Last Season: 48-34, 6th seed in East
Off-Season Gains: C Roy Hibbert (free agent), PG Ramon Sessions (free agent), SG Marco Belinelli (trade), PG Brian Roberts (free agent), PF Christian Wood (free agent)
Off-Season Losses: C Al Jefferson (free agent/Indiana), PG Jeremy Lin (free agent/Brooklyn), SG Courtney Lee (free agent/New York), SG Troy Daniels (trade/Memphis)
Off-Season Stock: DO NOT WANT
League Pass Team?: I got my fill of them last playoffs, thanks.
Oh poor NOOCH. Are we sure Michael Jordan isn't handling the personnel again? A humble, hard-working roster uses good coaching and solid chemistry to play above its head, and out go three of their most important pieces in free agency, replaced by.... well what exactly? A star free agent? Nope. A dynamic draft pick? Well, funny story about that, but nuh-uh. Exciting trade? Not exactly.
The Hornets spent big, don't get me wrong. They just had too many guys who were free agents at once. They re-signed Nicolas Batum for all the money --with the Frenchman showing his gratitude for that commitment by exerting zero energy whatsoever in the Olympics-- and Marvin Williams for whatever was left. If anything, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will seem almost like a newcomer for them after missing all but seven games with a torn labrum in his shoulder. The initial plan seems to be to start all of them, meaning that coach Steve Clifford is committed to play small full-time, with Williams as his stretch-four.
Batum remains an eternal tease, and there's just no way he can possibly live up to that contract, but you can't deny that he's got very few, if any, weaknesses. He's long, versatile, skilled, and really one of the league's ultimate jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none guys. The Hornets certainly need his play-making and shooting, with a starting point guard who's not much of a passer and a partner on the wing in MKG who's a younger Tony Allen, basically. The pair will make for one of the league's better defensive perimeter tandems, but I don't know how much you can count on either, as Batum's intensity comes and goes (remind you of anyone, Spurs fans?) and MKG has his injury history. Playing them alongside the rangy Williams, who's somehow just turned 30 even though it seems he's been around forever, will allow the Hornets to space the floor a bit and switch everything on defense, but he's another guy I'd sort in the "unreliable" box, especially in the playoffs, where he's always awful for some reason.
Bookending that trio will be Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller, who actually started 60 games for them last year. Walker is lightning quick and can score in all manner of ways. He upped his averages last year mainly thanks to a big improvement from downtown, and thrived as their main option. However, he's never been a consistent shooter, his play-making is mediocre at best and he's going to be overextended without fallback scorers like Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin to take the burden off of him. Right now, it looks like Batum is their second option, and that spells trouble. Zeller has the potential to pick up some of that slack, and his humble averages have improved in each of his three seasons, but he's running out of time to prove that selecting him fourth overall in the 2013 draft was justifiable. Ironically, the Hornets had a superior offensive rating with him on the floor than Jefferson, but fared much better defensively with "Big Al" patrolling the paint.
Off the bench the guy who really has to step up is second year man Frank Kaminsky, another controversial lottery pick. He made just over a third of his attempts from downtown as a rookie, which is barely acceptable for a stretch-five, but was simply brutal from inside the line. He'll get more post-up opportunities with Jefferson gone and we'll see if he's gotten any stronger or more polished down there. The Hornets also signed Roy Hibbert to back up Zeller. He brings all of Jefferson's immobility on defense without any of the scoring or rebounding. Ol' Roy was dead last on the Lakers in net rating last season (-18.0!!!), which is just a staggering accomplishment. The Lakers also rebounded worse with him on the floor than anyone else, grabbing 46.0 percent of carom with him in there, and 50.0 percent when he sat. They could've just bought a life-size cardboard cut out of Hibbert and saved some money. Spencer Hawes is still here though, still serviceable, and he'll probably wind up playing more than both Kaminsky and Hibbert when it's all said and done.
As loony as signing the mummified Hibbert is, it might not top trading for old friend Marco Belinelli on the baffle-meter. Belinelli was playing so poorly for the Kings --and making too much money-- that Sacramento couldn't give him away in a trade last spring, and he fell out of their rotation by the end of the season. Yet the Hornets were happy to trade the 22nd pick of the draft for him. I understand the move in theory. The NOOCH need shooters and can get away with some lackluster defense at the wing with Batum or MKG covering Belinelli's lapses, but unless the Italian finds his 2014 form, this seems like a pretty one-sided trade. Joining Belinelli in the backcourt is Ramon Sessions, whom they brought in to replace Lin. As backups go, he's solid, but he's not somebody who'll be able to handle the scoring load for half a quarter like Lin could. Jeremy Lamb is still here too, vying for backup wing minutes and just as likely to drive Clifford crazy as Belinelli will.
So there you have it. After being one of the best stories in the league last season, I've got the Hornets tumbling out of the playoff race in 2016-17. They're gonna miss Jefferson's interior scoring and Lin's hot streaks. Clifford's one of the best coaches in the league and he'll probably slow the pace down to a crawl to compensate, but I just don't know where the points are going to come from with this crew.
On top of which, Charlotte lost next season's All-Star Game because of North Carolina's recent legislation. Not only did commissioner Adam Silver move the weekend, but numerous entertainers cancelled concerts as well. Among the critics of the bill was Gregg Popovich, who supported Silver's decision and said. "I agree with the league and ... everybody else who pulled out."