time to do it.

Cody Zeller

Zeller will be affected more than anyone else on the team. He seemed to be in line for similar playing time to last year. Clifford started experimenting with playing him and McRoberts together towards the end of the season. He averaged 22.2 minutes per game in April and that looked like it would continue. He will now be forced into the starting lineup, most likely absorbing all of McRoberts’s 30 minutes per game. He should look to stretch himself as a shooter and as a playmaker. Clifford has been very deliberate about how he has brought Cody along, but there is no longer time for that. The first thing he will need to do is cut down on the turnovers. McRoberts turned the ball over 8 times for every 100 possessions. Cody turned it over 13 times per 100 possessions. That number needs to go down. A lot of those turnovers were on destination-less drives to the basket. Hopefully a strengthened core and more experience will help him keep his balance on such drives or he will look for an open teammate more often. The other are for improvement is his shooting. This is an area that almost assuredly will be better. In March and April he shot over 50% from the field as he got more comfortable in his role. The key is to add more range to his shot. With his smaller frame, he is going to have to develop a 3 point shot in order to be effective, especially with Al Jefferson on the team. That development may not come this season, but he does need to start shooting them. The only way to get comfortable in game situations is to do it in game situations. The coaching staff will need to be patient as he adapts to the longer shot and he will need to maintain his confidence even if he struggles some. He doesn’t need to go all Channing Frye this season, but he needs to let it fly when he is open to start the process. Zeller will have to take a step forward for this team to be effective again.

Noah Vonleh

The rumors surrounding Vonleh’s drop were centered mostly on the amount of development he required and his work ethic. The Hornets’ players are a hard working group without question, so they will be there to help him stay focused. The lack of NBA preparedness is going to be a much bigger problem, especially now. Steve Clifford is not Larry Brown. He sees the value in young guys and gives them appropriate time while not necessarily hurting the team. Vonleh probably wasn’t going to see a lot of time this year. Somewhere in the 5-10 minute range. That’s now going to be closer to 15-20 as the only legitimate power forward on the bench. Nobody knows what to expect from him. He was billed as a shooter, but his college sample size was tiny. He didn’t dominate at Indiana, but Tom Crean wasn’t doing a lot to help him out there. He can be inattentive and needs to develop a better feel and IQ for the game. For now Clifford will probably expect him to focus on rebounding, defending the basket, and stretching the floor. In all likelihood he won’t be asked to create or facilitate the offense. He probably won’t have any plays run for him outside of the pick and roll where he will be expected to roll hard to the basket. If he can focus on the basics he should be able to be a neutral presence on the floor. That sounds harsh, but for a project big man with limited experience not hurting the team would be a big win.

Bismack Biyombo

Biz looked dead in the water going into next season. He played only 14 minutes per game this past season. While he improved significantly overall, his development hasn’t been quite what the team had hoped and management seriously considered not picking up his option. Towards the end of the season Clifford started using Zeller as a center with McRoberts on the floor at the same time rather than going to Biz. Don’t plan on seeing a lot of Zeller and Vonleh on the floor together. Instead, Clifford may choose to do what he was doing with McRoberts, subbing him out relatively early and letting him stabilize the bench unit. Biz’s responsibilities won’t change. He will still expected to rebound and defend and to try to stay out of the way on offense. This may be his last chance. He needs to take advantage of it.

Gerald Henderson & Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

With McRoberts gone, the wings are going to have the ball in their hands more with an opportunity to create for themselves and others. For Henderson, this means a couple things. The first and most obvious is that he needs to unshackle himself and start shooting the 3 ball. No more taking one dribble in for a mid-range shot. There is a banner up in the Hornets’ practice facility that says, “Quick Decisions: Shoot It, Drive It, Move it.” If anyone needs to take this motto to heart, it’s Henderson. He has a tendency to catch, turn, face, and survey. Then look some more. Look a little more. Then drive to the right baseline and shoot a fade-away jumper. The surveying needs to be done before the ball comes. He should know where guys are on the floor and where the defense is and make a decision. This will keep the defense on their heels and all the team to generate offense out of more than just Jefferson post-ups and Kemba Walker dribble drives. Henderson is not a great passer, with an assist ratio lower than JR Smith and Caption Iso-Joe Johnson, and gets tunnel vision when he gets the ball, another reason he needs to be more decisive on the catch. If the jump shot isn’t there and the lane isn’t open, make the simple pass and get the offense going.

