Who's New?: F Nicolas Batum (trade), C Frank Kaminsky (draft), G Jeremy Lin (free agent), C Spencer Hawes (trade), G Jeremy Lamb (trade), F Tyler Hansbrough (free agent), G Aaron Harrison (free agent)
Who's Gone?: G Lance Stephenson (trade), C Bismack Biyombo (free agent), F Noah Vonleh (trade), G Gerald Henderson (trade), G Mo Williams (free agent), F Jason Maxiell (free agent), F Jeff Taylor (free agent)
Off-season Grade: B. In terms of players gained to players lost, they're a lot better on paper, it's not even close. The only way they get burned is if Vonleh ends up turning into someone special at Portland. The problem is now their roster makes zero sense.
2015-16 Slogan: "We swear, Michael Jordan isn't our general manager."
What Else Is New?: The Hornets shook up their broadcast crew, hiring someone named Eric Collins to be their new play-by-play announcer and, more significantly, former sideline reporter Stephanie Ready to be the first female full-time local game analyst in NBA history. While I am unfamiliar with Ms. Ready's work (you can listen to an interview she gave Grantland's Zach Lowe here), I am all for social progress in as many forms as possible. So many of the ex-jock color guys are terrible, especially in the NBA, that I can't imagine she won't be a breath of fresh air.
Um, also, Dell Curry, father of Stephen and Seth, will be on the broadcast crew as well.
Your Likely Starting Lineup:
C Al Jefferson
PF Frank Kaminsky
SF Nicolas Batum
SG Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PG Kemba Walker
Hopefully by now you're starting to catch on as to what I meant by "their roster makes no sense." The Hornets have, among their credible players, one center, three gynormous "stretch fives," three small forwards, three point guards, one goon, and zero shooting guards. They have to start both Batum and MKG because they traded for the former and signed the latter to a four-year, $52 million extension in the off-season. And it's not like they have any better options. Should they start Lin? How about Lamb? P.J. Hairston might literally be the best two-guard on the roster.
I like Frank Kaminsky a lot. He was probably the best player available at No. 9, where the Hornets were drafting. Still, there were numerous reports, including from Lowe, that their front office turned down a package of six draft picks, including four current and future first-round picks, for that pick, which they wouldn't have even used on Kaminsky. The issue is the roster fit. Kaminsky has the versatility to shoot outside and stretch defenses, but if you watched him at all in college, you saw him kill people in the post, including the highly regarded and extremely athletic bigs at Kentucky and Arizona. With "Big Al" Jefferson mostly stationed in the paint, Kaminsky will almost have no choice but to strictly operate outside, diminishing both his overall game and his development. Jefferson's contract will be up at the end of the season, so you'd think that the center gig would be available for the Wisconsin alum from 2016-17 as long as he proves he's not a stiff, but it's going to make for a messy transition year into the pros, and we haven't even mentioned how disastrous that pairing could be defensively.
On the other end of the spectrum, Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist could be the closest thing the Eastern Conference has to Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as far as long, athletic perimeter stoppers go, but neither are remotely as efficient offensively. Batum fell into the worst slump of his career for the first half of last season before rebounding mildly, but he never fully developed into the French Scottie Pippen the Blazers wanted him to be. He either plays fine at one end of the floor or the other but can't seem to put it all together. Now, with the Hornets, he'll have more pressure to perform because he'll draw the opponent's best perimeter defender by default. In Portland, Wes Matthews or even Damian Lillard drew those guys. Kidd-Gilchrist, meanwhile, will be forced to play out of position and didn't attempt a single three-pointer last year. Oy vey.
Oh, and there's Walker, set to begin his fifth season as Charlotte's starting point guard despite being a career 39.5 percent shooter, which really is a remarkable accomplishment in the modern NBA. He's not really good at anything, but the Hornets seem perfectly okay with having the league's 25th best starting point guard, year after year.
Your Likely Bench:
G Jeremy Lin
F Cody Zeller
F Marvin Williams
C Spencer Hawes
G Jeremy Lamb
G Brian Roberts
F Tyler Hansbrough
G P.J. Hairston
Right away you see a problem. Zeller and Hawes cannot play together, or in any combination with Kaminsky. They're just different degrees of the same guy. I understand the Hornets had to get rid of Stephenson, who was a gasoline fire last year, but why for Hawes? Williams is more of a stretch four at this point than a three, so you wonder how he'll ever play. Lamb or Hairston will likely nab a rotation spot but probably not both, and Hansbrough will be around to foul people hard and pump up the fans back in his old stomping grounds, just the latest North Carolina alum who's been a bust as a pro but signed by Jordan anyway.
Besides Zeller the only remotely interesting name here is Lin. He pretty much bombed in his last two stops at Houston and Los Angeles, but could thrive in the cushier Eastern conference as a third guard on a team with low expectations. He won't have to guard as many talented people over here and will almost seem like an ace perimeter shooter by comparison. It could work out for him, even though it probably won't.
Your Coach: Steve Clifford
It's never a good sign when I have to look up who your team's coach is because I forgot, but it's Clifford, the NBA's answer to the NFL defensive coordinator who got promoted and is in over his head as the coach. The Hornets have ranked 24th and 28th in offensive rating under his watch and it's hard to see them rising up from that neighborhood anytime soon. Literally the most efficient thing they can do is post up Jefferson and pray to god he doesn't get doubled. If he wrings enough scoring to grab an eighth seed from this bunch he should win coach of the decade.
Bottom Line: What a weird, mismatched team. The bigs can all shoot it but can't guard anybody. The wings can lock people down but can't score. Nobody can really take it to the cup and half the roster is brand new so continuity is out the window. They could finish 8th or 14th and neither would surprise. I'll split the difference and say 31-51, 11th in the East and searching for a new coach, though there really isn't much Clifford can do here.
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