Charlotte Hornets: One Player Away From Contention?

Dec 26, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks with guard Nicolas Batum (5) and guard Kemba Walker (15) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets defeated the Grizzlies 98-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks with guard Nicolas Batum (5) and guard Kemba Walker (15) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets defeated the Grizzlies 98-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

While the Charlotte Hornets are currently one of the best team’s in the Eastern Conference, they may still be one player away from contending.

The Charlotte Hornets are a gritty team who can light up the scoreboard when hot. Capable of great success or failures, the play of the North Carolina native team has been an up-and-down adventure that currently has the team with slightly more wins than loses. But could the team be better with additional help?

Currently, the 12-9 Charlotte Hornets are tied for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference with the Boston Celtics, to the surprise of the many NBA fans. Though Charlotte has continuously improved, the team has still maintained its standing as another team surrounded in mediocrity.

After a successful campaign that saw the team win 48 games, the current squad had begun its new year with 12 of 21 victories. All-Star hopeful Kemba Walker once again leads the team with scoring, Nicolas Batum has continued to be a jack-of-all-trades and Cody Zeller has become a hidden gem for the Hornets. Even reservists Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb have added to the team’s multiple successes. But often, the Hornets have had hiccups that have contributed to several of the team’s losses.

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Frequently, the Hornets have had trouble with starting off slow, finishing strong and breaking out of a slump. With Walker continuously strengthening his All-Star candidacy by scoring anywhere from 18-25 points constantly, the team has often stretched the 6’1 guard too thin. Though Batum, Zeller, Lamb and Belinelli have all contributed to the team’s success, sometimes the team still may get overpowered at critical moments in games to teams of all calibers.

From championship contenders to some of the league’s most disappointing teams, the Hornets have shown that they can truly contend against all competition. However, the team has also shown that it has multiple weaknesses that need fixing and/or replacing, and some are truly more important than others.

The most important weakness that the team has tried to cover up is the fact that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to pan out the way the team planned. Though the team has relied on MKG as a defensive stud and slasher for all of his five pro years, the game plan of limiting routes to the rim and forcing him to shoot has more often worked out for opposing teams more than for the Hornets. MKG has improved his confidence enough to shoot more than he has in previous years, yet the results have been similar. Force the shot and converge for the rebound.

But what if the Hornets were to bring the former Kentucky Wildcat off the bench? The team could utilize a better offensive lineup with a few of its current reserves, and the player best capable for the Hornets could be Jeremy Lamb. Though he doesn’t offer remotely close to what MKG brings defensively, Lamb has shown multiple times that he can produce when given the chance. Lamb has shown that he is a capable scorer and rebounder while also showing that he is a capable passer with spurts of blocking ability.

And more than once, the partnership of Lamb and Walker (dubbed the UConn connection) have proven to work on occasion. With Lamb in the mix, the lineup of Walker, Lamb, Batum, Marvin Williams and Zeller would be an offensive minded lineup, it would also slide Batum back to the natural position of small forward while still allowing him to quarterback the team as the point-forward. This move would allow MKG to come off the bench and hound a winded starter or second string player while providing endless energy and rebounding.

Another move could be trading MKG for a player, a draft choice and cash considerations. This move, though doubtful, would be a move geared toward possibly helping more in the long term. The decision to trade a foundation piece like MKG would be a major move that would require many things, including patience.

Although he may not be considered a game changer, MKG is an undervalued player in that he will do small things that will help a team during games. Trading him for an established player would almost certainly cost the team MKG as well as a draft choice (likely again in the 20’s), but trading for another role player could result in a mid-level draft choice as well as more cash going into the offseason to secure a player capable manning the position.

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The third option could be just to wait until free agency to make any movement. With players such as Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gay, and Jeff Green all becoming free agents after this season, a surplus of talent will be available. The Hornets could have their own free agents possibly leaving in Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes (if he declines his player option), Brian Roberts and Ramon Sessions (who the team has an option to release), and with the NBA salary cap expected to rise again from $94 to $108 million, the team should have enough money available to secure another high-level player while maintaining its current core.

However, if this was the case, expectations would be that the GM Rich Cho would continue to target players whom he already has knowledge of. With that in mind, the two players would undoubtedly be Hayward and Green. Both players that the team had reportedly targeted before, Green and Hayward would offer a tremendous upgrade at the small forward position. Green was thought to be a target by many in 2014 after the Hornets acquired Lance Stephenson.

The Hornets were reportedly looking to unload the shooting guard early in the season and many sources quickly linked the Hornets to the Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green as his replacement, however, a trade never materialized. Hayward, on the other hand, was a target during the 2014 free agency. The Hornets surprised the league by signing the restricted free agent to a $63-million offer sheet that the Utah Jazz matched. So, there was interest by both parties to work together, and one has to wonder if the desire to work together could still be there.

Next: Buzz City Beat: Hornets Host Pistons, Player Regression

All in all, the team has risen to NBA relevancy and given fans much to be happy and joyous about. But the question remains, could the team be better by moving or acquiring one more player?