With news of the Charlotte Hornets putting Kemba Walker and pretty much everyone else on the team on the trading block, it’s tempting to try and see where it went wrong for a franchise that was in pretty good position two years ago to establish itself as a minor contender in the Eastern conference.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the Charlotte Hornets possibly heading towards stripping themselves of all possible assets and entering a rebuild/tanking phase, but I guess the biggest one of all is this: If you’re a small market team with an owner who doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax (which is completely understandable), you can’t afford to make mistakes when you’re choosing you players. In the draft, in free agency and when it comes to selecting which deals to renew and which players you let slip away.
The Hornets have too many bad contracts. From Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams, to Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum. Walker makes just $12 million this season and $12 million the next, up for a max extension,which the Hornets seem to prefer to avoid. They can’t afford, or don’t want to have both Batum and Walker on huge deals, assuming they can’t find someone to take Batum’s terrible contract.
And it goes back to decisions. After the 2016 playoffs, the Hornets had a decision to make. Re-sign Jeremy Lin, who was never fully appreciated in Charlotte and played a big part in the Hornets almost knocking out the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, along with other decisions, or sign Batum, who has already shown signs of declining and injuries taking their toll. On top of that, there was Walker’s position as the face of the franchise. The Hornets went with Batum, who is still owed $76 million over the next 3 seasons. He’s averaging 10.4 points while shooting 39.9% from the field. At the time I thought Lin was the choice for the Hornets, but considering he has played so little due to injuries, maybe they dodged a bullet there. In theory, considering injuries aren’t a factor, I still think the right decision would be keeping Lin (signed 3-year, $36 million deal afterwards with Brooklyn).
And there are the draft picks. The Hornets went with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the 2012 draft at 2nd overall. Yes, injuries have been a factor, but the team hasn’t been able to develop him into anything more than an athletic small forward with an ugly shot. Considering who came after him in this draft – players like Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond and Draymond Green, that’s a miss. Cody Zeller in 2013, Noah Vonleh in 2014 (no longer with the team) both represent a huge swing and miss considering other options available. No one is a seer, but the Hornets keep hoarding mediocrity and betting on the wrong guys to take them to the stars.
So what will happen now? Walker will be traded. His deal is excellent, and while he has his flaws, it’s hard to pass up on what he gives teams at only $12 million. The rest of the Hornets bad contracts? They’ll try and ship one of them away along with Walker, but overall, this is a team that is likely heading towards another rough stretch. Once again, they’ll rely on the spoils of the draft to drag them out of it, although considering their history of picks, it’s not likely to be an easy process.