Drafting LaMelo Ball allowed Charlotte Hornets fans to move on from the Kemba Walker era but every decision since has left everyone scratching their heads. It’s possible that Michael Jordan was so singularly bad at owning a team that his mere absence could help turn things around. The new ownership group has their work cut out for them and most of that work involves deciding what to do with some of the vets on the roster.
Charlotte Hornets (Over/Under 31.5 Wins)
Key Adds - Brandon Miller, Miles Bridges*
Key Losses - Kelly Oubre, Mason Plumlee, Dennis Smith Jr.
At a quick glance, it’s easy to look at the Hornets’ roster and find players that could, in a vacuum, be somewhat interesting in the right situation. Collectively, however, the roster is underwhelming and devoid of much promise. LaMelo Ball is exciting but is he a top-20 player in the league? Top 30? Incoming rookie Brandon Miller could develop into a very good player, but would you bet your mortgage on him becoming the best team on a title-contending team?
It’s early but choosing Miller over Scoot Henderson is risky. The Hornets need talent. LaMelo probably isn’t good enough to be drafting for fit at this stage in the game. Henderson’s fit next to LaMelo was muddy but the best bet is to take the best player available and figure it out down the road. It's possible Miller develops into an all-world talent and can be the face of the franchise moving forward. For Hornets fans’ sake, they’d better hope so.
The rest of the team is one big shrug emoji.
What Miles Bridges was accused of is irreprehensible and he should probably never play in the NBA again. For sake of argument let’s analyze his situation from a purely basketball perspective. On one hand they were willing to bite the PR bullet and bring him back into the fold. On the other, they wanted to use his legal troubles as a leveraging tool and get him to agree to a deal less than his market value. Bridges has decided to bet on himself and sign the Qualifying Offer rather than leave significant money on the table. If he plays well, he will enter unrestricted free agency and likely land a lucrative long-term contract. The Hornets sold their soul only to put themselves in an impossible situation. On an expiring contract, it’s hard to imagine a team will give up real assets in order to acquire him through trade. If he struggles, he has even less value and they would have taken the PR hit for nothing. If he plays out of his mind and picks up where he left off from a production standpoint, he will more than likely walk in free agency. He certainly won’t be giving them any sort of discount after forcing him to play out the year on a QO. So, in the end, what was it all for?
Gordon Hayward should have been traded long ago. He makes an impact when he’s on the floor, but he simply can’t stay healthy. They’ll probably fetch a second rounder or two around the trade deadline. If they’re lucky, maybe they can land a heavily protected first from a contending team looking for depth.
The other vet that should probably put their home on the market is Terry Rozier. His outside shooting has fallen off a cliff and he has yet to look like the sort of defender he was in Boston. He has 3 years left on his deal at a reasonable enough number for a team to talk themselves into making him their third guard. The Hornets will likely have to take on a toxic asset and receive some marginal draft assets for their troubles.
Outside of these three players, newly resigned PJ Washington is the only player who can be seen as a positive trade asset. Kai Jones, James Bouknight, and JT Thor flat out stink. Mark Williams has shown flashes, but he will probably max out as an average to above-average starter. That has value but nothing that will return franchise-altering capital.
So, what’s next, and where does the team go from here? Their best bet would be to bottom out and trade everyone not named Brandon Miller or LaMelo Ball. The path to relevance will be long and arduous for the Hornets. Chasing a potential play-in spot would be foolish for this team. Priority one should be to develop Brandon Miller. Priority two should be to lose, often.
PREDICTION - UNDER 31.5 Wins