Hornets 2015 Offseason Preview | Part Two

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The Lottery is over and we now know the Hornets will own (or at least temporarily own) the ninth overall selection in a very solid 2015 Draft. But before I jump into what the Hornets should do with that pick, we need to do a little free agent housekeeping.

Part II: The Free Agents – Will They Stay or Will They Go?

The Hornets have just about every type of free agent on the roster and each of these players will influence the team’s strategy heading into June’s Draft and beyond.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

These are the straight-forward, vanilla variety free agents. Guys who played for Charlotte last season and whose contracts runs out in July.

  • Mo Williams
  • Jason Maxiell

The big questions start with Mo Williams – professional NBA journeyman – who joined the Hornets midseason (his seventh team in fourteen eleven seasons) and kept them competitive once Kemba Walker went down with a knee injury. Even after Mo cooled off late in the season, Williams’ shooting and pick and roll/pop abilities were real assets on a team lacking both.

In many ways, Mo’s game represents Kemba Walker’s best case scenario long-term: an above average, volume scoring point with enough distribution skills to run a team alongside a point-forward. It’s no coincidence that Mo’s best season came playing next to Lebron on the ‘09 Cavs.

Williams has close ties to fellow Mississipian Al Jefferson and has gone on record saying that he’d love to be back – but will the Hornets bring him back? Money shouldn’t be an issue – Williams will be 33 next season and is far from a franchise cornerstone. Anything around $3m per is reasonable. There are a couple of issues however:

  1. Charlotte already has $2.8m committed to fellow backup PG Brian Roberts next season and
  2. may decide to move on from yet another head-down iso player.

In fairness to Mo, he’s the least ball “poundy” of the Lance/Gerald/Kemba/Big Al crew – but if the front office decides to go in another direction with their lead guards either in free agency, trades or the draft (Cameron Payne?) – Mo may be the odd man out. That said, my gut tells me Mo wears teal again next season; Roberts’ contract is easily movable and the Hornets will likely end up drafting a wing.
PREDICTION: STAY

As much as Coach Steve Clifford enjoyed Maxiell’s veteran presence last season as the rotation’s fourth big, there would be a guaranteed fan mutiny if Jason is brought back – simply because his mere presence would tempt Clifford to play him over Noah Vonleh. The front office, who’ve invested heavily in Noah, likely feels the same.
PREDICTION: GO – VONLEH UNCHAINED!

Potential Free Agents:

The Hornets have two veteran starters with player options for next season: opt-in and these guys play out their final contract year as Hornets, opt-out and they either re-sign new deals with the team or move on.

  • Al Jefferson
  • Gerald Henderson

How quickly things change. A year ago, Big Al Jefferson was a third team All-NBA center and a franchise building block who led Charlotte to its first winning season and Playoff birth in ages. But Al never fully recovered from the effects of the plantar fascia injury he suffered in last year’s sweep against the Heat. He arrived at camp out of shape and it all went downhill from there.

It wasn’t exclusively Big Al’s fault. Josh McRoberts’ departure created all kinds of spacing and post entry problems. Jefferson struggled to stay upright and effective all season and you could literally see it on his face. The guy was legitimately scowling and grimacing for 65 games – sometimes out of pain, sometimes at his own teammates. With little shooting or ball movement in the halfcourt, opposing defenses keyed in on Al knowing that he was Charlotte’s only legitimate weapon. It worked.

Jefferson has gone on record saying that he’ll opt-in and play the free agency game again when the cap skyrockets in 2016. That’s good news as it’ll be even more motivation for the 30 year old to drop some weight before November. If he does, we could see the return of the franchise cornerstone. If not, happy trails.
PREDICTION: STAY

Hendo had the quintessential Gerald Henderson season: he played hard on D, he hit lots of mid-range jumpers, he made great cuts and threw down some ridiculous dunks. He also showcased a much more frequent corner three (the release is slowish and he doesn’t take enough of them but it’s still great to see). He’s always been a professional. The team had him riding the pine behind Lance Stephenson for nearly two months and Hendo said nary a word. He’s a lunch pail two guard who is sorely under-appreciated by the local fanbase – mainly because his weaknesses (distance shooting, ball-handling, head-down iso drives/post-ups) have also been the team’s.

