October 12, 2019
The Charlotte area has become very familiar with construction and growth. Seemingly everywhere you look, cranes and crews are constantly piecing together creations that will represent a new Carolina. Throughout the region, project managers walk the line between modern expansion and respectful incorporation with the previous era. Occasionally frustrating for those near, optimism for the future vision ultimately outweighs the temporary pitfalls that comes with progress. Accordingly, let’s preview the Queen City’s newest project: the 2019-2020 Charlotte Hornets.
Obviously, the tenants at 333 E Trade street are rebuilding. We know that’s a dirty word in sports circles. Some call it trusting the process, others call it looking forward to the future, and many refer to it as a youth movement. Call it whatever you want, but don’t call Kemba. The franchise leader in points, minutes played, field goals, three pointers made, and marketability has left for greener pastures after eight seasons in Charlotte. The handling of the negotiation plus lack of foresight by the organization was confusing and this season will be the unfortunate loss-filled byproduct.
Factoring in the departure of other clutch players during the offseason, there are two numbers that indicate the direction of the franchise. One, the Hornets roster lost nearly 60 points per game with the escape of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Tony Parker, and Frank Kaminsky. Two, the roster remains captive to the $70 million in contracts for Batum, Biyombo, Williams, and Kidd-Gilchrist.
Even worse, despite garnering such large salaries, those four still in Charlotte have efficiency ratings below the league player average of 15. Most notably, Nic Batum had a player efficiency rating last year of 11.87 but is the highest paid Hornet this year ($25,565,217) and will be next year ($27,130,434). That is minimal buzz for the buck. It’s also worth noting that not one player on the current roster averaged more than 10.5 points per game last year, yet the Hornets will have the 18th highest payroll in 2019-20. Indicators point to a painfully bad record.
Speaking of finances, the Hornets Sports and Entertainment group welcomed three notable individuals. The first two, new partners Gabe Plotkin and Daniel Sundheim, are Wall Street hedge fund managers that bought minority ownership shares from Michael Jordan. The new owners will contribute technology and their investments, while MJ reaffirmed his interest in “making all decisions related to the team and organization.” The third and most talked about addition was Terry Rozier. The point guard arrived from Boston by way of a sign-and-trade for Kemba Walker. The Hornets lowballed an offer to Walker and perhaps knee-jerk reacted by offering $58 million/three years to the former Celtics backup, Rozier. Justified or not, the two will be compared by the Hornets fanbase, but the real comparison should be between the Hornets’ front office and the rest of the league’s decision makers.
Perhaps all the stars align under Mitch Kupchak/MJ and Coach Borrego’s defensive culture really takes hold. Could the 2019-20 Charlotte Hornets be better off without Kemba Walker? In a word, no. Sure, maybe Hornets fans overvalued Kemba, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t third team All-NBA. The front office should’ve made a difficult trade last year to get reasonable resources. Now, the roster has a talent deficiency. The encompassing void was felt during media day as nearly every player was greeted with some type of “now that Kemba is gone” question. Long term, perhaps optimistically, maybe the team grows with Rozier and has a culture reset toward defense and ball movement.
The focus on ball movement, defense, and youth is the bright side. The Hornets, who have a questionable draft history, finally appear to have some young building blocks in Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, and Rozier. The key to this whole thing could be Malik Monk. The Hornets selected the scorer from Kentucky in 2017 and have been waiting for his skillset to translate to the league. Monk made a point to mention his offseason was spent hitting the weights instead of jumpers, going from 182 to 205 lbs, he plans to attack more and get moved off his spot less. Monk also mentioned being “ready to shoot,” which will be a welcome attitude on this roster. Another Kentucky Wildcat, newest Hornet, PJ Washington will provide energy and versatility to the team. Washington has shown an impressively diverse stat line this preseason, and despite the small sample size, is making a case for significant playing time during the regular season. Last year, several young players bounced back and forth from the big club to the developmental team in Greensboro. 2019-20 is going to be a youth movement, so expect those players, specifically Bacon and Raleigh native, Devonte’ Graham to now get prime NBA minutes in hopes of forging a contender for the future.
The future itself is directly tied to Coach Borrego. Borrego’s pedigree is defense and player development but last year the team was a step behind his pace. Borrego, perhaps searching for a solid foundation, mentioned he is also going to have to “manufacture” leadership himself to start. He also expects Terry Rozier to “step up as a leader” with the exit of Walker: “Let’s see who steps up, both on the floor and off the floor. Those guys there should be salivating right now at this opportunity that’s in front of them.”
The team is looking for leadership as well as scoring, especially solid three-point scoring. In today’s NBA, the style of play is based on three-point percentage. The Charlotte Hornets were not stellar from behind the arc last year, shooting 35% as a team. Now that Kemba and his nearly nine three-point attempts per game are gone, that number could sink like a rock. Bridges and Bacon will have to step up or the Hornets might have some lopsided losses.
Sure, Las Vegas predicts Charlotte to have the lowest win total (23) in the NBA this season, but the Hornets are planning to create a foundation. With the likelihood of a very high pick in the upcoming draft, plus salary flexibility in the near future, be hopeful Kupchak and MJ have a calculated blueprint. Unfortunately, this year will be phase one: demolition. Afterall, just like in construction, sometimes you gotta tear it down to build it up.
Check out the full 2019-20 schedule for the Charlotte Hornets.