Michael Jordan meeting with the press. The Hornets plan for building a contender is underway. (photo courtesy of http://www.utsandiego.com)
The Charlotte Hornets are a team that many thought would take the next step last season. They had made the playoffs in the 2013-2014 season and wanted to build upon it the next season. That offseason, they thought they added the missing piece in their equation when they brought in guard Lance Stephenson on a two year deal worth $9 million per year. The team also included an option to pick up Stephenson’s deal after the 2015-2016 season. Well, the deal for the missing piece in Charlotte ended up being a disaster. Lance was not the player they thought he was. He seemed like more of a round peg fitting in a square peg. And the scoring they thought he would bring was not there. In fact, Stephenson did not even average 10 points per game last season. So, going into this offseason, the Hornets were determined to change course. General manager Rich Cho started that one off with trading Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. And in return, the Hornets received forward Spencer Hawes, who never seemed to fit in Los Angeles, and forward Matt Barnes. But if you take a look at the overall picture, this move was just the beginning of a master plan in Charlotte.
Michael Jordan has been the owner of the Hornets for a few years now. He inherited the team under the Bobcats nickname, but he them changed that to the Hornets once the New Orleans franchise abandoned it for their new nickname, the Pelicans. That first step helped bring back some credibility to the franchise along with them making the playoffs last season. And although he had a misstep this past season with the Lance Stephenson experience, the plan is still in place for the Hornets. The franchise has been rebranded to what it once was and that brought back the love of the community for the team to an extent. Jordan’s next step of the plan was to bring back some winning to the team as well. Even though they lost in a sweep to the Miami Heat in the playoffs in the 2014 playoffs, they made the playoffs and was expected to make a progression. They failed to do so in the 2014-2015 season, but the plan is in motion for 2016-2017 already. As mentioned, Stephenson is gone but he was not the only move made. The Hornets have also shipped out guard Gerald Henderson Jr. as well as last year’s draft pick, forward Noah Vonleh, in order to acquire forward Nicolas Batum. In doing this trade, the Hornets bring in a guy that can be a lockdown defender on one end and can do some things offensively that can help them spread the floor for point guard Kemba Walker to penetrate as well as give Al Jefferson a shooter teams have to worry about. Henderson was a solid offensive weapon for Charlotte, but they were never going to take the next step in their progression with him. And Batum actually does not need the basketball to be effective in a game like Henderson does. With Vonleh gone, the Charlotte Bobcats are admitting the mistake they made drafting him. Vonleh never really contributed and we still don’t know what all he can or cannot be. With Hawes now in place in Charlotte, he can do the things that Vonleh was supposed to do right now. And in Portland, Vonleh gets a fresh start and will get a chance for playing time should LaMarcus Aldridge leave this offseason as expected. This trade actually made sense for the Hornets and helps them be a more competitive team as well as a longer team defensively. The only bad thing that can come out of this one is the fact that one of their previous rookie 1st rounders, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, will be moved to the bench. But that move will actually help strengthen the Hornets and their bench actually.
The other move that was made already by the Hornets this offseason was pretty quietly done. The team traded Luke Ridnour, whom they acquired in a trade for Matt Barnes, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the services of shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. Lamb has been a player that has shown moments in his career, but unfortunately has not shown up consistently on the court and in the scoring column. With his addition, it means he is in a sink-or-swim year with Charlotte. When Lamb first entered the league, many thought his sweet stroke was something that would pay dividends for whoever drafted him. He was picked by the Houston Rockets and then used as a pawn in the trade that brought Houston James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The expectation was that he would end up eventually being the guard starting opposite of Russell Westbrook once he got to Oklahoma City. Well, he has not exactly fulfilled those expectations. Lame has not had consistent playing time since he has been there and it has been inexplicable at best. He shoots the ball well and can make defenses pay when they crowd him, but somehow he did something that kept him buried on the bench for the Thunder. In coming to Charlotte, Lamb now gets reunited with his former college teammate, Kemba Walker. Both of these men played well beside each other when they won a national title together at the University of Connecticut. And maybe in reuniting these two together, there will be some chemistry started and Lamb will help space the floor for Walker and Jefferson. With the sweet stroke that he has, it’s going to be interesting to see how he is used by the Hornets in their offense. As far as Ridnour, he has been traded more times in 24 hours than probably any player in NBA history. And it is ironic that he has come back to the franchise that he began his career with when they were in Seattle previously. The end is near for him in his NBA career and many have recognized that. He made a good run, but the time is slipping on his career like the sands from the hourglass. And the last little bit of grains are sliding down as we speak.
The Hornets have all these new pieces in place along with the addition of Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky via the 2015 NBA Draft. Now some may be ripping into Jordan for the reported trade he turned down from the Boston Celtics that included numerous draft picks, but there is a method behind some of the madness, or at least Jordan thinks there is. Besides the contract of Spencer Hawes, the contracts that the Hornets inherited with Lamb and Batum expire at the end of next season. And with the cap about to be at an astronomical number in 2016, the Hornets will be sitting with only Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston, Hawes, Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller on the roster should all still be on the Hornets team past the trade deadline. Three of those contracts are still rookie deals and only Kemba’s contract is one that takes up a good percentage of the salary cap in Charlotte. With the All-Star game coming to Charlotte in 2017, they need someone that will be a representative for them there. And in the summer of 2016, they will have the cap space to go get that guy. Al Jefferson will probably be someone they bring back provided he wants to be there after the 2015-2016 season and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will probably get an extension with the team, but the Hornets will need someone that brings star power to the team. And there is one man that is out there that can b4ing that to them. No, LeBron James is not coming to Charlotte in 2016. He will more than likely be making over $30 million per season when his deal happens in the summer of 2016. But there is a guy out there that can bring star power to the team and his name is Kevin Durant. The scoring machine from Oklahoma City is up for a new contract and it seems as if he is preparing to leave the city. Charlotte is not the place many have him pegged to go to. Many see him returning home to Washington. With Wall, Beal and Durant, the Wizards would have one of the best trios in basketball if not the best. But the Hornets may have more money to offer him and also may be able to bring in another piece with him should they decide to jettison Jefferson instead of re-signing him. This year, if the Hornets make the playoffs, the arrow will be trending up just like it was for Miami the year before they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. And just like Miami, the Hornets could make a power play that could make them an instant contender. There are no guarantees that Durant will look at Charlotte in the summer of 2016. But then again, there were not many thoughts of LeBron going to Miami when he was a free agent until maybe a week before his announcement. The impossible has happened before and for the Charlotte Hornets, they are hoping it happens again. And it will all culminate with the summer of 2016.
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