The Charlotte Hornets are coming off their best season in the new franchise history. After finishing with a 48-34 record, the Hornets made it to the playoffs and lost to the Miami Heat in a very competitive 7 game series. This was a great step in the right direction for a franchise and fan base who have had to endure some of the most painful seasons in the NBA. However, in the words of RG3 in an Adidas commercial, “All that matters is what you do next”. The Hornets are now a slightly different team so it will be interesting to see if they can improve from last season’s success.
After battling knee injuries and being suspended for violating the Anti-Drug Program, the Hornets let veteran big man Al Jefferson leave for the Indiana Pacers. Jefferson was once an All-NBA player with the Hornets after averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds 2 years ago. His presence will definitely be missed down low, especially since he is the type of big man who can create offence for himself and his teammates. Frank Kaminsky could get the nod to start, as the Wisconsin standout will be entering his 2nd NBA season and will be mentored by once-a-superstar Patrick Ewing. Roy Hibbert will also be fighting for minutes, as the former All-Defensive Center is looking for a career revival after a huge downward slip these past few seasons.
Another big loss for the Hornets is 6th man Jeremy Lin, who opted to sign with the Brooklyn Nets after averaging 11.2 points per game. Okay, it was no “Linsanity” but it definitely gave Charlotte the necessary spark off the bench and Lin was able to take some of the ball handling pressure off Kemba Walker. Ramon Sessions will likely assume the back-up point guard position after averaging 9.9 points per game with the Washington Wizards last season, primarily coming off the bench.
The biggest X-Factor for the Charlotte Hornets heading into the season will be the play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Despite struggling early on in his NBA Career, the Hornets awarded the 2012 #2 overall pick with a 4 year, $52 million contract last summer. Unfortunately, he only appeared in 7 games last season after undergoing surgery for a separated right shoulder and later re-injured the same shoulder later on in the season. Kidd-Gilchrist has received nothing but criticism since coming into the league. He has been called a tweener who is too small to play the Power Forward position or too slow to defend opposing Small Forwards. He has not shined like other players in his draft class including Tristan Thompson, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, and college teammate Anthony Davis. However, a fresh season is exactly what Kidd-Gilchrist needs to prove he can maybe be a star one day. It won’t be easy and certainly will take time, but he is in a situation to have the opportunity to thrive.
So it is no secret, there is a lot of uncertainty throughout the Charlotte Hornets roster. However, one man who they have been able to rely on is Point Guard Kemba Walker. Since being drafted 9th overall back in 2011, Walker has led the way for the Hornets/Bobcats. Last season, he averaged a career high 20.9 points and 5.2 assists, while shooting 42.7% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. Many people believe he was snubbed of a spot on the all-star team, although there is no reason he should not be able to make it next season. Then again, he will not have the arena hosting influence since the 2017 all-star game has been moved from Charlotte to New Orleans, ironically the same city that stole the Hornets franchise back in 2002. The Hornets had signed Walker to a 4 year, $48 million extension 2 years ago which is a bargain deal in today’s NBA. If you need numbers to back up the fact that he is underpaid, all you have to do is look at his teammate’s new contract.
The biggest move made by Michael Jordan’s team this past summer was signing Nicolas Batum to a 5 year, $120 million contract, one of the biggest in NBA history for a player who has never made an all-star team. Batum was coming off a career season in which he averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists proving that he is a versatile player. However, he injured his right ankle during the first round of the playoffs, which was definitely a factor in the Hornets losing in 7 games. More than 2 months later, Batum returned to basketball action after joining Team France to win the Manila Qualifying Tournament and head to Rio for the Summer Olympics. It is clear that the Hornets will go as far as Walker and Batum take them.
As one of the newer franchises in the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets are one of the least popular teams around the league. However, they certainly have the potential to continue building their team and head in the right direction. Last season was a success but expectations are now higher and a lot of players will have to step up if the team wishes to take the next step. The Hornets will tip off the season on October 26th when they head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks.