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Three questions the Charlotte Hornets must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
36-46, missed the playoffs.

I know what you did last summer: Thanks to some circumstances in this year’s draft out of their control, the Hornets sort of fell into the lucky spot of drafting the University of Kentucky’s Malik Monk. Monk is an excellent 3-point shooter and should be a useful scorer for Charlotte off the bench. Meanwhile, the team also drafted Dwayne Bacon at No.40. Oh, and they traded for Dwight Howard. A 31-year-old Dwight Howard, but still.

THREE QUESTIONS THE HORNETS MUST ANSWER:

1) What is the identity of this team? Under head coach Steve Clifford the Hornets have traditionally been a good defensive team. Save for last season, each full year under Clifford the Hornets have been a Top 10 team in defensive rating. But last year it was a bit of a disaster, and Charlotte dipped to just 19th overall.

They could not play their most effective lineups due to injuries, and now with a revamped roster they will have to see if they can make it work. Al Jefferson has been gone for a full season now — long the offensive pacesetter for this team — and this is Kemba Walker‘s squad more than ever. He took a huge leap forward last season in efficiency, and it will be interesting to see where they go with a mix of veterans and young players as they try to fold Howard into it all.

2) Can Howard help a floundering defense? I sort of feel like people forget that the Atlanta Hawks finished with a winning record last season and fifth in the Eastern Conference. That counts for something, especially when you go back and remember that Dwight Howard had one of his best seasons in recent years on that squad. Howard also has the benefit of being familiar with Clifford, who helped coach him when he was a member of the Orlando Magic. Combined with Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky, it will be interesting to see how much Howard makes a difference to last seasons injury depleted squad.

Health alone won’t set Charlotte straight, and on offense it will still be the usual suspects carrying much of the load. Defense is where the Hornets have the most to make up in order to reach the playoffs next season, and Howard will be a critical part of that.

3) Is there a clear line between starters and role players in Charlotte? Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb. This is the list of players who hit 1000+ minutes last season in the NBA on this roster. Walker is set to be a starter, as is Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Howard. Williams will likely be the fifth starter as a shooting presence — needed especially as MKG returns and with Marco Belinelli in Atlanta.

But where things could get muddy is if there is are jumps from the young scorers and simultaneous dips from the aging veterans. Charlotte seems open to that — especially when you look at players like Williams and Howard — who will have both Zeller and Kaminsky nipping at their heels. While the starting lineup could be what we’ve seen from Clifford before, the rotations could easily get tricky in Charlotte pretty quick. They’ll need to quickly figure out what those rotations are in order to win games.

AP Source: Thunder trading Dakari Johnson to Orlando

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder are trading reserve center Dakari Johnson to the Orlando Magic.

A person with knowledge of the details confirmed the move to The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Yahoo Sports, which first reported the deal, said Oklahoma City will get guard Rodney Purvis in the deal. Purvis averaged 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 16 appearances for the Magic last season. The Orlando Sentinel said the Thunder also sent cash to the Magic.

Johnson played 31 games last season for the Thunder with six starts. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. The 7-footer averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 10 games for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, last season.

Center Alex Len reportedly reaches contract deal with Atlanta

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Five years ago, the Phoenix Suns had just drafted Alex Len at No. 5 overall and thought he would be the big man in the middle the team would build around. It didn’t work out that way, he never averaged double figures in either scoring or rebounding for a season. While Len has said he thought he was not used correctly, and there has been plenty of change and inconsistency in Phoenix, he never grabbed hold of the top job, either.

When the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 last June, there was no chance they were bringing back Len next season. The unrestricted free agent is headed to Atlanta instead, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent center Alex Len has agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Len received interest from several teams in recent days before finalizing an agreement with the Hawks on Saturday.

Len is not going to space the floor, 73 percent of his shots came at the rim last season, but he’s become an efficient finisher there. He is good as a roll man, will work off the ball, and can post guys up on offense. He’s also strong on the offensive glass and gets points via putbacks. His game is not that of a modern NBA center, but he’s become efficient at what he does.

Len is going to have to earn his minutes in the ATL, rebuilding team or not there is some quality along the front line. John Collins, who made the All-Rookie team last season and was one of the standouts of Summer League, will start up front, possibly at the four with Dewayne Dedmon at the five. The just-drafted Omari Spellman showed potential at Summer League and could be the backup four, which means Len gets the backup center minutes.

Len is getting his new chance on a team that can give him some run, we’ll see if a change of scenery is what he needed.

Gordon Hayward posts new workout video, he is moving pretty well

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Player workout videos on Instagram are a lot like how your life (or, your parent’s life) appears on Facebook — everyone looks their best, is always having fun and doing something interesting, and the daily grime of life has been scrubbed away.

That said, Boston’s Gordon Hayward looks good — he seems to be moving very well — in this latest workout video he posted.

It’s a good sign to see Hayward moving like that in July, months before that reconstructed ankle needs to be put to the test on the NBA hardwood.

With Hayward and Kyrie Irving healthy, the Celtics start the season as the favorites in the East — but Toronto is a sudden, serious challenger if Kawhi Leonard is all the way back and healthy. Philadelphia is talented and in that mix as well if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can take strides forward with their game.

The top of the East is going to be very interesting next season.

Montrezl Harrell reportedly reaches deal to return to Clippers

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The Clippers liked Montrezl Harrell last season (he came from Houston in the Chris Paul trade), he averaged 11 points a game for the team with a very efficient PER of 24.7.

He was one restricted agent some around the league thought another team would try to poach, but in a tight market nobody was making an offer because the Clippers were just expected to match. So the Clippers and Harrell (and his agent) sat down and figured out something that worked for both sides, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal is fully guaranteed for both years, according to the report. That’s a fair price for his services, and Harrell gets back on the market in two years when the salary cap will have gone up by more than $15 million (at least by the NBA’s early predictions). He will have more options on 2020.

The Clippers are now just $500 below the luxury tax. They also have 16 contracts, which is bad news for C.J. Wilson and his non-guaranteed deal. (Technically Patrick Beverley has a non-guaranteed contract as well, but if healthy he will be back.)

For a couple of seasons, this is a good fit. Harrell will bring some athleticism and bounce to a frontcourt rotation that already includes Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, and Boban Marjanovic. The Clippers are a pretty good team, the problem is in the West pretty good could be the 10 or 11 seed. The conference is that deep and brutal.