Gerald turns 28 next season and his game is HIGHLY dependent on his athleticism. While other types of players his age could choose to wait for a bigger pay day in 2016, Hendo may survey the scene, see a weak free agent class and say, “screw it.” Wes Matthews’ unfortunate injury literally cost him tens of millions of dollars this summer. Gerald has always been both smart and practical. I could see him opting out and signing a nice sized deal with the Clippers, Knicks or Lakers.

Doing so would free up around $6 million for the Hornets to play with. That by itself won’t buy much – but if the Hornets combine the number with, say, a strategic cut (COUGH*LANCE*COUGH) – they may have just enough cash to offer a proper “3&D” shooting guard real money on the open market.
PREDICTION: GO

Restricted Free Agents:

These are guys coming off the last year of their rookie deals. They are free to negotiate with any team and Charlotte has the right to match any offer.

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Jeff Taylor

Let’s start with Taylor – and oh man, where do we start? JT is like a TV pro hoops character come to life. Meaning, he LOOKS like the prototypical NBA player but he’s not really all that good in real life. There’s lots of drama though. Tragedy in the form of his ill-timed achilles tear in 2014 and scandal in the form of his weird Detroit-based domestic violence incident that (thankfully) turned out to be more stupid than violent.

Aside from being a very solid on-ball defender, there’s really nothing to recommend here. Taylor was billed as a 3&D guy coming out of Vanderbilt but his shooting numbers (32% from 3PT, 41% from 2PT) are Kemba-like. JT turns 26 next month and we still have no idea how his game will transition post-achilles long term. His $1.2m qualifying offer is basically league minimum and I could see Charlotte picking it up to give him one last shot at putting everything together. I could also see the team moving on from a fringe rotation player who made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
PREDICTION: GO

The real fun starts with Biz. Want to start an internet flame war? Get stat-geeks and casual fans talking about Biyombo’s merits as an NBA player. I understand both sides. The naked eye suggests that Biz should be nowhere near a professional basketball game. Four years into his career and he still has no idea what to do with the ball on offense unless it’s a dive to the rim for a dunk or an uncontested putback.

Biyombo will force moves in the post that will make you laugh/cry/laugh with regularity. These forced moves are universally proceeded by an offensive rebound because there’s no way in hell a teammate is going to feed Biz with a post look; thus beginning a viscious cycle (“this is my only chance to show people my stuff!!! I don’t care if Dwight Howard is standing right over me!!!”).

The real hoops smarties out there like Grantland’s Zach Lowe, At The Hive’s Frank Berndt/Bryan Mears and the Baseline’s own Bradford Coombs can paint Biz’s positives way better than I can. All I’ll say is that defensively, Biz is a legitimate game changer. He’s strong. He goes hard and he covers a ridiculous amount of territory for a center. Most importantly, he makes the paint a less friendly place for opponents. I don’t know if Biz will ever make the rotation of a legitimately good team but it could be possible in the right role.

Speaking of which, unless the Hornets draft another center (Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Willy Trilly Cauliflower Wonka), I’m fairly confident that they aim to bring Biz back on a second deal. That could change if another team jumps in with a real offer. There will be teams with rim protection problems that lose out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency. And if Roy Hibbert stays in Indy, a metrics-savvy, ballsy exec may say “screw it” and hand Biz $25-30 million. To the casual fan, this sounds crazy – I know. But getting a guy who can make up for the Damian Lillards’ and the Monta Ellis’s of the world is a real thing nowadays. Biz may end up getting paid.
PREDICTION: STAY

State of the Roster

Making the proceeding free agent moves (and unloading Brian Roberts’ contract) would leave the Hornets with 11 filled roster spots minus any draft picks.

  • Point Guards: Kemba Walker, Mo Williams
  • Shooting Guards: Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels
  • Small Forwards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams
  • Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh
  • Centers: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo

There’s an obvious hole at the wings – which is why it’s the position the team is most likely to fill via June’s Draft and/or via run at shooter in free agency. More on those options coming up in Part III…

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Trading Boris Diaw

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After sixteen games and thirteen losses for the Bobcats, we’ve learned three things:

  1. Charlotte is headed for a Top-5 draft pick
  2. Byron Mullens has way exceeded his expectations as the token awkward white guy off the bench
  3. Boris Diaw has officially worn out his welcome.

