Charlotte Hornets Need a Long Term Plan


Charlotte Hornets Need a Long Term Plan

The city of Charlotte does not have a long and storied NBA history. The old Charlotte Hornets were a good, but not great team, and the new Hornets/old Bobcats have mostly been a disaster in the Queen City.

In 25 years of professional basketball, Charlotte has won 50 or more games twice, and zero times since the city was awarded the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. Nine times the team has finished with a winning record, and only twice has the franchise done that since the rebirth in 2004.

That is two winning seasons in 11 years, including four of the last five. Rock bottom was hit in the 2011-12 season, when the team went 7-59 in a season shortened by a labor dispute.

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However, there is reason for optimism. Kemba Walker is an unconventional, but effective player. He easily could have been an All-Star this year, and it seems only a matter of time before he earns that distinction.

The team lured a big time free agent in Al Jefferson, and rebranding the team back into the familiar Charlotte Hornets has energized the fan base and earned some new fans.

The Sports Business Journal reported that the Hornets were in the top five for ratings increase from last year, as the local TV ratings have increased 52% over last year.

On the court, this year, the team has taken a step back, as injuries have taken a toll on the roster, and Charlotte is currently battling to get back into the top eight. Although help is on the way with Kemba Walker nearing a return, it is still far from the early season expectations.

Worse, that prized free agent the Hornets lured in Jefferson, has an option in his contract to go back on the open market at the end of the year. So the Hornets could be without one of their best players. Jefferson has been the rock this team has leaned on, and is easily their best one on one scorer.

Their recent acquisition in Mo Williams is also a free agent after the season, and while I would certainly advocate the Hornets try to keep him, he is an aging veteran and his departure would only hurt their bench depth with Kemba Walker signed long term.

Really, though, the bigger question is about the future of this team and what kind of team the Hornets want to build. A tough, defense first team with some old school back to the basket scorers along with guys who can shoot spacing the floor sounds good to me. However, with Lance Stephenson still on the books for another year, and not much shooting on the roster outside of Williams, maybe Charlotte should go in another direction.

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Right now, head coach Steve Clifford abhors the fast break, and tries his best to slow the pace of the game and control the tempo. He does not want his team to get into a run and shoot game with the opposition.

However, other than Jefferson, this team has no post-up threats, and only Walker and Williams are threats to drive into the paint. Gerald Henderson is athletic, but he has shot only 30% from the three point line for his career. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has not even attempted a three the entire year.

Lance Stephenson is a disaster from the outside and Marvin Williams, probably their best perimeter shooter, hits only 33% from beyond the arc.

Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Kidd-Gilchrist and Henderson are all under contract for next year, for a combined $28 million. Given the situation the Hornets are in, maybe it makes more sense to try a different approach.

Maybe the Hornets should embrace the fast break, as a starting squad featuring Stephenson, Walker, and Henderson would be a fast and athletic group running the floor. Change the defensive style to a more aggressive approach looking for steals.

Or perhaps go the other way. Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist have value, and could easily be traded away. Stephenson would be tougher, but with that third year being a team option, any club acquiring him would only be on the hook for one year. That might entice a desperate general manager to take a calculated risk.

There are plenty of lower rung free agents in the summer of 2015 who can shoot that could be enticed to come to Charlotte. Gerald Green, Wesley Johnson, Luke Babbitt, and Wes Matthews will be available.

Not just that, but old school big man Greg Monroe is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. A Monroe-Jefferson front court with Walker, Mo Williams, and someone of the Johnson/Green/Babbitt/Matthews group would be a formidable offensive starting five.

Either way, it is obvious that the current roster has some quality NBA players on it, but that they do not always play well together, even when giving maximum effort.

If the Hornets truly want to compete with the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, then they need to map out a long term strategy for their team. Rich Cho, Michael Jordan, and Steve Clifford need to sit down this spring and decide exactly what kind of team the Hornets are building, and the kind of players they need at each position to implement the plan.

Fans like the return to the old Hornets brand. They like that the team has gotten more competitive. However, if Charlotte does not continue to improve and provide a long term sustainable brand of success then these gains will be short lived.

North Carolina loves basketball, but the Tar Heels and Blue Devils provide tough competition to any professional team, and if the Hornets do not give their fans something to cheer about, they will not just stop cheering.

They will stop coming, and stop watching.

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