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Hornets’ offseason not quite a joke, but not much better than that

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

At least Mitch Kupchak avoided the most biting wisecracks at his expense.

After getting fired by the Lakers in part for giving Mozgov a ridiculous four-year, $64 million contract, Kupchak’s first roster move as Hornets president was… trading for Mozgov. And maybe Kupchak is that delusional about Mozgov.

But Charlotte later flipped Mozgov to the Magic for Bismack Biyombo, who’s much better and paid only slightly more. That deal might have just fell into Kupchak’s lap, as Orlando is overloaded at center anyway and needed to aggregate salary to acquire Jerian Grant.

Still, Kupchak’s original sin with the Hornets stands. He traded Howard’s expiring contract and wound up with Biyombo, who’s due $17 million each of the next two seasons. That extra year of high salary could be disastrous.

Kemba Walker will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Charlotte has even fewer means now to upgrade its roster around him. Maybe a max contract and loyalty will convince him to stay, but at this point, Walker’s max salary might push the Hornets into luxury-tax range. That has always been a no-go for owner Michael Jordan, which means Walker returning could force downgrades elsewhere.

How appealing is any of this to him?

Charlotte could argue just shedding Howard’s presence will help, and it might in some ways. But he was also pretty productive on the court, and that counts, too.

Charlotte could also point out it got a couple second-rounders (plus $5 million) in the Howard-Mozgov trade and a couple more in the Mozgov-Biyombo trade. (The Hornets also got two more-second rounders by taking known Clippers target Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 then trading him to L.A. for the No. 12 pick, used on Miles Bridges.) But those second-rounders don’t near the going rate for accepting $17 million of 2019-20 salary. The Hornets would have been better off just buying out Howard and ending their salary commitment after this season.

At least all those second-rounders are already going to good use. Charlotte traded two for No. 34 pick Devonte’ Graham, who looked good in summer league.

Graham could help with the Hornets’ biggest weakness, backup point guard. So could Tony Parker, who received $5 million guaranteed with an unguaranteed salary next season.

But that’s a high price for the over-the-hill Parker, and that money probably could have lured a more productive player. Surely, part of Parker’s appeal was his ability to help new Charlotte coach James Borrego – hired from the Spurs – install his system.

Borrego replaces Steve Clifford, who’s a good coach but wasn’t Kupchak’s guy. Kupchak is clearly putting his stamp on this team.

Kupchak is one of the most accomplished general managers of all-time. He built multiple championship teams in Los Angeles. But he also appeared out of touch late in his tenure there. Is he a good general manager whose bad breaks just happened to have come most recently, or has he fallen behind? It’s a question he’ll settle in Charlotte.

The early returns are not encouraging.

Offseason grade: D

Tony Parker pushed to Charlotte by role offered, not money

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When Tony Parker signed with Charlotte, leaving the San Antonio Spurs after 17 seasons, there was a rumor the Spurs low-balled him on their offer. Which is not exactly how the Spurs treat their veterans, but that was the rumor.

Parker says it’s not true.

Speaking to French publication L’Expresso Parker said the Spurs offered similar money, it was the role that pushed him to Charlotte. (Hat tip NBC News 4 in San Antonio.)

The Spurs offered me the same thing (contractually) as Charlotte, but it was more about the role. It was not a question of money. And it’s important that people know this, because there are a lot of people who were “angry” at the Spurs, thinking the franchise had not offered me anything. Yes, they offered me something similar, but I did not want to finish (as an) assistant-coach. And that was the role they offered me, when I wanted to play…

And when Michael Jordan called me, my idol, I thought, let’s go. For me, I feel like closing the loop, to finish my career in his club, it’s something special for me because it’s him that made me want to play basketball.

For the record, Parker will make $5 million this season and $5.25 million the following season (although that contract is not fully guaranteed until July 4, in case the Hornets need to make a change of direction).

In Charlotte, Parker will come off the bench but get a healthy chunk of minutes behind Kemba Walker. The Spurs have Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills, both of whom are younger and, at this point in time, better than Parker. His role would have been more as veteran mentor, and Parker wasn’t ready to go there yet.

Whether or not Paker someday signs a one-day contract with San Antonio so he can retire a Spur or not, he will always be remembered as one. The same way we don’t remember Patrick Ewing in an Orlando jersey. Parker will forever be a Spur, he’s just wearing teal for a season or two.

Rumor: Suns may target Patrick Beverley, Cory Joseph, Spencer Dinwiddie for trade

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The Suns want to trade for a point guard, and this summer targeted for some big names (Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Terry Rozier) only to strike out.

