The Charlotte Hornets Need to Give Up Their Playoff Hopes
In a league with two franchises in Los Angeles, two in New York and one in Miami, it can be hard for small-market teams to make it in today's NBA. Even in a salary-capped league, most free agents would just rather live in an attractive place. It's not difficult to understand that mindset.
Teams have made it work, though. Along with others, the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies have sustained success for many years in markets outside the top 10. The same can't be said for the Charlotte Hornets.
According to Forbes, the Hornets own the league's third-lowest valuation, at $780 million. Part of that stems from the fact that Charlotte is a much smaller market than other NBA cities, but it also has a lot to do with making the playoffs just 10 times in 27 seasons (counting this one) and a winning percentage of .439 in 2,145 games.
Throughout the years, much has happened. In 2002, the existing franchise was relocated to New Orleans. Two years later, the league added the Charlotte Bobcats to the mix. Then, before the 2010 season, Michael Jordan took a majority ownership in the team.
Things were bound to turn around, right? After all, a six-time NBA champion and five-time MVP was the boss.
Well, an immediate rebound just wasn't likely. Instead, the Bobcats dive-bombed in 2011 before being renamed the Hornets ahead of the 2014 season. Since then, things have been better, for sure. The Hornets made the playoffs a season ago, but overall, they've been stuck in a state of mediocrity, which is where they stand today.
What Are They?
Along with most of the league, they're no where near the level of the Warriors or Cavaliers. However, they're complete non-contenders. They are far removed from the likes of the Celtics, Raptors, Wizards, and Hawks at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Hornets, through 61 games, are 26-35 and 11th in the East.
In their last 10 games, they've been much worse, with just 3 wins to 7 losses. For reference, the 76ers have four wins in that same span of games. As a result, the Hornets have watched their playoff chances go from 28.8% at the All-Star break to 18.2% today.
They're barely a borderline playoff team at this point, fighting for the scraps of an 8 seed in the East. Just three games separate them from the Detroit Pistons, who currently man that spot, but the Hornets' recent play is the opposite of encouraging.
On one hand, their defensive rating of 103.9 places them sixth in the NBA in the last 10 games. On the other, their offensive rating of 102.5 ranks 24th. They've shot to the tune of an effective field goal percentage of just 49.2%, better than only three squads in that amount of contests.
How Did They Get Here?
When Jordan took over, he was immediately called in to question when the team went 7-59 in its second season under his watch. Many jumped to poor draft choices like Adam Morrison and Sean May -- who contributed 0.5 win shares between them to the then-Bobcats' efforts -- but Jordan wasn't in his same seat of power at that time.
Instead, under Jordan and general manager Rich Cho (who has manned his position since 2011-12), the team has hit on star point guard Kemba Walker -- and that's about it so far.
While Walker has tallied 30.9 win shares on an average of .103 per 48 minutes in under six full seasons, only one other draft pick -- Cody Zeller -- has earned at least .100 win shares per 48 and remains with the Hornets. Tobias Harris and Dwight Powell have done that, but both were sent elsewhere in draft-day packages.
Outside of Walker and Zeller, Frank Kaminsky might make three good selections. The former Wisconsin star is averaging .080 win shares per 48 through 140 career games and just over 23 minutes per game. Recently, however, he's been a very productive stretch-five, with 17.6 points, 2.4 threes, and 7.0 rebounds in 33.6 minutes per game over his last 10.
Other than that, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is as good as advertised defensively, having tallied a defensive rating of 106 or better in four of five seasons, including two at 103 points allowed per 100 possessions. He's also accounted for 8.2 defensive win shares, but the problem is his offense. Last season, in only seven games before a season-ending injury, it appeared that MKG was on the right track. He was averaging a career-best 12.7 points per game on 54.1% shooting from the floor, but he's regressed since.
This season, he's at 8.9 points per game on just 45.6% shooting with one made triple on the year. His offensive box plus-minus (a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributes above a league-average player) of -2.6 is by far the worst of any Charlotte player with at least 1,000 minutes played this season. His lack of production has put more of the offensive burden on Walker and Nicolas Batum.
And speaking of Batum, the Hornets' trade for him two summers ago seemed like a good one, and it's proven to be one. They traded away less valuable assets in Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, who have since tallied just 5.5 win shares, and got a proven veteran who has yielded 8.5 win shares in 128 games since.
A good addition needs to be surrounded by good personnel, though.
With more than $102 million in guaranteed salaries next season, free agency is out of the equation. So, let's start here: the Hornets need to draft better and more confidently. Fewer draft-night trades for veteran pieces could go a long way in adding to a solid nucleus going forward. As they drop in the standings, that could be particularly important in a loaded draft class.
The issue is that, again, the Hornets seem stuck between competing for a playoff spot and looking to build with a lottery pick. If they continue to do so, they'll fall at the very backend of the lottery. According to Tankathon's Pick Odds, they have a 96% chance of slotting in at number 13 in the draft as opposed to a 2.5% chance of selecting in the top three positions.
They need to take those odds into account, along with the long ones (81.8%) against them to make the playoffs, and make up their mind to pursue future wins. Tanking is one thing, but being smart and admitting defeat is another because, as much as we want to talk about it, Stephen Curry is not walking through that door anytime soon!