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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild: Charlotte Hornets Edition

Welcome back,

Today I’ll be looking at the artists formerly known as the Bobcats. You can find past entries here but I’ll warn you now, there’s only three.

The rules are the same: I’m going to be taking a look at three things they did well, three things they failed miserably at and three things they could do this summer to stop stinking. I’ll be issuing one of two grades based on my findings: Oh hell yeah (good) or Oh no (bad). This is the internet, things are classic or trash with no in between. You wouldn’t expect nuance on Twitter so please do not expect it here. Thank you.

Charlotte Hornets (32-39, 10th seed Eastern Conference)

Good Things

1. You have Kemba Walker

For the time being, at least. More on that later.

You have Kemba Walker, and he’s incredible. Over the first four years of his career, he shot under 40% from the field and 32% from 3P. Then his first contract extension (4 years/$48 million) kicked in and he’s been good money since. He’s at a career-high 25 ppg this season, is coming off his third straight All-Star selection and should slide into third team All-NBA this season. He won the NBA Sportsmanship Award in 2017 and then won it again in 2018. The city of Charlotte loves him, his teammates/coaches seem to love him and it appears to love him back. He’s been more durable and better defensively than someone his size probably should be, and his development into an All-NBA player has been fun to watch.

There’s no “gotcha” or “having said that,,,” coming. I don’t throw the non-basketball stuff in to be patronizing either. He was a slow burn as a late lottery pick that turned himself into an excellent player without fake demanding a trade to a long list of one (1) teams, throwing the rest of his teammates under the bus trying to get them traded for that guy, yelling at media for asking about his free agency plans this summer, needing plane rides 60 games into the season to realize talking to your teammates and coach is good, etc. I’m not saying he’s as talented as those guys, but he’d also kill for the chance to play with any of the teammates any of those guys are ready to leave behind or trade away. He just shows up and gets better every single year.

2. Solid rehabilitation work

Jeremy Lamb got to Charlotte in 2015 as a bust of a lottery pick. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s going to make himself a lot of money. The last two seasons he’s averaged a 14/5/2 on 45/35/87 shooting, and he’s still just 26.

Marvin Williams had some up-and-down years with Atlanta and Utah. In Charlotte, he was able to turn himself into a respectable 3P shooter and a switchable defender. Not a star by any means, but the types of players you need on a versatile roster.

I thought Tony Parker was absolutely done last year in SA. Him looking funny in that Hornets green didn’t help his cause either, but he’s been a fine backup PG. His per-minute numbers look very similar to 2016 when he was a nice piece for the Spurs team that was a Zaza ankle away from at least giving Golden State a series. I’ve also worked hard to confirm with my sources that Tony Parker did not, I repeat did not, fuck any of his teammates’ bitches this season. Hats off to Tony.

3. Imma keep it real with you chief, I’m out of good things

Basketball-wise, at least. Charlotte’s a fine city. The people were nice, it’s fairly easy to navigate and the women? Buddy, you better believe they were respectable. I think it’s cool they brought the pinstripes back for the jerseys. Y’all remember Muggsy Bogues? That guy was awesome. Seafood Connection was great. I hope Devin does well in Indianapolis. Charlotte has two area codes, did you know that? Pretty nifty! This concludes the good things portion of the blog. Please proceed to the bad things portion below.

Bad Things

1. This is the bleakest situation in the league

Bar none. The best player is a free agent and he’s currently the 6th highest paid player on his team. Nic Batum makes twice as much as Kemba this season. It’s a good thing his deal only runs two more seasons after this one. Biyombo/Williams/Zeller/MKG combined to make nearly $57 million dollars this year. They’ll combine to make $60 million next season. Biyombo/Zeller/Williams/Kaminsky/MKG/Hernangomez have all played minutes at center this season, meaning 6 of their top 12 minute getters are “bigs” in an NBA that keeps getting smaller. Kemba/Lamb could both walk this summer for nothing and the Hornets would still have a $95 million dollar payroll. This is a nightmare of a roster.

