How the Charlotte Hornets can become contenders by 2019

Apr 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; A view of the Charlotte Hornets on the court before game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; A view of the Charlotte Hornets on the court before game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

The unofficial deadline for the Charlotte Hornets to become contenders in the Eastern Conference is 2019. The same year they host the NBA All-Star game.

With a year in between, 2018 should be a stepping stone towards the Charlotte Hornets track to relevancy.

Charlotte is set to pick No. 11 in the upcoming draft and a lack of salary cap room is sure to complicate things this offseason. Barring a blockbuster trade, Charlotte could have a similar roster to the one that finished 36-46.

How does Charlotte make themselves relevant once the bright lights of All-Star weekend come around in 2019?

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Add a quality, veteran backup point guard

The Hornets missed Jeremy Lin in 2016-17. Point, blank, period. Lin averaged 11.7 and 3.0 assists off the bench and was able to run the offense with Kemba Walker on the bench or share the floor with Walker. Charlotte hoped Ramon Sessions return would mask Lin’s absence, but the veteran point guard missed 32 games. Sessions has a team option, worth 6.27 million (according to HoopsHype), that is sure to be declined to free up some cap room.

One player that comes to mind is Darren Collison, who is set to be a free agent this summer. The UCLA product has played for Sacramento the past three years, averaging 14.2 points and 4.7 assists with the Kings. But Collison posted his lowest efficiency rating since his third season. Collison could bring the same dynamic as Lin and push the Hornets offense into warp speed with him and Walker on the court at the same time. Should the Hornets free up cap space, Collison would be a welcomed addition to Charlotte, maybe on a two-year deal.

Get the draft right

In previous years, the Hornets missed out in the lottery by passing on Giannis Antetokuompo and Rudy Gobert in 2013 and Devin Booker and Myles Turner in 2015. Cody Zeller (2013) and Frank Kaminsky (2015) are solid pieces, but those are star players the Hornets missed out on. At No. 11, Charlotte will miss out on the top prospects but could add solid role players.

Zach Collins of Gonzaga has been a popular pick in many mock drafts and it wouldn’t be a bad option as he is a young seven-footer capable of making an impact on both ends (averaged 10.0 points and 1.8 blocks in 17.2 minutes).

Justin Jackson of North Carolina is another player that could be on the Hornets radar. With Michael Jordan as the owner and Jackson coming off an ACC Player of the Year and National Championship, it could be an easy pick.

As for on the court, Jackson made huge strides in his last season at UNC and would give Charlotte another shooter (shot 37 percent from 3). In today’s NBA, a team can never have enough shooters. Jackson would need to bulk up, but his height (6-8) and length (6-11 wingspan) could make him a solid two-way player off the bench.

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Make the tough decision

Charlotte’s salary cap situation is ugly. According to HoopsHype, Charlotte will have the sixth highest payroll in the league next season. Miles Plumlee ($12.4 million) and Marvin Williams (13.1 million) are two questionable contracts on the roster next season. Plumlee will tough to move given how much he’s getting paid and his lack of production (2.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a Hornet).

But, Williams is coming off a down season after signing a big contract, struggling to score as efficiently as he did in 2015-16. Per 36 minutes, Kaminsky was a better player than Williams, who started 60 more games than the sophomore.

Per 36 minutes stats:

Kaminsky: 16.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game

Williams: 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game

By getting rid of Williams, the Hornets could go out and sign two solid rotation players and slot Kaminsky in as the starting power forward. Kaminsky would give the starting lineup another seven-footer on the floor and another offensive option. According to NBA Stats, Kaminsky-Zeller (11.1) had a higher net rating than Williams-Zeller (4.1). Also, by getting rid of Williams, selecting a big man at No. 11 would be an easier choice to fill in the frontcourt depth.

Next: Kemba is not on the trade block

While Williams is a leader, signing two veterans could make up for his absence. Perhaps Williams needs a change of scenery to get back to his 2015-16 form. Williams still has value as he is a solid 3-and-D player. So, Charlotte could get some draft picks or young players in a trade.