MKG’s approach shouldn’t change as much as Henderson’s. He will still be expected to score off cuts and offensive rebounds. His shooting can be addressed elsewhere. The change MKG will experience is tied to Gerald Henderson. Clifford could look to play more small-ball, moving Henderson to the small forward position and MKG to the power forward position with Jefferson or Zeller at center. Assuming Vonleh doesn’t have much to contribute as a rookie and Biz hasn’t magically replaced his hands with something other than stone cut-outs of hands, going small would be a way to get Jefferson and Zeller rest without a massive drop-off offensively. Clifford didn’t throw small-ball lineups out there at all last season according to 82games.com. He might have to out of necessity this year.

Kemba Walker

Kemba’s adjustment will be simple, but heavy. He will have to accept even more responsibility initiating the offense. Plays often began with Kemba bringing the ball up on the side of the court. McRoberts would cut to the top of the key to receive a pass, Kemba would cut through and get to his spot, and the offense would begin from there. Zeller will do this some, but he’s not nearly the passer McRoberts is yet. Clifford may choose to use more pick and roll to initiate the offense, taking advantage of Zeller’s speed and athleticism and Vonleh’s shooting ability. But it will likely be Kemba’s job to get the offense going more than he did last season. Ideally, Cho would be able to find a backup point guard with the size to play with Kemba to help alleviate some of that pressure but as presently constituted, it’s all Kemba.

Al Jefferson

Similar to other players, Jefferson will need to be more of a play-maker out of his spots. While his passing has improved over his career and his assist ratio was right in line with other back to the basket centers like Brooke Lopez and Dwight Howard, he still has a tendency to attack double and triple teams on the block. He’s successful far more than one would expect but without McRoberts’s shooting and passing Jefferson will have to assume some of those creator responsibilities by recognizing double teams quicker and moving the ball, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a basket.

There’s no way around the fact that losing McRoberts is a major blow to the Hornets. He’s a rare player that combines shooting, passing, athleticism, and unselfishness into a productive and essential role player. He can’t be replaced but his responsibilities can be distributed across the remaining pieces. To keep the ball rolling as an organization everyone is going to have to step up and it begins with a clear vision from both Rich Cho and Steve Clifford. Expect a tough start to the season as the players and coach adjust, but with quality leadership from the organization and the players’ ability and willingness to do what is asked of them it should be another successful campaign in Charlotte.

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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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 | 2014 Pre-Draft Hype

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Hornets-Offseason

Q: The last time a Charlotte NBA team finished over .500 and had a Lottery pick – the Hornets wound up with Baron Davis in the ’99 Draft. Will the suddenly relevant former-Bobcats find another future star in the 2014 Draft or will they play it safe and look for starters/role-players who can contribute immediately?

DrE: (@BaselineDrE) Trick question — these aren’t mutually exclusive. But I get the spirit of the question and I think the Hornets will lean towards players that can make significant contributions while on their rookie deals as opposed to projects.

Bradford: (@bradford_NBA) Picking 9th is a lot different from picking 3rd. I think Cho has shown he’s going to go with the guy he thinks will be the best player down the road regardless of current production. He’s not afraid of projects. That being the case, I think that rather than judging how he played the draft from a prospect perspective, I think it’s safer to assume that Cho thinks the guy he picked has the best long term potential. That’s not to say he has been or will be right, but MJ has enabled him to run it all and with his track record, you can bet he’s not just playing it safe in his mind.

ASChin: (@BaselineBuzz) I was absolutely thrilled to hear Cho’s comments about “not sacrificing the future for present gain”. The Draft is where you go to find stars, not to fill in roster gaps. Conveniently, Charlotte is searching for a dynamic wing this time around and recent Drafts have proven that you can find a star at that position after the ninth pick (Paul George, Kawhi Leonard). The Hornets may not pick this high again for a long while; gamble on a star, be patient and fill in the gaps via free agency and trades.

Q: Highest to Lowest Superstar Potential: Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott.

DrE: Frankly I don’t think any of these guys have “superstar” potential. But LaVine and McDermott have some star potential — LaVine more due to the high ceiling, McDermott due to the likelihood that he’ll be smart and consistent and a hard worker who carves out a long, competent career. I don’t think Stauskas or Harris have any real star potential. Of course, now that I put that on record, Gary Harris will proceed to become Russell Westbrook 2.0.

