51Q: Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

The most notable move of the Hornets’ offseason was one they didn’t even make.

Justise Winslow fell to Charlotte’s No. 9 draft pick, and the Celtics reportedly offered at least three certain first-round picks (including a very valuable unprotected Brooklyn first-rounder) to move up. Boston general manager Danny Ainge later expressed regret about how many assets he offered, but the Hornets declined anyway. They didn’t even take Winslow, who seemed to fall due more to circumstance than a hidden flaw.

Charlotte picked Frank Kaminsky – a polished four-year college player considered by many to be the draft’s most NBA-ready player.

The Hornets want to win. Now.

That was also evident in their two evident in their two major offseason trades – Lance Stephenson to the Clippers for Spencer Hawes and the since-flipped Matt Barnes, Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson to the Trail Blazers for Nicolas Batum.

Stephenson was by far the most talented and by far the most erratic player in his deal, and Charlotte clearly had enough his antics. Hawes is the safer, lower-upside contributor. Though Hawes will probably mostly play center, Charlotte surely hopes he can duplicate some of the floor-spacing/passing Josh McRoberts provided next to Al Jefferson in 2013-14.

The Hornets have been chasing a distributing wing like Batum for a while, signing Gordon Hayward to an offer sheet and signing Stephenson. The Jazz matched Hayward’s deal, and Stephenson busted in Charlotte. But the talented Batum, if he rebounds from an uncharacteristically poor shooting season, should help.

He’ll come at a cost, though. Vonleh was the third-youngest player in his draft class (behind Bruno Caboclo and Aaron Gordon), and I still like his potential. He’s under contract for three more years and then headed toward restricted free agency. Batum, on the other hand, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. There are already reports, though Batum denies them, of Batum liking the Raptors. Regardless of whether he’ll end up in Toronto, more teams than ever will have major cap space. He’ll get offers. The Hornets gave up a lot for a potential rental.

But patience was clearly waning in Charlotte, where the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since emerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Charlotte has reached the postseason just twice in that span, including 2014’s unexpected run. That breakthrough season was followed by last year’s 33-49 disappointment – leading to this re-commitment to the present.

To be fair, the Hornets haven’t completely sold out their future. Not even close. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (21), Cody Zeller (22) and Kemba Walker (25) remain, and Charlotte traded for Jeremy Lamb (23). The Hornets have all their future first-round picks, too.

They won’t be stuck.

It’s just that with Vonleh, a couple first-round rookies and a couple extra picks on the way, they could have been exceptionally well-positioned for a few years from now.

Instead, they’re focused on this season – which could totally work out fine.

Count me among the many detractors when they signed Al Jefferson two years ago. I thought they were too far from playoff contention to tie up money to a veteran like that. Well, Jefferson propelled them to 43 wins and a playoff berth. I was totally wrong.

I didn’t like their approach this offseason, either. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they prove me wrong once again. I trust Steve Clifford to tighten Charlotte’s defense after last year’s regression, and the front office clearly values a player like Batum. He could make a world of difference to the Hornets’ lethargic offense. It won’t take much in the East to reach the playoffs.

There’s value in winning immediately rather than building for the future. Players are happier, more willing to re-sign. Their trade value increases. Winning doesn’t have to be a late step in rebuilding. It can be the first.

The stakes are higher now, though.

The opportunity cost to assemble this roster was much bigger than the cap space and implicit draft positioning sacrificed to bring aboard Jefferson. Plus, Charlotte has tasted the playoffs recently.

The Hornets need to make the playoffs to justify this strategy and win a playoff game to really feel good about it. This year, probably. If they come close and re-sign Batum and Jefferson, they can put it off another year – especially if Vonleh and Winslow flop and Brooklyn flourishes the years its pick would have been conveyed.

That’s a lot of reason to second-guess this summer, though. And for what? A roster that, at its best, can win a playoff series?

That might be all the Hornets want, and if so, more power to them. It doesn’t have to be championship or bust.

But they sure gave up a lot for only a decent chance of meeting that modest goal.

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.