As of July 17, 2018, it seems as though the Charlotte Hornets front office have made all the deals it plans to make for the 2018 offseason. And, for better or worse, the Charlotte faithful now know what to expect for training camp.
However, the moves, or lack of certain moves, has the fanbase eagerly awaiting the next surprise transaction. Leaving fans asking if the team did enough to improve the team, to stay afloat, or does it still lack behind the others in an underachieving Eastern Conference? Have the moves made both on and off the court inspired hope in a team in desperate need? Let’s discuss.
Front Office and Coaching Changes
After an up and down two-year span of Charlotte Basketball, the Hornet front office decidedly chose to usher in a new phase of change by jettisoning General Manager Rich Cho and Head Coach Steve Clifford and replacing them with former Los Angeles Laker GM Mitch Kupchak and San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach James (J.B) Borrego. In a move that initially shocked fans, both decisions were justified by many head-scratching moves of the former employees.
The often questionable free agency signings, the terrible draft decisions, the overpaying of players, the continued benching of young players, and the unwillingness to change an underachieving starting five could all justify the release of these respected men. All or none of these reasons resulted in the decision, and fans have seemingly approved of the replacement of the former employees.
Kupchak, who brings 20+ years experience to an underwhelming front office comes as a great improvement to what has been an area of concern for the team. Rich Cho, whose highlights have been trading for Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, and Nicolas Batum have widely been considered underwhelming in his tenure as GM. So, it was inevitable that his job would be upgraded, and the Hornets wasted no time in identifying the former Lakers GM as a candidate.
The addition of Kupchak represented a big upgrade as he has gotten to work immediately. Replacing the entire coaching staff, as well as roster moves that he has seen as best for the current status of the team. Borrego, the new Head Coach, is a new face to the Head Coaching group. From the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, Borrego brings a new take on coaching that Charlotte has yet to see. Quickly instituting a faster tempo and bringing hope to the younger players, Borrego has presented himself as a modern NBA coach with up-to-date goals and play styles. Much is to be seen by the young New Mexico native, but the air of excitement surrounds him already.
One would have to say that the current state of the front office is drastically better, even without seeing the new head coach in action. But if Summer League is any indicator of the work that is to come, then James Borrego and his new coaching staff are a welcome addition to the Hornets family.
Potential Draft Success
The 2018 NBA Draft presented plenty of opportunity for the hometown team. With the 11th pick, Charlotte had its pick of amazing talent left on the board with Michael Porter Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, Kevin Knox, and a slew of other talented young men. And in a surprise move, the Hornets selected Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, he was quickly traded to Los Angeles Clippers for the 12th pick and another second round pick.
The Hornets then selected Michigan forward Miles Bridges with the 12th pick, traded two second-round picks in 2019 and 2023 for Kansas point guard Devonte Graham, and selected Lithuanian forward Arnoldas Kulboka (who will stay in Europe). All moves in the draft could be considered as positives since the main concern for the team was the play of the backup point guard and the team wanting an upgrade at the wing position.
Graham and Bridges were both tremendous collegiate players who played at an exceptional level during their time at their respective colleges. Kulboka, who continues to impress in the Euroleague is another developmental project who could potentially be a valuable role player. His willingness to stay in Europe for another year or so also gives the team cushion to have a vacant spot on the roster in case of emergency as well as freeing up money that could leave the team in an even deeper hole financially.
All in all, not a bad draft for a team that has been known to miss the mark. The team additionally signed undrafted Xavier forward J.P. Macura.
The player movement this off season has been slightly underwhelming as many teams have made splash moves at a throughout the offseason. Yet, the only semi-major trade that takes place for the Hornets was an addition by subtraction in the casting out of Dwight Howard for essentially Bismack Biyombo. The Hornets additionally received $5 million in cash considerations from the Nets.
The trade with the Nets both saved money and reportedly improved a locker room that may have been in flux with the taking on of Howard’s contract and personality. Bringing in former player/draft choice Biyombo definitely improves both categories. Though Biyombo is signed to a terrible $17 million per year contract, it comes at approximately $6.5 million less than Howard’s. But the one major plus is that he greatly improves the chemistry of the team. Biyombo is an internationally loved player from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who’s volunteer and charity work is widely known and respected throughout the NBA. Though justified, the trading of Howard for Biyombo seems to have a weird feel to it. Could the Hornets have gotten more?
The other minor player movements were the release of Marcus Paige and Treveon Graham and allowing Michael Carter Williams test free agency. While releasing two young pieces at the end of the bench doesn’t move the needle much, allowing MCW to walk attributes to what could be considered as another addition by subtraction. MCW was a talented defender but terrible offensive player who the Hornets hoped would be a great compliment to Kemba Walker off the Bench. That backfired terribly, and the separation between player and team was another inevitable move and signaled another offseason of searching for a viable backup.
The one and only move the Hornets have made during free agency has been the surprise signing of longtime Spurs guard Tony Parker. The move has definitely raised eyebrows throughout the league and has been passionately discussed from the top anchors to armchair GMs who have several reasons to be for or against this signing.
While many people questioned how the 36-year-old Parker in his diminished state could help such a middling team, others have pointed out that Parker has solidified the backup position that has been in question since Jeremy Lin solidified the second unit. While other players were available at the time of the signing, mainly Shabazz Napier, the Hornets pinpointed Parker as their man and signed him to a two-year $10 million contract.
The one and only reason why this may have been done was for the benefit of Graham, who the team and now many fans, are high on. Graham presents a tremendous value to the future of the team and having to learn from Kemba as well as a future Hall of Famer only improves his already high potential. Graham, who is a former 4-year player for Kansas is a 6’3″ field general, like Parker, excels at making the right pass, playing good defense, and spreading the floor for teammates. Grabbing a HOF player that has built a career on the same foundations only adds to the skills that he already possesses. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, the often injured and low 3p% leaves much to be desired of the NBA vet.
Though it remains to be seen if the Parker experiment will be boom or bust, attaining a floor general for the second unit could help settle a unit of young players like Monk, Lamb, and Bridges.
In conclusion, the summer for the Charlotte Hornets has been a busy one. From regime change to new philosophies, new players to new strategies, the hope for the North Carolina team remains the same. As the team moves closer to training camp, fans will continue to monitor to moves and transactions of the team. Whether or not Kemba is retained or traded is yet another topic to watch, but what may unfold next is something to continue to watch.
All three draft choices additionally played in the Summer League for the team and looked fairly good in their games together. Graham showed exceptional court vision as a rookie while also playing high-quality defense, quickly showing why the Hornets traded up to select him. Bridges, while struggling with his long-range shooting, showed excellent athleticism on both ends of the court.
Kulboka also played well in his limited minutes, showcasing shooting ability and good decision making. Other standouts were Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon, Willy Hernangomez, and Macura. With the talent coming into Summer League, Charlotte was favored to compete for the championship, but due to injuries to Monk, Graham, and a death in the family for Hernangomez, Charlotte was defeated in the second round by the Toronto Raptors. Still, the young Hornets squad, complete with three draft picks, three young roster players, and both two-way players were an exciting team to watch and look to give Charlotte hope for the future.