The Charlotte Hornets are simply stuck in mediocrity. They aren't good, but they aren't horrible. Currently, the Hornets' second-best player, Nic Batum, is out for another month, and the Hornets' schedule does not seem to get any easier. But what can the Hornets do to escape this situation? What can the Hornets do to get better? What should the next step in their franchise be?
WELL, I am glad that you (technically me) asked. There is not much flexibility in the Hornets future until the year 2019, and even then, when they will have a projected $61 million in cap space, that number is inflated due to a number of team options the Hornets have given out. For instance, Nic Batum will be paid $27.1 million if he accepts his player option in 2019, and Marvin Williams is scheduled to be paid $12.5 million if he also accepts his player option. This is also the year Dwight Howard's contract expires. On top of all this, 2019 is the year Frank Kaminsky is supposed to hit restricted free agency. Oh, did I mention that 2019 is the year Kemba Walker is expected to cash in on a major payday?
So as you can see, the Hornets do not have much cap flexibility until the year 2019. And even then, the Hornets have a limited amount of decisions that they can make. However, is there anything they can do to change the course of the Franchise before 2019? Are there any major changes that they can institute to help out the franchise?
Unfortunately, there are not many options to take. However, one decision most Hornets fans can agree on is to either fire general manager Rich Cho or to let his contract expire this offseason. He has not only managed to miss on numerous draft picks, but also resigned average players to contracts that they clearly do not deserve. For instance, when the Hornets managed to resign Nic Batum in the 2015 offseason, I'm certain most Charlotte fans were excited.... until they saw the fine print. Essentially, Rich Cho completely disregarded any future flexibility and surrendered 25% of cap space to one player, who is barely above average. Also in 2015, Cho resigned Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a four year-$50 million deal. This didn't seem like a horrible contract at the time, but with little to no improvement since the signing, that opinion did not age well.
And sure, while Cho did manage to dump Miles Plumlee's contract in a trade for Dwight Howard, Miles Plumlee should not have even been on the Hornets in the first place. When Cho traded Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert for Miles Plumlee before the trade deadline last season, it was a clear sign of desperation. Desperate that the Hornets had failed to find a rhythm after a Cody Zeller injury. Another horrible trade that Cho had made came in the 2016 draft. The Charlotte Hornets traded the 22nd overall pick for Marco Belinelli (who was also included in the trade for Dwight Howard). I did not like this trade, nor did most Hornets fans, at the time. What makes this trade even worse, is that PG Dejonte Murray, who was a contributor for the Spurs on day one, was still on the board. But unfortunately for the Hornets, they never got the opportunity to select him, as the trade for Marco Belinelli was agreed upon before the draft even started.
With the elephant out of the room, let's address the other things that could change the course of this Charlotte Hornets franchise. One potential option is a trade for Eric Bledsoe. In fact, in a poll I ran among Hornets fans, 65% said that they would trade Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, and a first-round pick for Eric Bledsoe. That would certainly boost this Charlotte team skill-wise. This trade, if executed, would see Nic Batum slide back to his natural position, the small-forward, while Eric Bledsoe would see his minutes at the shooting-guard role.
A trade like so would give the Hornets a depth chart like pictured:
||(Free Agent Wing)
||(Free Agent Wing)
Not bad, not bad indeed.
Another option, if the Hornets want a definite change, is to dump Nic Batum's contract. Batum, who will make an average of $25 million over the next three years, is the Hornets second best player. However, if they are able to find a suitable team to take on his contract, a trade most definitely would help Charlotte's future ability to bring in solid free agents.
Now, the option most Hornets fans dread. A full rebuild. In this scenario, Charlotte would trade Kemba Walker to a PG-needy, playoff team, like the Nuggets, Bucks, Clippers, or maybe even the Timberwolves, Pelicans, or Jazz. The most likely suitor is probably the Denver Nuggets. They have multiple assets they could move in a trade for Kemba.
Two possible trades with the Nuggets are:
Nuggets get Kemba Walker, Treveon Graham
Hornets get Jamal Murray, Kenneth Faried, 2018 first round pick
Nuggets get Kemba Walker, Treveon Graham, Johnney O'Bryant
Hornets get Emmanuel Mudiay, Wilson Chandler, Trey Lyles, 2018 first round pick
However, I doubt that the Hornets will consider this, despite it being, what I consider, the best option out of all three.
If I am the Hornets, I do not want to resign Kemba Walker, a slightly undersized PG, who will be 29 in 2019, to a five year, max deal, which could be worth up to 36% of the salary cap. Not to mention, it is not even guaranteed that Kemba Walker stays in Charlotte. He might sign with another team in free agency. Nothing in the NBA is guaranteed.
No matter what, the Hornets need change. Whether it means that they will tank for a few years, and rebuild through the draft, or move some of their players for salary flexibility, the future certainly looks eventful for Charlotte. I did not even address the many factors that could completely change the Hornets' course that is completely domestic. For instance, Malik Monk could turn into a god and average 40 points per game. Hey, you never know.
With all of this said, Michael Jordan and Rich Cho definitely have a lot to think about.