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Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-

76ers play 6-on-5 vs. Bulls (video)

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The 76ers found one way to solve their spacing issues.

Philadelphia showed good ball movement, finding Furkan Korkmaz for an open corner 3-pointer. The catch? Korkmaz got open, because the 76ers had six players on the floor.

I love Kyle O'Quinn trying to slink off the court. He wanted to get away with it. Tobias Harris, who jogged to the bench, was practically begging to get caught.

Honestly, I’m a little surprised how quickly the Bulls noticed the violation. It’s not as if their defense scrambling is anything new.

Thirty days after being called ‘day-to-day,’ Karl-Anthony Towns returns to Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns
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Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders called Karl-Anthony Towns “day-to-day” with a left knee sprain.

That was 30 days ago.

Towns finally returned to Minnesota’s lineup, starting against the Pacers tonight.

While out due to his knee, Towns also battled illness. That undoubtedly complicated matters. But the Timberwolves repeatedly calling him “questionable” raises questions about their commitment to transparency. That’s important in an NBA embracing gambling.

Towns’ 17-game absence is a rare dent in his durability. In his first four seasons, Towns missed only five games – two due to a car crash.

Towns is Minnesota’s best player. He could provide a jolt to a team hanging in the playoff race. But, after a strong start, the Timberwolves began to tumble even before Towns went down. They’re probably won’t make the playoffs, though their odds are definitely better with him. At least he returns in time to make an All-Star case.

Knicks’ Marcus Morris after 23-point loss to Suns: ‘We were a better team’

Knicks forward Marcus Morris
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Marcus Morris loathes the Suns.

Unfortunately for him, his Knicks lost to the Suns, 121-98, yesterday.

Morris, via Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:

“Kudos to Phoenix, but at the end of the day, we were a better team,” Marcus Morris said postgame. “We should have got that win tonight.”

Nahhh.

The Knicks stink. They’ve lost seven of eight. Morris talked about energy, and New York’s could be better. But this is what happens on losing teams. The Knicks’ roster just isn’t good enough. It’s not more complicated than that.

The Suns aren’t great, either. But they’re much better than New York – no matter how much that grinds Morris.

Kyrie Irving on his leadership style: “It’s not like I’m an a****** yelling at everybody”

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“I mean, it’s transparent. It’s out there. It’s glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level… we’ll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer… but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces.”

That was Kyrie Irving after the Nets’ recent loss to the 76ers. Was he too harsh? Is that how to inspire and lead a team?

Irving doesn’t care what you think. Here’s what he said Friday when asked about his comments and leadership, via SNYtv.

“It’s a telltale sign of the career that I’ve had. Some of the moves that I’ve made individually, and then as well as coming to different environments and organizations. …It’s not like I’m an a****** yelling at everybody in the freaking locker room all the time and you hear all these stories.

“At the end of the day, my name… is in a lot of people’s mouths all the time and it is what it is. I’ve earned that respect in terms of how great I am as a player and there’s still more goals I want to accomplish in this league, and I can’t do it without improving an organization and winning a championship and that’s what it comes down to. So I’m going to continue to push and continue to demand greatness of myself and demand greatness out of my teammates, and we go from there.”

“If it’s harsh as a leader or it’s too much for anybody, you’re not in our locker room — stay the f*** out. It’s as simple as that.”

Irving is his own cat, and he leads in his own style. Whether that works for his teammates depends on his individual teammates (as it does with LeBron James‘ teammates, or Kobe’s, or Tim Duncan’s or… you get the idea).

Irving’s leadership gets questioned by fans (and media) because of what happened in Boston last season and on the court over the past two seasons — when Irving plays the Nets/Celtics have been 42-39 (51.9%), when he sits they are 25-16 (61%). However, real leadership is much more than wins and losses. We don’t know what the Brooklyn players really think of Irving.

The Nets are an interesting chemistry experiment. General Manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson built a Spursian, selfless team and identity, a lunch-pail group that worked their way into the playoffs last season. Now that they have added Irving and Kevin Durant, world-class talents but also big egos, guys used to winning by doing things their way. How this all shakes out remains to be seen.

Whatever happens, Irving will be Irving. He knows no other way.