The buzz is absolutely back in Charlotte. For the second straight summer, the Charlotte Hornets have landed a star in free agency. For the second straight summer, Charlotte drafted an elite forward prospect out of Indiana. And for the first summer in a very long time, Charlotte has a legitimate Big Three and will enter the 2014-15 NBA season as a playoff contender.
Along the way, the Hornets have made some smaller moves to solidify the roster. Here are my insights and observations on the less-heralded aspects of Charlotte’s off-season. Plus, I tackle a few pressing questions about the Hornets rotation.
1. Signing Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts
The Hornets welcomed Marvin Williams to the team Monday afternoon. Williams was brought in to replace Josh McRoberts and possibly start while Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh develop. It’s unlikely that Williams will blend in as seamlessly as McRoberts, but he is an improving shooter, a steady defender and a great locker room presence. Don’t overlook that Williams shares a Tar Heel connection with P.J. Hairston. Perhaps Williams can teach Hairston how to be a pro and stay out of trouble.
Brian Roberts was brought in to back-up Kemba Walker on a two-year, $6 million deal. Roberts, like Walker, is only 6’1” and 180 lbs and is limited defensively because of his size. One area where Roberts excels is free throw shooting. Roberts shot 94% from the line last season, a welcome sight for a team that finished 24th in the league in free throw percentage, shooting 73.7% last season.
2. The Brilliant Rich Cho
I have no evidence to back this up, but I bet General Manager Rich Cho is a fantastic poker player. Like Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick, Cho tells reporters only what they need to know, and often less than that. Cho minimized free agency leaks, but you could be sure that once something did leak, Charlotte was making a move. Of players publicly connected to Charlotte during free agency, only Kirk Hinrich turned down a Charlotte offer. Cho read the tea leaves perfectly on Lance Stephenson. The Hornets made a strong play at Gordon Hayward, leaving no doubt of their intention to sign a wing. But after Utah matched, Cho waited until the Stephenson market was seemingly at its lowest point and worked out an amazingly team-friendly deal. Managing to get a team option for the third year of Lance’s $27.4 million deal was a coup for Charlotte and signals Cho’s masterful negotiation abilities.
3. Gerald Henderson – Sixth Man?
Henderson was likely the only Hornets fan or player not fist-pumping at the news of Stephenson’s signing. On the one hand, Henderson was thoroughly outplayed by Dwyane Wade in the playoffs and has never shown the ability to consistently be a knock-down shooter. The Hornets simply had to improve their wing play to be a contender. On the other hand, Henderson may deserve more from Charlotte. He has been a true pro for five seasons and a full-time starter for three, and was a team captain last season. Although Clifford was coy about starting roles next season, Henderson will likely be asked to come off the bench, a major ego-check for any professional athlete. How Henderson reacts will go a long way in determining Charlotte’s success, and if things go awry, he may find himself on the trading block.
4. Summer League Success
The Hornets run to the Las Vegas Summer League semifinals was fun to watch, but is rather meaningless in the long run. The purpose of summer ball is to get the young guys competitive repetitions win or lose. The good news is that neither Vonleh nor Hairston looked out-of-place among pros. Vonleh’s rebounding was impressive, and he showed glimpses of brilliance on the block. But he has to get stronger to be a rotation player. Hairston is exactly who we thought he was. His ability to bully smaller players in the post is a great sign, as is his fearlessness. And if you discount his horrible first game, Hairston shot a steady 20 of 51 from three, good for over 39%.
5. Jannero Pargo’s Return
Pargo agreed to return to the Hornets on a 1 year, $1.5 million contract. Pargo was brought back primarily for continuity purposes. And it’s important not to overlook the value of veteran leadership in the locker room for a team like Charlotte. With Stephenson’s volatile personality and Hairston’s penchant for trouble, having a few “old heads” on the team should keep the ship even-keeled when things get rocky.
6. The Eastern Conference Strengthens
If I had to create an Eastern Conference Power Rankings at this moment, it would look something like this: 1) Cleveland, 2) Chicago, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Charlotte, 6) Miami, 7) Atlanta, 8) Indiana, 9) Brooklyn, 10) New York, 11) Detroit, 12) Boston, 13) Orlando 14) Philadelphia 15) Milwaukee.
The most difficult teams to peg are Indiana and Brooklyn. I am not sure what Indiana will do offensively next season without Lance, and Brooklyn appears to me as an old, random collection of parts with a new coach.
Last season, the East had a severe drop-off after Indiana and Miami. This season seems to have another top-two, but the overall talent level of the remaining teams is much closer to their Western counterparts. To put it another way, good teams might actually miss the playoffs in the East in the upcoming year.
7. Does Bismack Crack the Rotation?
The Hornets are deep across at all positions but center. I asked Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer Sunday on Twitter if Cody Zeller may see some time as Jefferson’s backup given Biyombo’s offensive woes. His response:
What do you think about the Hornets offseason so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!