Bradford: I’ve said many times over that I think the star power of this draft is overrated. It’s strength is in the number of quality players with obvious skills that will translate. Stauskas and McDermott are elite shooters, Harris is an elite defender, and LaVine can jump really, really high. Each of these guys also have deficiences. Athleticism for Stauskus and McDermott, size for McDermott and Harris, playing basketball for LaVine. I’m going to blow my own mind and say McDermott, Harris, Stauskas, LaVine. McDermott’s ability to score effectively inside and out is Dirk-esque. He clearly doesn’t have Dirk’s size, but he does have the craftiness and array of effective shots. I don’t feel good about it, but his elite skill is super elite.

ASChin: LaVine, Stauskas, Harris, McDermott. Those who follow me on twitter know that I #Dream4LaVine. Sure, he could top out as Gerald Green or Jamaal Crawford or flame out of the league altogether in a few seasons. But he also has the confidence and athleticism to become something of a Kobe-lite. He shoots off the catch, pushes the ball in transition and can get into the lane. He turned 19 in March. Clifford could mold that kid into a fine player. Stauskas’ best case scenario is a poor-man’s Ginobli and that’s fine by me.

Q: Highest to Lowest Bust Potential: Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott.

DrE: Significant bust potential with all of these guys: in order I’ll go LaVine, Stauskas, McDermott, Harris.

Bradford: LaVine, Stauskus, McDermott, Harris. Gary Harris’s defense makes him a pretty sure thing to me. Nobody would be saying bust if MKG had been taken at 9 instead of 2. LaVine is a no-brainer leader on this list. He hasn’t shown much and comparisons to Westbrook are laughable. McDermott and Stauskus will both be able to shoot the ball. I think the versatile offense of McDermott has a better chance of translating than Stauskus’s. Basically I have more faith in his post game than in Stauskus’s ability to get into the paint off the dribble.

ASChin: LaVine, Stauskas, Harris, McDermott. Grantland’s Zach Lowe quoted a scout once saying something to the effect of, “in order to demonstrate your elite NBA skill, you must have enough other NBA skills to keep you on the floor.” That’s my issue with McDermott. He’s not going to be able to finish around the basket at the next level. He’s going to have a difficult time guarding anyone without a rim protector behind him. He’s already older than MKG/Biz/Cody. But the guy can flat out shoot and that makes him a low-risk prospect in a shooting-deficient league. Harris has the chops at both ends to play for a decade as a rotation guy. My high-upside guys LaVine and Stauskas could just as easily be out of the NBA in five years.

Q: There’s rumblings that either Kentucky’s Julius Randle or OSU’s Marcus Smart may drop to the Hornets at pick number nine. Do the Hornets immediately grab them there regardless of fit/need?

DrE: Yeah, they’d almost have to, but probably more to trade than keep. I doubt either one ends up slipping, but say for instance Randle does. If Orlando went PG with their earlier pick, wouldn’t they deal #12 + Afflalo for #9 (Randle) + Gerald Henderson? Wouldn’t that work for both sides? Hornets could probably still pick from Stauskas, Harris, Young, Warren, Lavine at #12 then. I like that fake trade a lot.

Bradford: No question. Talent over need. There’s an option to trade back, but I’ll take a potential all-star over 2 good role players. That’s basically what Golden State is trying to do to acquire Kevin Love. Turn 2 productive players into one elite player.

ASChin: This isn’t a Cody over Nerlens Noel situation. As much as I like LaVine, you take Smart/Randle over him without thinking about it. In fact, the Randle/Cody combo could be your future starting frontcourt for a decade. Smart/Kemba would be a fantastic guard combo ala Dragic/Bledsoe in Phoenix. That’s a dream scenario.

Q: The Hornets have worked out mostly wing prospects. Would it shock you if they went another direction and if so, who?

DrE: Yes, that would be a shock. Other than a wing, or Smart/Randle/Gordon falling, nothing else makes sense. I’m trying to think of the most mind-asploding pick for the Hornets to make at #9. It would have to be Dario Saric, because he seems to duplicate a lot of what Cody Zeller is, and it’s not even clear if he wants to come over to the NBA this season. Second most shocking pick would be Elfrid Payton — that would be a head scratcher.

Bradford: In a vacuum no. But this draft is heavy on wing prospects and light on point guards and post players, especially in the Hornets’ range. Elfrid Payton is the wild card. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that glorious hair under a teal hat.