2. What are your young pieces?

I love Malik Monk and was very high on Miles Bridges after both his years at Michigan State. They’ve both had up-and-downs as any young player will, but I’m not sure either have gotten enough burn in a lost season to project anything going forward. The Hornets are in No Man’s Land: They’re decent enough to compete for the playoffs but not good enough to make it. They can’t all out tank because it’d look bad for a team trying to re-sign Kemba. So you end up with a bunch of 33-36 win seasons and a bunch of draft picks that end up between 9 and 12. It’s a bunch of mid is what it is.

Monk has played more than 30 minutes in a game once this season. It was the first game of the season, he scored 18 points and hit four 3’s. His minutes per game by month looks like this: 24-18-18-17-14-13. He played 19 minutes in their most recent game against Houston and scored 14 points (5-10 FG, 4-7 3P). He played 4 minutes the game before, 26 the game before that and 3 the game before that one. I’m not saying hand 35+ minutes a game to anyone, but that roster stinks. Any chance you have of organic growth is going to come from the young guys. With that, you have to live with the negatives of a young player figuring out his role in the NBA. The same goes for Bridges. His minutes have been pretty steady through the season but his role hasn’t changed much. Kaminsky hasn’t developed much in four years and now it’s time to pay him this summer. Again, check back to Kemba after his first four years if you’re ready to sell all your stock on the young Hornets. But it’s not pretty and if Kemba leaves, a bad situation gets worse quickly.

3. The elephant in the room

They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t with Kemba. Obviously, him leaving for nothing is bad and not good. They’re too close to the cap to try to replace him, and the replacement they choose will probably be bad because the GM making the decision is bad.

Pay him and you fly into the luxury tax for a 35 win team. The max for Kemba is 5 years/ $189 million ($221 million if he makes All-NBA this season) which is mighty steep for the leader of a perennial 10 seed. It’s not his fault, but the FO couldn’t build a good team around him when he made $12 million. Do you think they’re gonna start when he’s making three times that? Doubtful. If he re-signs, they probably end up moving contracts to get under the luxury tax. To move those contracts, they’ll have to attach assets to them. They’re basically running in place here.

Trilly’s Summer Prescription

1. Don’t overreact

I think I’d let Kemba walk unless he agrees to take less than the full supermax. He has no reason to as his first deal was a bargain and this will probably be his only chance for a huge free agency bag. You had him for 8 years, so it’s not like you’re letting an asset walk for nothing. You paid for $48 million dollars in production and got more than $48 million in production.

You giving him the max and wasting the next 4-5 years of his career helps no one. They’re consistently in the bottom third of the league as far as attendance goes and that’s with Kemba. If you bring back Kemba but have to attach Bridges or your first round pick to a bad contract, you’re hustling backwards. It’s easy for me to say let the franchise all-time leader in points walk away at 28, but I think I would have traded him last summer and got a jump on the rebuild. They’re delaying the inevitable.

I think I’d let Lamb walk while I’m at it. He’s in for a big raise and I’d trust I can find/develop the next Lamb instead of overpaying this one.

2. Get creative

If Kemba walks, you’ll have a little cap space to play with. Maybe you take back a trash contract for another first round pick, or you can find a way to take a bad contract and move up from their projected #12 pick. Biyombo/MKG have player options for this summer. Maybe you threaten them into opting out so the cap space opens up. A horsehead in each of their lockers before the game should do the trick. Voila, squint your eyes and we’re starting to see a little cap space!

3. The front office is awful

To Michael Jordan’s credit, it sounds like he’s willing to spend money as an owner. It’s usually on Nic Batum instead of good players but he’s willing. You may recall my dissertation on whether your Coach/GM would fight about it. The Hornets have neither a coach nor GM that will fight about it. I think coach James Borrego is not good, but I’m admittedly biased from watching him as an interim coach with Orlando. Kupchak did some good things with the Lakers but his Hornet history is a mixed bag (in very small sample size). He fired Steve Clifford to replace him with Borrego. He drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and traded him for Miles Bridges. He traded Dwight Howard to Brooklyn to free up cap space and even got Hamidou Diallou in the deal. He immediately traded Hami for a future 2nd round pick. He’ll have the 12th pick this year. He’ll draft a very meh player to add to a very meh situation. I say all that to say that LA Clipper Kemba is going to be a lot of fun.

Rebuild status: Oh no