Sports Writer and Analyst. Occasionally, I will write about other topics.
The Charlotte Hornets finished as the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and are at an inflection point for the 2020-21 season.
If the Charlotte Hornets make the right moves, they could have a potential franchise changing offseason. Not only will have the third overall picks in the 2020 NBA draft, but they will likely over $40.0 million dollars in free cap space for the 2020-21 season.
However, if the Hornets are going to be competitive in the future they are going to need a mind-shift change that allows them to focus more on player development and winning through the depth on their roster. The Hornets need to focus on improving defensively if they are going to continue to grow as a franchise.
In the short-term, the Hornets need to focus on drafting the right player with their third overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Given that the Hornets are in a smaller market, bringing in a potential future All-Star can be a significant move for the franchise. Over the longterm, the Hornets need to build around their 3rd overall pick and point guard Terry Rozier. Rozier was the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics when they made it to the Eastern Conference finals. He definitely has the potential to be an All-Star in the future and has shown that he can play well in the playoffs.
With some luck, they can draft James Wiseman as the third overall pick. The guard and center combination of Rozier and Wiseman can be formidable as both players develop into their roles. Similarly, building a team around a backcourt of Rozier and LaMelo Ball could be one of the most interesting offenses in the NBA. If Ball is not available, USC power-forward Onyeka Okongwu would be an excellent pick. His size and athleticism are difficult to find in any draft.
A good model for success in a smaller market is the Memphis Grizzlies. Prior to trading Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies built their franchise around the duo. And they helped rebuild their franchises by trading them. Conley was later traded to the Jazz for veteran Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, and 2 first-round picks. Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors for CJ Miles, Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, and a second-round draft pick. The Hornets did not get anything when Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker left last season.
Conley was the leader of the Grizzlies and he only averaged 14.9 points per game and never received an All-Star selection over his tenure with the Grizzlies. Similarly, Gasol only averaged 15.2 points per game over his career with the Grizzlies as well.
The Grizzlies made 7 straight Western Conference playoff appearances under the leadership of Conley and Gasol. In those 7 playoff appearances, they made it twice to the Western Conference Semifinals and once to the Western Conference Finals. As an outsider, it felt like the Grizzlies consciously made an effort every season to win and built around Conley and Gasol. Through persistence and defense, the Grizzlies succeed in the Western Conference.
Both Wiseman and Ball appear to be good future NBA players. Arguably, Rozier and either of the aforementioned players could form as formidable of a duo as Gasol and Conley. The same can be said for Rozier and Okongwu. However, the Grizzlies successfully surrounded Gasol and Conley with talent and developed their young players.
The Hornets cannot find a better duo to build a team around than Rozier and Wiseman or Rozier and Ball. The relevant issue then becomes drafting players and developing their remaining talent to build a competitive team. Lastly, and bringing in veteran players when really needed. As just an observer, in the past, it felt as if the Hornets could not accept that Walker was the best possible franchise player that they could retain.
The Hornets need a heavy focus on developing their young players if they plan on rebuilding their franchise through the draft. The Hornets need to focus on player development as they continue to grow as a franchise. They need to follow a similar blueprint that the Denver Nuggets used to build such a competitive team. The Nuggets are a tough-minded team and will themselves to win. The Hornets need a similar mindset. The Nuggets built their roster through the draft and rely on the depth of their roster.
The Nuggets have provided Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic with an amazing supporting cast. The Nuggets would still be a competitive team if they had Wiseman and Rozier leading them instead of Murray and Jokic. Similarly, you could say the same thing if the Nuggets had Rozier and Ball as their franchise cornerstones. Murray was only the 7th pick when he was drafted.
Aside from Rozier, Miles Bridges is a good player and could be an asset for the Hornets in the future. The Hornets have 7 other players on their roster for the 2019-20 season that are 25 years old and younger. Moreover, the Hornets might have over $40 million dollars in cap space for the 2020 free agency. This cap space should be used to fill out the remaining of their roster with veteran role players. However, this should not be done to the detriment of the development of their younger players.
The Hornets also have 2 second-round picks for the 2020 draft. There is a lot of talent in the 2nd round for this draft. Mamadi Diakite, Cassius Stanley, and Tre Jones all could provide needed offense for the Hornets. The Hornets need to draft these players with the mindset that they are going to keep and develop them as players.
Considering that the Hornets now have the 3rd overall pick from the 2020 draft, they would now have a formidable starting line-up if they had retained Kemba. The Hornets should have retained and built around Kemba, Dwight Howard, and Jeremy Lamb. These players have played well for other teams since leaving the Hornets. In the summer of 2019, the Pacers signed Lamb to a $31.5 million dollar guaranteed contract for three seasons. Howard was signed up by the Los Angeles Lakers. Kemba was guaranteed $103,137,300 million by the Boston Celtics.
It takes years to build a competitive team. It took the Nuggets three seasons after drafting Jokic to get into the playoffs. With good player development, the Hornets could be a competitive team in the future.