That doesn’t mean they’re done trying. John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM in Phoenix, who is connected within the Suns, laid out a number more rumors, via the station’s website.

Among targets, the Suns have discussed the Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, Indiana’s Cory Joseph and the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

First things first, these are the teams internally that the Suns would like to target, that’s very different from having an actual trade conversation with a team that goes anywhere. This is a wish list for Phoenix (and if I were with the Suns I would leak something like this to show the fans how hard we’re working, even if it wasn’t likely to come to pass).

All three of those guys are players in the final year of their contracts who maybe become available around Christmas or after if their teams struggle to start the season, or other players on their teams make them more expendable. However, all three also would extract a pretty big price to get, then the Suns would have to re-sign them in free agency.

Beverley is in the final year of his $5 million contract (which is not fully guaranteed, but the Clippers aren’t cutting him), and he is coming off microfracture and meniscus surgery on his knee that sidelined him most of last season. He is a guy other teams are watching because if he is healthy, and if the Clippers fall back in the West, they could decide to move more into a rebuild mode and make guys available (that is not a sure thing. However, owner Steve Ballmer is trying to get a new arena constructed in Los Angeles and may not want to lose a lot while going through an approval process with plenty of opposition).

Joseph is in the final year of his $8 million contract, and the Pacers have high hopes of not only making the playoffs but doing some damage there, taking a step forward off last season. With that, they have Darren Collison and rookie Aaron Holiday at the point as well — if Collison can stay healthy and if Holiday can show he is ready to contribute at a backup level now then maybe the Pacers will listen to offers. But those are two big “ifs.”

Dinwiddie is in the final year of a steal of a contract at $1.7 million. The Nets like Dinwiddie a lot and have some real decisions to make about the future of their point guard spot this season, primarily how much do they like D'Angelo Russell and how much are they willing to pay him a year from now as a restricted free agent. Even if the Nets decide they want to spend to keep Russell, they love Dinwiddie and it’s hard to imagine them moving him without a lot coming back their way in the trade.

None of these trades are likely, but it’s something to watch as we slide into the season.

New coach James Borrego determined to bring ball movement to Charlotte

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Last season, the Hornets averaged 281.5 passes per game, fifth lowest in the NBA. That doesn’t mean they were selfish, but if a team is going to not keep the ball moving it needs elite isolation talent – the two teams with the fewest passes per game were the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, teams with James Harden and Russell Westbrook (among others) who can thrive in isolation.

With all due respect to Kemba Walker, Charlotte doesn’t have that level or depth of isolation talent.

Which is why new coach James Borrego — out of the Spurs system — is preaching ball movement or guys will sit. Look what he told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s the spirit of your team because it says, ‘We’re unselfish,’” Borrego told the Observer of his non-negotiable. “That we make the right play and we trust the next guy to make the right play if that is what’s asked.

“It’s at the core of our organization, like if I ask a guy to play a (different) position or come off the bench. I expect you to do that job and do it well. Likewise, when the ball is in your hands, I expect you to make the right decision.: So pass it, drive or shoot it quickly because that makes us hard to guard.”

It’s why Dwight Howard is in Brooklyn right now. It’s not that Howard can’t still defend the paint or put up numbers — 16.6 point and 12.5 rebounds a game last season — but he demands the ball in the post a lot and that just drags down the offense. They become easier to guard. Isolations and post-ups only work well if a player is elite-level efficient at them, and Howard is not that guy anymore.

The Hornets will be an interesting team to watch this season. They chose not to test the trade market for their All-Star Walker, instead they brought in Tony Parker and are banking on a new coach, Nicolas Batum to stay healthy, Jeremy Lamb to take a step forward, and everything to come together in a run to the playoffs. It could go down that way. But if not… just listen for the Walker rumors to start up.

John Wall: Team USA has ‘different atmosphere’ with Gregg Popovich succeeding Mike Krzyzewski

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John Wall said he wasn’t give a fair shot to make Team USA for the 2014 World Cup. Then, he (correctly) predicted he wouldn’t make the 2016 Olympic roster, either.

If the Wizards star resented USA Basketball, he’s using Gregg Popovich succeeding Mike Krzyzewski as coach as an opportunity to move on.

Ben Standing of The Sports Capitol:

Jerry Colangelo remains managing director. So, it isn’t a completely new regime.

Nor is it a different landscape for Wall’s roster competition. The Americans are loaded at point guard. Beyond Wall, the player pool for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympic includes:

If Wall is committed to making Team USA, he has a chance. But the bar is quite high.