The Charlotte Hornets still don’t have their upgrade at the center position. The NBA trade deadline has passed for the 2020-21 season and the buyout market has fizzled as veterans who were bought out of their contracts or outright released chose to sign to finish the season with a championship contender.
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Hug a Charlotte Hornets fan; the vast majority of them are not okay.
The Hornets’ need to upgrade the center position is a glaring need. Cody Zeller, steady when healthy, is a nice piece for any team but, at this stage of his career, would be better off coming off the bench for a playoff-contending team. Bismack Biymobo shouldn’t be playing major minutes for any team, although he is a good player to have at the end of your bench.
Both Zeller and Biyombo will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. I could see a scenario where one is brought back at a reduced rate, more than likely Zeller, but neither will be the starting five for Charlotte past this season. The Hornets also have Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards, two second-round draft picks for this past offseason. Both young centers have potential but aren’t ready to make an impact on a team that’s now contending for a playoff berth.
The Hornets have been a surprise this season. Ahead of Thursday night’s nationally televised game on TNT versus the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte has a record of 24-22 and sits fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. If the season ended today, the Hornets would be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season and have homecourt advantage in a playoff series for the first time since the 2001-02 season when Charlotte defeated the Orlando Magic 3-1 in the first round.
The Hornets have not just surprised opponents, fans, and the media, they’ve also surprised their own front office. Last week, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak stated that the team has played better faster than he anticipated. Let’s be real here, no one thought that the Hornets would be this competitive so soon after the departure of former franchise star Kemba Walker; Walker has only been gone for a season and a half!
What the Hornets have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time has been quite the feat to watch transpire. No one saw Devonte’ Graham coming last season. No one saw Terry Rozier having the impact he had last season, and they certainly didn’t see Rozier taking several steps forward this season. Remember, the Hornets were playing really well prior to the shutdown last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and they’ve picked up right where they left off and taken huge steps forward.
The Hornets’ advanced progression has certainly been helped by Miles Bridges finding his place and role on the team; a space where he is thriving as the reserve power forward. Criticized by most, but the free-agent signing of Gordon Hayward has paid off. Hayward is having his best season since his last season with the Utah Jazz, which earned him his only All-Star appearance during the 2016-17 season. Rozier has been the Hornets’ MVP this season and no one saw how good rookie LaMelo Ball would be so soon after Charlotte got draft lottery lucky being awarded the third pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The Hornets are ahead of schedule and Kupchak is fully aware of the biggest area of need for the team.
One of the things I like about Kupchak since he has been leading the front office of the Hornets is that he has made smart decisions, he won’t make a deal just to make a deal; Kupchak is careful not to mortgage the future of the team to make a deal. Hornets fans should appreciate that after years of wheeling, dealing, and signing big checks from former general manager Rich Cho. Kupchak’s different approach is the reason why the Hornets are in the position they are in today. For the first time since the Hornets reentered the league, the future does not look bleak.
The Hornets tried to address their need at the center position at the trade deadline. Charlotte targeted Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner, offering a package that included P.J. Washington and the expiring contract of Zeller.
The Hornets’ top target appears to be former Cleveland Cavaliers’ center Andre Drummond. Charlotte was one of seven teams to maintain contact with the Cavaliers prior to the deadline. Drummond’s $28 million salary made it difficult for any team to make a deal.
After he reached a buyout agreement with the Cavaliers, the Hornets were one of five teams that had the opportunity to speak with Drummond.
Drummond ultimately signed with the Lakers for the remainder of the season. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported that the premise of playing with LaMelo Ball was an intriguing opportunity for Drummond. The Hornets are expected to pursue Drummond and Holmes in free agency this upcoming offseason.
For the first time since the days of Baron Davis, P.J. Brown, and Jamal Mashburn, the Hornets seem to have a bright future ahead. After years of purgatory, it is hard for Hornets fans to not want it all now. Charlotte has played that game before and it never worked.
Enjoy the moment; it is getting warm outside and Hornets’ basketball actually still matters! Despite the biggest area of need, the Hornets are still above .500 and in playoff position.
We all know what the Hornets need; Hornets’ management knows as well. Patience, your new center will come.