The Center Position is the Charlotte Hornets Biggest Need This Offseason

Oct 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) passes the ball away from Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) and center Al Jefferson (25) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) passes the ball away from Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) and center Al Jefferson (25) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into this summer, the Charlotte Hornets have a big question mark in the middle, the biggest improvement that they need to make is at the center position for next year.

Even with the Charlotte Hornets’ massive success from last season, there was still questions surrounding their big men all year. Those questions arise once more as the offseason and NBA Draft draw closer. The team will need to make a decision regarding their center position for the future.

Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson were the two men that locked down the starting center position for the Hornets last season. But with Big Al set to be a free agent and Zeller showing slow signs of development, the team may be looking to make major improvements as they try to find more postseason success. There will be plenty of big name options this summer.

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Al Jefferson is the least likely option for the team going forward as he will be entering the open market as an unrestricted free agent. He is 31-years old and he is coming off of a season where he only played in 47 games. He has suffered through lower body injuries for the past two years.

Big Al only averaged 12.0 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game last season in 23 minutes of play. He looks to be heading into the downfall of his career and it would not be ideal for Charlotte to re-sign him to a big contract considering that there may be cheaper and better options in the draft or in free agency.

Zeller took over the starting role from Jefferson when he went down with an injury that was coupled with a five game suspension due to the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Cody played well for the Hornets as he averaged 8.7 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. In his third season in the league, he showed improvement but there were still holes in his rebounding against bigger players, interior defense, and offensive post game.

Charlotte has been linked to a number of big man this offseason with the likes of Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, and Bismack Biyombo in free agency. They have also worked out potential draft prospects in Diamond Stone and Stephen Zimmerman. Any one of these player should be the Hornets’ starting option in the future.

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A big name like Dwight Howard or Hassan Whiteside would cost the team a significant amount of money this summer and would cut into their cap space but it could be the vast improvement that the team has been looking for. A young player in the draft would take time to develop and it would be unlikely that they would start immediately. The Hornets could have another Cody Zeller experiment on their hands.

The best bet for the team would be to try to sign a big name center that could immediately take over the starting role and impact the team in a major way. Charlotte clearly needs better rebounding and interior defending. That was evident in their loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs when Hassan Whiteside dominated them on both sides of the ball.

Even if signing a big name center would cut into the team’s cap space for the summer, they may not need a lot of it to re-sign some key players. Nicolas Batum is priority number one and he will re-sign with the Hornets. After Nic, Marvin Williams is second on the list and he is likely to re-sign and may even take a pay cut. Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee may be expendable for Charlotte as they can sign cheaper options in the offseason through the draft or free agency.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming back next season, he removes the need for Courtney Lee in the starting line-up as well as off of the bench because Jeremy Lamb could take over that role. Jeremy Lin was a key piece of the team but he will likely cost them too much on the open market, especially if they intend to sign a big name free agent center.

I would also not rule out a big trade for the Charlotte Hornets this summer. General manager, Rich Cho, is known for making big trades to acquire quality players that can contribute immediately. (Look at last year with Nic Batum) That could be a route that the team chooses if the right deal presents itself.

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It will be interesting to see what the Charlotte Hornets do this offseason. They need to make improvements to their team if they want to have more success next season and the center position is the most likely change. A possible trade, draft pick, or free agent signing could immediately impact the team next year.