With the loss of Kwame Brown, Diaw began the season as the starting center. To his credit, he played like a man possessed in the first three games, posting a 11.7-11-7.7 line. He even showed up big in the two games at Madison Square Garden with a total of 46 points, 13 boards, and 13 assists on 74% shooting. But the rest of the games have been downright ugly. 4.8 points. 5.1 rebounds. 2.3 assists. 30% shooting, including 13% from beyond the arc, and just six free throws in eleven games. It doesn’t even look like he’s trying very hard.

But this is Boris “The Enigma” Diaw we’re talking about; the big man who doesn’t dunk has never been predictable. Then again, he’s predictable in one way: he’s got a bit of Baron Davis in him. If he’s in a losing environment, he’s huddle into his shell. But if he’s playing in an important game—say against a former team like Atlanta or former coach like Mike D’Antoni—he plays above and beyond his normal abilities.

Normally, an enigmatic big man would be no problem for a bad team. Even at $9 million it wouldn’t normally be a big deal. But he’s eating up valuable minutes that Mullens, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. White, and Tyrus Thomas could really use. Now, none of those four are spectacular, but all four need playing time to grow and mature. Diaw is in the final year of his contract, but it’s more than apparent now that he needs to be moved before the season ends.

There is, however, one major issue when it comes to trading Boris Diaw: the $9 million pricetag on his head.

Most contenders don’t have that much cap room just lying around, so they have to ship off another big contract to take on Diaw. Not only that, but among players making around $9 million per year, most are either a) worth about $9 million, and wouldn’t be in a trade for Boris Diaw or b) have multiple years left on their contract, which the Bobcats don’t want to take on.

With that in mind, there are a handful of teams interested in Diaw. They are going to be a contender with a need for a big body off the bench. The Knicks, Celtics and Lakers would all fit that mold, but none of them have any cap room—unless they’re willing to move Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett, or get someone inebriated enough to take on Metta World Peace. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

There are two realistic types of trades that will set Boris Diaw free from the temptations of Carolina Barbeque: a straight salary dump for a draft pick or swapping contracts in return for a young player. Let’s take a look at each possibility.

I’d like to think that around the trade deadline, some contender will get desperate. Maybe one of their bigs goes down, so they offer the Bobcats a late-first round pick for Diaw’s expiring contract. But that’s not happening. Again, the Lakers would have been a great fit once Andrew Bynum inevitably goes down with a knee injury, but they’re nearly $30 million over the cap. Realistically, no one will offer a late first for Diaw, and nobody picking at the top-half of the second round will want an aging, expensive forward. So the Bobcats will be looking at a late-second round pick. Joy.

In my opinion, swapping contracts is a much more realistic, even productive, way to try and trade Diaw. Think the Nazr Mohammed trade that landed Morris Peterson and D.J. White. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many matches. Memphis was a good match—O.J. Mayo would’ve been a sweet return—until they acquired Marreese Speights. Denver would also be a good fit, too, but the only contract the Bobcats would conceivably take back would be Andre Miller, who the Nuggets wouldn’t want to move for Diaw if they had to give up someone like Jordan Hamilton.

In the end, I only found one team that was a good trade partner Boris Diaw: the Los Angeles Clippers. After Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their best big man is Brian Cook. Yes, that very same Brian Cook whose career highlight is being traded for Trevor Ariza. Los Angeles has the cap space to take him on, provided they can find a new home for Mo Williams.

With Kemba here for the long-haul and D.J. (at least momentarily) still here, it doesn’t make sense to trade for free agent-to-be Mo Williams. But if they could find a third team, this trade could work out. And that team is the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets still need a point guard after (twice) trading Chris Paul, so Mo Williams would be a perfect fit. Here is my proposed trade:

Charlotte gets: Xavier Henry (NOH) and Randy Foye (LAC)
Los Angeles gets: Boris Diaw (CLT) and Trevor Ariza (NOH)
New Orleans gets: Mo Williams (LAC)

From Charlotte’s prospective, they’re going to lose Diaw at the end of the year, so anything they can get in return for him is a plus. Xavier Henry may not have lived up to his rookie expectations, but he didn’t get any burn last year—not so far off from Gerald Henderson’s rookie campaign. Randy Foye is not a major piece in the deal, he’s just a salary equalizer, he’ll depart through free agency next summer.

