30 Teams in 30 Days: Tweaks keeping Hornets on track
Now with personality and identity, Charlotte looks to continue heading in right direction in East
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 record: 48-34
Who’s gone: G Troy Daniels, F/C Al Jefferson, G Courtney Lee, G Jeremy Lin, SG Malachi Richardson
Who’s new: C Roy Hibbert, G Brian Roberts, G Ramon Sessions, C Mike Tobey (via free agency); G Marco Belinelli (via trade)
The lowdown: The Hornets finally had a landmark season under the ownership of Michael Jordan, winning 48 games and announcing themselves as a player in the East.
You can’t pay everyone. The Hornets discovered this in a summer of minor change, nothing that will steer them off a season of progress. They lost Lin and Lee to the New York teams and waved goodbye to an old friend, Big Al. Keeping all three would’ve compromised the team’s salary position and more importantly, could’ve prevented them from spending on the one free agent they needed to keep.
After digging deep, they came up with five years and $120 million for Nic Batum after he flirted with the Mavericks. That’s a lot of coin for a player who never made an All-Star team or been the most important player on his team, but welcome to the new normal in the NBA, where accolades don’t weigh as much as before when it comes to paying players.
Anyway, Batum did trigger a culture change in Charlotte. Before his arrival last season, the Hornets struggled to score and had no presence at the swingman spots. He was exactly what they needed, someone who drew respect from the defense and gave Charlotte an option besides Kemba Walker.
Batum is only 27 and defends reasonably well, too. It was no coincidence that the Hornets broke franchise records for prosperity when he came aboard.
The Hornets also saved a few dollars to keep Marvin Williams, who has quietly made himself a secondary factor here in the latter stages of his career. He cost the Hornets $54 million, again, far more than anyone expected Williams to fetch. Still, the Hornets weren’t willing to make too many changes from last season. Losing Lin, Jefferson and Lee, three of their top six scorers, was enough. Losing a few others would’ve sent the wrong message.
A cost-saving move was signing Hibbert, although he’s clearly on his last legs and will provide a bigger alternative to Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminski. Same goes for Belinelli, who will help off-set the loss of Lee and Lin, giving the Hornets one more shooter with range in the rotation.
Steve Clifford will field a lineup that’s a little on the small side, yet quick and frisky and a blend of vets and youngsters. The Hornets are more defined than ever before. They have a personality and an identity now, and if last season is an indication of what’s coming, they’re moving in the right direction. Much will depend on how Zeller and Kaminski develop; Charlotte will benefit if one becomes a primary option and forces the defenses to stop trapping Walker.
Aside from keeping their own free agents and also hoping to see growth from within, the Hornets want to become a destination place for free agents. That comes with winning and showing a willingness to spend money. When Jordan took full ownership of the team, the scuttlebutt had Charlotte suddenly on the map for A-list stars.
But being the greatest player in NBA history doesn’t sway stars who want to get paid and want to team up with other stars. Shaking hands with Jordan after every practice isn’t enough, even if that free agent endorses Jordan Brand sneakers.
Well, the Hornets are based in an affordable city with good weather. The fans will show up and support a winner, too, and Time Warner Cable Arena is very accommodating. Those are the built-in advantages. And now, the Hornets and Jordan are working on the other factors.
In the past, Jordan wasn’t willing to flirt with the luxury tax, but always maintained he would if it meant putting together a championship contender. The Hornets aren’t quite at that stage to put his pledge to the test. Walker is a nice guard who could be an All-Star someday, but Jordan needs a game-changer, if not next summer, then soon enough.
Here’s what Jordan and the Hornets need: A player who’d make Cam Newton the second-best professional athlete in Charlotte.
No one will suit up for the Hornets and make folks forget who owns the team. Jordan will never be that fortunate, unless he sells.
Coming Next: LA Clippers
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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.
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