ASChin: Aside from Randle/Smart falling, Payton is the only non-wing option. He’s a big point with crazy length who could allow Kemba to continue to play off the ball as a scorer (perhaps to the detriment of Kemba’s growth as a true PG).

Q: The Spurs put on a “How to Beat Miami” clinic during the Finals. The Hornets share both a division and conference with Lebron & Company. Assuming the Heat’s Big Three stay together, how will the Spurs’ successful strategy affect who the Hornets’ target in both the Draft and free agency (if at all)?

DrE: Sure, in that you’re always looking for a Hall of Fame Coach who will stick around for 10+ years and be totally open to evolving with the times, and a core of three Hall of Fame players willing to set the tone for professionalism and greatness while taking less money, thus enabling your front office to surround you with quality role players and depth and an overall culture of continuous internal development. But seriously, the Spurs showed the importance of players who can stretch/space the floor with their shooting range and have high basketball IQ — i.e. making the right plays/passes on offense and understanding and executing team defensive concepts — which is why I think people have locked in on McDermott as the Hornets pick at #9.

Bradford: I don’t really think it does. What the Spurs did goes so much deeper than just the roster. Obviously versatility is important in their system, but I think all GM’s and coaches crave versatile players. What the Spurs have really brought to the forefront is the importance of continuity. They have a GM, coach, owner, and players that are all on the same page and have been building a culture and system for years. I believe that’s what MJ is trying to build. I expect Cho and Clifford to be around a long time. Otherwise it will be more of the same Charlotte franchise.

ASChin: It should and it will. Remember, there was an under-the-radar Eastern Conference team that gave everyone headaches throughout the season even though they lost their best player: The Atlanta Hawks. In leiu of Al Horford’s torn pectoral, longtime Popovic disciple Mike Budenholzer rotated in a steady diet of sharpshooters and ball-movers that frazzled much of the East for two-thirds of the season. Charlotte fans will recall that it was none other than Atlanta backup center Pero Antic, aka “The Eastern Block”, who ripped their hearts out with a buzzer-beating fallaway three back in December. The Hornets were one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in the NBA last season. If they are serious about competing with Conference’s best, that will have to change.

Q: The Hornets have two first round picks and a second. MJ has said he also wants to make a splash in free agency. Given those additions, which of the following players are least likely to be back with the team next season: Josh McRoberts, Gerald Henderson or Bismack Biyombo?

DrE: Easily Henderson. Though I could also see a team wanting Biyombo for rim protection in a trade.

Bradford: They’ll all be back, at least to start the season. I expect McRoberts to sign a 3 year contract. I’m not sure Biz has any value. He’s the rare player whose rookie contract is more than his actual value. I could see Henderson being dealt during the season if anything happens. Afflalo is clearly on the trading block and has been in Hornets fans minds for the past year. If they can find a way to swap it will happen. I think Henderson would be great coming off the bench though.

ASChin: Anyone who’s paid close attention to the team over the last half decade knows that Michael Jordan and Henderson have a close relationship. That may keep Gerald in purple & teal a little past his expiration date unfortunately. I really like Hendo as a player but he just doesn’t fit on a team that’s building around Big Al and Kemba’s inside/outside game. Now that Cho’s running the show solo, I expect him to make the right decision. Hendo is gone.

Q: Now that Rod Higgins is officially out as Hornets President, there will be no question as to who is making Charlotte’s picks. Given his previous Draft track record, how good do you feel about Rich Cho’s new role as decider-in-chief?

DrE: Pretty good, though it would be nice to see him hit a home run with one of these picks. Lots of singles and doubles so far.

Bradford: I think it’s great. Obviously the draft hasn’t treated him particularly well, but I think he can get better with more experience. His work ethic and preparedness have been referenced constantly. I don’t think he’s too stubborn to learn. There are also reports of looking for an assistant GM. I think that’s a good thing. Everyone needs someone else to bounce ideas off. The Higgins/Cho relationship was never clearly defined publicly so who knows how division of labor worked. A more clearly defined front office structure is a good thing.

ASChin: From a trades and free agent perspective, I’m thrilled but Cho’s Drafts thus far have been ho-hum. Kemba is a keeper and likely the best pick value-wise of the Bobcats-era (an extremely low bar). MKG flashed his potential in Miami during Game 2. Cody could become a poor man’s Bosh one day. Biz remains an enigma who was taken over Klay, Kawhi, Faried and Vucevic. Now that Higgins is gone, there will be no confusion as to who makes the Hornets picks – for better or for worse.