This works out for the Clippers on two fronts: they get a very nice backup big man and an answer at shooting guard. Chauncey Billups won’t make it through the whole season at the 2, and he certainly won’t be able to guard the likes of Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili in the playoffs. Ariza is a prime perimeter defender. Plus, this allows Eric Bledsoe to finally get some extra PT.

New Orleans finally finds a replacement for Chris Paul, plus salary relief from the nearly $22 million left on Trevor Ariza’s contract. Henry wasn’t playing, since he was buried behind Marco Belinelli and Eric Gordon on the depth chart, so that’s not a huge loss. What this comes down to is saving a bit of cash while figuring out the point guard situation.

However the Bobcats deal with this Diaw Dilemna, it’s unlikely to end out great. The best they can hope for is to pick up a young player or draft pick—someone around the level of Henry may be the best they can do. That is, unless they are intent on trading D.J. Augustin before he hits restricted free agency, opening all kinds of possibilities.

I’ll be pretty surprised if Boris Diaw ends the season a Bobcat. He can certainly help some contender as a 6th or 7th man; the only question is whether or not GM Rich Cho can find a big enough bite for a chubby, lackadaisical, finesse forward.

-Ben Weinrib
you can follow Ben on Twitter @benweinrib

What To Do with Dampier? – Part 1

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Mo Williams ©2010 NBA

Michael Jordan bragged openly last month that the team had acquired the League’s “most valuable contract” when they sent bust Tyson Chandler to Dallas in return for Erick Dampier and a couple of overpaid 12th men.  How valuable exactly?  MJ and GM Rod Higgins will have at least another month and a half to mull over the decision as they wait the mandatory 60 days before Damp, Eduardo Najera or Matt Carroll can be traded again in a package.

So what will they do with all of this “value”?
In order to answer the question, we need to first look hard at the team’s present situation.

Continue reading

Bobcats Defeat Cavs To Go 2-0 On Road in 2010

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Cavs, 1/3/10

Road Warriors?

The Charlotte Bobcats notched their second straight impressive road win by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 91-88 on Sunday night.  AP recap here, box score here.  The Cats had been 1-13 on the road prior to this weekend, and a back-to-back in Miami, then Cleveland didn’t exactly hold much promise for getting well.  However, the Cats have apparently turned over a new leaf.

This one was tied with under a minute left until Flip Murray drained a three off the dribble.  On the next possession, Flip fouled Shaq, who only hit one of two free throws.  Raymond Felton nailed a 20-footer in Anderson Varejao’s grill to go up by four on the Bobcats’ ensuing possession.  From there, the Cats took care of the ball and hit their free throws to secure the win.  Lebron did have a look at a potentially game-tying three at the buzzer from the corner, but it bounced off the rim to end the game.

Larry Brown played a tight 8-man rotation in this one, with only DJ, Gana and Flip getting off the pine.  Nearly everyone was effective: Jack led the scoring with 22 points (perfect 4-4 from the line; he’s now made 35 FTs in a row), Crash had another double-double with 19/12, and Felton had another strong game with 17 points on 8-13 FG and 6 assists/0 turnovers.

Gana Diop deserves special mention, as he played 27 minutes, scored 8 points on 4-5 FG, grabbed 6 rebounds, blocked 2 shots, and (seriously) really seemed to spark the Bobcats with a +11 +/-.

The Bobcats are taking much better care of the ball in the New Year; only 11 turnovers tonight, again well below their season average.  They also continued their sharp shooting from the free throw line: 16-19 tonight.

The Cavs were led by Lebron (29 points) and Mo Williams (27 points).

Bullets

  • Boris Diaw played 38 minutes and did have 6 assists/0 turnovers, but didn’t score or tally a defensive rebound.
  • Is it just a coincidence that the Cats have gotten themselves into a groove with Tyson Chandler out?  If it’s not just a coincidence, it is rather concerning.
  • Several streaks came to an end tonight: the Cavs came in on a 7-game overall win streak and an 11-game home win streak.  Also, the Bobcats had lost 10 in a row in Cleveland.
  • The Bobcats are headed back home: next game is at the Cable Box on Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls (7 PM ET).

-Dr. E