Should the Charlotte Hornets Launch a Full-Scale Rebuild?

After another disappointing season in Charlotte, the Hornets have come to a crossroads -- is it time to rebuild completely, or is this team just one move away?

As another disappointing season comes to an end for the Charlotte Hornets, it’s time for the franchise to make a difficult decision. For a capped-out team stuck in the mires of mediocrity, the cleanest way forward is generally a full-scale rebuild. As controversial as it was, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Process was a good example of that – the team went 34-48 in 2013-14, capping off a long run of mediocrity following the Allen Iverson era. After four abysmal seasons, the Sixers are staring down the barrel of a 50-win campaign. It was an ugly and controversial stretch, but it seems to have worked out well.

The rebuild wouldn’t have to be quite as intense as Philly’s, either – it’s possible to tank without bottom out without going to the lengths that Sam Hinkie and company did. Still, it’s not exactly a pleasant process. As ugly as launching a rebuild can be, however, it’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense for Charlotte. After back-to-back underwhelming seasons and with bloated contracts limiting their flexibility, the team has seemingly painted itself into a corner of mediocrity. In the NBA, sometimes the only way to escape that corner is by burning the whole house down and starting fresh.

This summer is a perfect time for the Hornets to start fresh, primarily because of the status of their star player. Kemba Walker, All-Star point guard, and face of the franchise, has etched his name into a number of categories in the franchise’s record books. Most notably, that includes the most points in franchise history. He’s given all he can to Charlotte on and off the court, and it’s unfair to him to be trapped in such a hopeless situation. And it seems that, as much as he loves the Queen City, Walker is tired of his team’s lack of success. With just one year left on his affordable contract, Walker could easily be moved to a point guard-needy team with playoff aspirations. In the right situation, Walker would even be an attractive enough asset to attach Nicolas Batum’s contract to.

It would hurt to see Walker leave. But in the prime of his career, on an expiring deal that doubles as one of the league’s best non-rookie contracts? There isn’t a better time to sell high on the All-Star guard.

There are other options, of course. There’s enough talent on the roster that if you squint enough, Charlotte looks the part of a playoff team. It could be argued that, with just a few simple steps, the Hornets could turn things around without dismantling the team or sending their heart and soul out the door.

With General Manager Rich Cho gone and Mitch Kupchak almost surely replacing him, it’s possible that the new regime could lead that turnaround. As a longtime Los Angeles Lakers GM, Kupchak likely has established relationships around the league that could grease the wheels on some trades, helping the team weasel its way out of cap hell. It’s unfair to saddle an incoming GM with such a difficult job and expect that he can instantly turn things around, but Kupchak has a good track record and a great reputation. Still, it’s important to remember that things are more difficult in Charlotte than they are in LA.

Another change at the top could also do a world of good for the Hornets. Steve Clifford has gone from a beloved and respected figure in Charlotte to something of a pariah, and that’s perhaps not entirely fair to him. But many of the team’s problems this season can be traced back to him and his outdated coaching philosophies. Finding a coach more willing to embrace the league’s three-point revolution – and more willing to embrace the lumps that would come with playing a talented but inexperienced rookie like Malik Monk – could do wonders for a team that too often feels stuck in the past.

If the team really wanted to shake things up, it could shop around this year’s draft pick – likely to be just outside of the top 10 – and Batum for a wing player that can shoot well and defend. Is it that hard to imagine Charlotte, equipped with a better two-way wing and a forward-thinking coach, competing for a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals next season?

Of course, that’s the trap that it’s difficult not to fall into. Mortgaging the future because you can imagine a scenario in which everything works out perfectly is a recipe for disaster in the NBA. Taking a risk like that could result in another year on the outside looking in, and Walker walking away in free agency, leaving the Hornets’ cupboard completely bare.

Whatever path Charlotte takes, it’s not going to be easy. Michael Jordan and Kupchak – or whoever ends up as the next GM – are staring down the barrel of one of the hardest decisions that an NBA team ever has to make. Down one path is intentionally tearing apart a team that at one point looked like a legitimate threat in the East. Down the other, either success or losing everything with no return. 

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an eventful summer in Buzz City.

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