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On a budget, Hornets prudently address their flaws

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At 36-46, the 2016-17 Hornets’ had the second-worst record ever by a team that outscored its opponents.

Point difference, rather than record, tends to better predict future success. So, simple regression to the mean should lift Charlotte – which finished the season +16 – firmly into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

But the Hornets didn’t stop there, addressing their two biggest issues in a quietly focused offseason.

Charlotte fell apart when Cody Zeller missed games (3-17 record) or Kemba Walker went to the bench (-7.0 net rating) last season.

Enter Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams.

The Hornets moved $44,106,060 of salary (Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli) for Howard and his $47,319,725 remaining salary – and moved up 10 spots in the second round. Howard isn’t necessarily the answer at center in Charlotte, but he might be, and Plumlee definitely wasn’t. Plumlee is also due $12.5 million each of the next three seasons while Howard’s deal expires after only two. Belinelli was a helpful reserve on an expiring contract, but drafting Malik Monk at No. 11 completely softens the blow of a deal that was already pretty cushy.

After going from the No. 41 to the No. 31 pick in the Hawks trade, the Hornets moved back down to No. 40, getting Dwayne Bacon and pocketing $1.8 million for the swap. It’s still about money in Charlotte.

That’s why the Hornets had to settle for Carter-Williams, who’ll earn just $2.7 million on a one-year contract. Jeremy Lin shined as Charlotte’s backup point guard on a similar contract a couple years ago, but I wouldn’t count on similar success for Carter-Williams. The former Rookie of the Year fell out of favor with the Bucks and Bulls fairly quickly. It wouldn’t be hard for him to outperform the low bar Ramon Sessions set behind Walker last season, but the Hornets paid for a flier – not a sure-fire fix.

Most of their mid-level exception is left unused, and it will likely remain that way with Charlotte butting up against the luxury tax. The Hornets have never paid the luxury tax, and I doubt Michael Jordan changes the policy now.

Monk was a steal at No. 11, and maybe the 6-foot-3 combo guard eventually factors at point guard. But it’s no guarantee he ever makes that transition full-time, and it’d be shocking if he did it as a rookie. A more reasonable case: Monk makes Jeremy Lamb expendable, though that also requires Lamb  – owed $14,488,372 the next two years – to play well enough to maintain value.

Steve Clifford could have his hands full setting this rotation, especially at center. Howard can play only center, which is also Zeller’s best position by far. Between the two, they probably deserve more than 48 minutes per game – which means one or both will get less playing time than warranted and/or Zeller will play some power forward.

There’s also a matter of who starts. Howard is far more established, but Zeller – seven years younger – will soon be better if he isn’t already. Would Howard chafe at coming off the bench? He spent his season in Atlanta doing the dirty work then seemingly griping about his role after the fact. If Zeller is superior, how would sticking him behind Howard affect team chemistry?

Clifford might be the Howard whisperer, but this situation could get tricky.

Still, having too many centers sure beats last year’s problem of not having enough. If Carter-Williams becomes a competent point guard – certainly possible, but unlikely – this could be a team with no glaring weaknesses. That’s a big deal after two holes sunk Charlotte last year.

The Hornets still rely on Walker, a fringe All-Star, for all their star power. But Monk was a steal at No. 11, and he could eventually shape this franchise’s future.

The Hornets were never as far off as they looked.

They might be even closer now.

Offseason grade: B-

Watch Aretha Franklin own national anthem before 2004 NBA Finals Game 5

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The NBA is at its best when teams have strong identities, and the 2004 Pistons sure had one. Overlooked, proud and hustling, they fit the city they represented.

That’s why there was nobody better to sing the national anthem before their championship-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals than Aretha Franklin, who grew up in and proudly represented Detroit:

Franklin died at age 76 yesterday, and everyone who heard her music was blessed – anyone at The Palace of Auburn Hills that night particularly so.

Report: 76ers hire former WNBA No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding as scout

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The 76ers were reportedly looking for a female scout.

They’ve found her.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired former Duke and WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout for next season.

Harding – the No. 1 pick in the 2007 WNBA draft – played nine years in that league. She was an assistant coach for the Raptors’ summer-league team and completed the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates Program. By all appearances, she’s well-qualified for her new position.

NBA teams haven’t hired enough women in basketball operations. Relative to men, there are far more women with an aptitude for these positions than are on NBA payrolls. Teams should hire the best person for the job, but fair consideration will lead to more women hired than currently.

At some point, an NBA team hiring a woman as a scout wouldn’t be so notable. But the league isn’t there yet.

Greg Monroe says he’s working on shot to help Raptors space floor

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Last season, Greg Monroe took zero three pointers. Not one in Phoenix, nor Milwaukee, and zero in Boston. He’s not a guy known for his shooting range, last season 90 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket.

That’s not what is going to get Monroe more run in Nick Nurse’s unleashed offense in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry can drive into the paint, but they need shooters around them to space the floor and finish the shots they create. Monroe gets it.

 

We’re not going to nickname Monroe “Curry Jr.” but if he can do anything to space the floor it will help. It also would help Monroe’s longevity in the league.

That said, we’ll fully buy in when we see it. This is not some flip-the-switch change to make.

Stephen Curry, want to finish your career a Warrior? “For sure I do. This is home.”

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There’s been an assumption in some quarters of the league that after his current contract — which runs out in 2022, when he is 34 and the Warriors are likely winding down — he might go finish his career, for a couple of seasons, in his hometown of Charlotte. That Stephen will play where his father Dell is a legend.

The younger Curry isn’t thinking that way at all he said on The Bill Simmons Podcast (hat tip Yahoo Sports.)

“I love the Bay Area, man. The only reason I go home now is if my sister’s getting married or to go play the Hornets for that one game, so I haven’t really been back much. I haven’t put my mind there.”

Does Curry want to be a Warrior for his entire career?

“For sure I do. This is home. This is where I want to be, for obvious reasons.”

Will Curry feel that way four years from now? Who knows. That’s several NBA lifetimes away. Curry has said in the past he has thought about playing in his hometown, but obviously he’s not thinking about leaving these Warriors now.

In the same way I liked Kobe Bryant playing his entire career for one team, I would like that for Curry (who was drafted by the Warriors in 2009). He likes that idea, too — going down as the greatest Warrior player of all time. But the lure of home could change all of that in a few years.