Why the Charlotte Hornets Should “Trust the Process”

Jan 30, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) consoles guard James Bouknight (5) after a foul call during the second half against the LA Clippers at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) consoles guard James Bouknight (5) after a foul call during the second half against the LA Clippers at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

This upcoming season is going to look very different for the Charlotte Hornets. In a lot of ways, it could mark the beginning of a new era. While the team took a major step back due to factors outside their control, they now find themselves with a unique opportunity to prepare for the future.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how the Hornets can build long-term success:

1.  Trade for Russell Westbrook

So, I feel as if I’m in the minority for believing a Russell Westbrook trade would be beneficial for the franchise.

I am aware that is Westbrook no longer a superstar. And that the $47.1 million he is owed next season before he hits free agency make him an unwanted liability.

That paired with the fact that the star point-guard is coming off the worst season of his career and now entering the wrong side of 30’s it’s easy to wonder why the Hornets would even consider a move for the former-MVP.

But “Why Not?”

Let’s forget about Russell Westbrook the basketball player for a moment. And while we’re at it, let’s also forget about basketball in general, because the reason Charlotte pulls the trigger on a Brodie deal has nothing to do with on-court benefits.

LaMelo Ball is the best 21-year-old in the NBA right now — believe it, because it’s true — and it’s not a bad idea to build around him. But this Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward business puts them in an awkward situation.

Charlotte isn’t good enough to contend in a loaded Eastern Conference yet is too good to tank — they find themselves stuck in “No Man’s Land”.

Swapping Westbrook’s expiring deal for Hayward’s and Rozier’s helps create $51.5 million of additional cap space next summer where the Hornets could become big-time buyers in an extremely deep free agency class.

Charlotte should ask for the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-round picks as well.

The Gordon Hayward era was a flop in Charlotte and there’s no shame in that. He just hasn’t been able to stay healthy since arriving in town, playing in 44 and 49 games in each of his two seasons. Losing Rozier may hurt the Hornets’ chances at competing for a playoff spot in the 2022-2023 season, but it also gets Rozier off the books before his $97 million max contract extension kicks in.

2. Cash-in on Kelly Oubre Jr.

Steve Clifford brings a defense-first reputation and an old-school emphasis on accountability to a team that defined itself by youth and freewheeling offense. There’s a potential for friction there, especially for someone like Kelly Oubre Jr. — a microwave scorer off the bench who plays defense like 10-year-old me would slop a sponge across my dad’s car, getting enough soap on there so my old man doesn’t yell at me, but nothing more.

Oubre is a very movable asset that could help the Hornets acquire a few role players or even a pick or two. There’s a lot of ways Charlotte can go about trading him, but perhaps none is better than this one:

This deal would help the Hornets with backup point-guard play as well as landing them some veteran presence in the locker room.

Kemba Walker would likely not play any meaningful minutes but that doesn’t really matter. He’s not just any veteran for this Hornets squad. He’s THE veteran, being widely considered as the best (and most popular) player the organization has ever seen. Definitely a sentimental pickup.

As for Killian Hayes, he would likely be tasked with running the second unit. Charlotte could give him a fresh start. He’s shown flashes of real potential, and if he can grow into the two-way player people believe he can be, he’d be a nice asset for them.

3. Develop the youth

With little to no chance at a deep playoff run, the organization should prioritize the development of their young guys.

Expecting rookies or sophomores to be perfect right away is laughable, everyone is going to need time to let the game slow down and adapt to what teams throw at him. This doesn’t make it a throw-away season, just a building block.

Look at CJ McCollum as an example. Through the early stages of his career, he struggled to earn minutes, but as soon as Portland handed him the keys, in a sense, he emerged as a near All-Star talent and a perennial 20 points per game scorer — his scoring average jumped from 6.8 points per game during his sophomore season to 20.8 points in his third.

This isn’t saying that Charlotte has found that second star already — the McCollum to Ball’s Lillard. However, there’s an abundance of candidates.

In games that James Bouknight played at least 15 minutes, he averaged 13 points on 39.4/40.5/88.9 shooting splits while showing a unique blend of scoring and athleticism. Kai Jones “dunked his way through” the G-League, posting averages of 18.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per night. Thor appeared in a decent amount of NBA games and provided a high level of defensive intensity that should play well under new head coach Steve Clifford. Bryce McGowens is a microwave scorer, an electric personality, and already a fan favorite. And Mark Williams can come in right away and be the defensive anchor the team has needed for years.

Charlotte has options. The ones that best position Ball for success are the ones worth exploring.

4. Extend PJ Washington

PJ Washington has steadily improved every single year of his career. In Washington’s noteworthy first game, he broke the record for the most three-pointers made in an NBA debut with seven, and he has not looked back since. He’s a career 37.5 percent three-point shooter on over four attempts per game, exceptional numbers for a stretch-four.

Washington’s high motor and athleticism allow him to play bigger than he is and while his average of 5.7 rebounds per game doesn’t jump out of the stat sheet, it is certainly more impressive in context— Charlotte loves to have LaMelo Ball getting as many defensive rebounds as possible so he can start the fastbreak immediately. At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, Washington fits perfectly in the modern NBA and his ability to defend every position is extremely valuable.

Washington is eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension and locking him up for the coming years would leave Charlotte in a good position. A four-year, $65 million extension seems fair for both sides and with how the league is trending the deal could end up being a bargain if the salary cap continues rising and contracts continue to get larger. For reference, last offseason Lauri Markkanen got paid $67 million on a four-year deal in RFA and Johnathan Issac got four years, $69 million back in 2020. These are both PFs who were restricted free agents and are around the same level as PJ Washington.

With all the uncertainty surrounding Miles Bridges’ future in Charlotte, it’s easy to see Washington having a breakout season, so the sooner that extension gets signed the better.

5. Join the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes

Giving out minutes to Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mason Plumlee may help the Hornets win, but if the definition of “win” is to almost make the Play-In, then is it really worth it? Wouldn’t it be better to join the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes?

To be fair, you never know how kind the ping pong balls will be to the team. Howver, it’s not like the 2023 NBA Draft is “Victor or bust”. There are a batch of solid picks in next year’s draft — Scoot Henderson, Anthony Black, and Keyonte George are some of my personal favorites.

So, while the Charlotte Hornets could be swinging for the fences with Victor Wembanyama, there are plenty of picks to get the Purple and Teal in title contention in the future.

So, what should the Charlotte Hornets do?

There is no shame in taking a gap year. The Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and Portland Trail Blazers have all done so in recent years and all of them are now in a much better place than they were before. Charlotte would be back to actually competing for something in the blink of an eye. But for now, let’s just watch the young guys learn, be a little patient, and enjoy the ride.