Hornets Olympian – Nicolas Batum

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On Sunday morning, Charlotte Hornets wingman Nicolas Batum will hit the court with teammates Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert, and Florent Pietrus (who might only sound familiar to serious Bobcats fans) to face Team USA in the Rio Olympic Games. This could be one of the most most competitive games to watch in the basketball tournament this summer. While Kevin Durant or Paul George may not be dominated by Batum, it’s worth tuning in to see how the Hornets’ top free agent signing performs against the best-of-the-best.

So far, Batum hasn’t been too impressive in this summer’s games, but the US squad hasn’t looked quite that intimidating in their last two appearances, either.

 

Man on Wire | Charlotte Hornets 2016 Offseason Review

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Hornets general manager Rich Cho entered into the most precarious free agency period of his career last week. Five of the Playoff squad’s top rotation players were unrestricted free agents. Each could leave Charlotte cleanly with no strings attached and the Hornets had no recourse to match any offer they received.

The franchise clearly wants to continue to build upon last season’s 48 win team and with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist entering their primes on longterm value contracts, tanking made little sense. The team had to stay good.

Cho’s situation would have been challenging in any NBA offseason but this July in particular was a floss-thin tightrope walk thanks to a meager free agent class combined with an unprecedented $24 million spike in the league’s salary cap.

By some estimates, the total amount of cap space available amongst the NBA’s thirty teams was as high as $1 billion. Charlotte’s high character, well-coached free agents were in demand. Rival fanbases were rabid with anticipation over picking the Hornets’ Playoff carcass clean.

Somehow a small market franchise with little history and zero superstars had to lure back or replace their starting shooting guard, small forward, power forward, backup center and backup point guard in one calendar week with only a modest amount of cap space to work with.

Key Free Agents Return: Batum and Williams

Normally when a small market NBA franchise is faced with this sort of dilemma, their only recourse is to either massively downgrade for cheaper players or vastly overpay in order to retain quality talent or lure similar ones.

Rich Cho and his staff did neither. Two starters, Nic Batum (5yrs, $120m) and Marvin Williams (4yrs, $54m), signed long term extensions BELOW market value. Easily the team’s most important and most coveted free agents, both players reportedly had more lucrative offers to go elsewhere but elected to stay with the no superstar, small market team instead.

This is extremely impressive and speaks to the culture, both in the front office and on the coaching staff that Charlotte has been able to build after the burnout Larry Brown/Rod Higgins era just a half decade ago.

The Hornets traded away a Top 10 Lottery pick (Noah Vonleh) last summer for the right to recruit Nic in house for a year. The gamble paid off. Nic could’ve asked for another $30m* (his full max) on top of the 5 year deal Charlotte offered him. Another team could’ve offered him (and likely did) nearly the same amount on a 4 year max offer. Batum resisted either temptation.

(*Keep this tidbit in mind two and three years from now when Charlotte hits the free agent market in 2018 and 2019. That extra $30m could be the difference between signing an All-Star or an average starter.)

Speaking of savings, let me be the first Hornet fan to offically say thank you to Marvin for taking the Early Bird contract. Yes, I know it’s a crazy world when $54m is considered a “discount” – when most of us would be happy with a tiny fraction of that amount in our pockets but relatively speaking, Marvin could’ve easily spurned the Hornets for a shorter contract at nearly the same amount.

By accepting the Early Bird offer, the Hornets were able to lock in Marvin’s cap hold at just north of $9m (~$3.5m less than his actual salary). There were rumors that Williams was being offered $16m as a starting salary and if he forced Charlotte’s hand in matching it, the Hornets would’ve had to go into cap space to bring him back – rendering it impossible to add eventual depth at PG and C.

So if Ramon Sessions or Roy Hibbert swing a close game Charlotte’s way next season, you know who to thank.

GRADE: A+

Replacement Shooting Guard: Lee to Belinelli

Courtney Lee, who arrived in a mid-season trade as a fill-in replacement for an injured MKG, was a coveted “3&D” wing who was looking at a minimum eight figure deal in the current market.

Knowing this, the Hornets made a proactive trade before the Draft, sending out their 22nd overall pick for Lee’s replacement, Marco Belinelli. At a little over $6 million per over the next two seasons, Belinelli will count half as much against the cap as Courtney Lee’s $12 million per season deal with the Knicks.

Marco is a defensive downgrade for certain, but with MKG returning to the lineup, Belinelli won’t be asked to play the same role. MKG and Batum will handle difficult wings, allowing Marco to do the things Lee couldn’t – facilitate, create offense and shots off the dribble – primarily with the second unit.

Ultimately, given the quality of this year’s Draft class, sacrificing a late round pick in order to save $35m in future cap flexibility (Marco is guaranteed a total of $12.9m, Lee $48m) is hardly an unforgivable sin. The aesthetics of this trade will look much better a year from now.

GRADE: B

Replacement Backup Point Guard: Lin to Sessions

First the good news. Jeremy Lin’s ability to get hot and take over the occasional game can be replicated somewhat by Belinelli. If either Frank Kaminsky (likely) or Jeremy Lamb (less likely) take a step forward, Lin’s departure will allow them even more opportunities to become shot creators and makers with the reserve unit.

Now the bad news. As much as I like Ramon Sessions as a gritty, pick and roll point guard who can get to the rim, he is unquestionably a downgrade as an all around fill-in starter.

Lockout season aside, Kemba Walker has managed 80+ games played only twice in his career and just had another meniscus surgery following the season. Given his size and playing style, the chances of Kemba missing fifteen or twenty games are high enough to make you worry and Sessions as a starter is CLEARLY a downgrade from Lin.

But given the market conditions – this was a painfully thin PG class – and the Hornets other free agent priorities, downgrading from Lin was an inevitability. Jeremy was the best backup PG in the NBA last season and is good enough to start. Given the terms of his Brooklyn contract (3yrs, $36m), he obviously prioritized the starting role over potential cash.

Some fans have complained about the team choosing Sessions (2yrs, $12m – second year team option) over Brandon Jennings (1yr, $5m) but Jennings is a major injury risk in his own right and with Ramon having once a been a Bobcat, Cho and Steve Clifford ran with the devil they knew versus the devil they didn’t.

GRADE: C+ (highest possible given circumstances)

Replacement Backup Center: Big Al to Hibbert

The Hornets somehow managed a Top 10 NBA defense during Al Jefferson’s first year in Charlotte. Part of the smoke and mirrors D was slowing the team’s pace down to a crawl and feeding a prime Big Al entry passes. This worked great for a season and then Jefferson started getting hurt and putting on weight (or maybe it was in reverse order?).

At some point two years ago Clifford started watching Warriors games and realized that puttying together a inside-out offense and a paint-paranoid defense was only going to get a team so far. He set out to create the four out, one in system that propelled Charlotte to a Top 10 offense AND defense last season.

Gone was the steady diet of old man “1 in, 4 watch” post feeds (and 4 guard, 1 watches paint defense). Instead we had Cody pushing the limits of SportsVU tracking, setting what seemed like five screens on every possession while his floor stretching teammates moved the ball around to find an open shooter.

Although it seemed unimaginable to think back in Big Al’s dominant 2013 All-NBA season, just two summers later the team (and maybe the entire league) had passed him by.

You could pretty much cut and paste the above paragraph into Roy Hibbert’s recent bio and it would be accurate. At the end of the 2013 season, Hibbert was widely viewed as major NBA asset and a borderline star.

At 7’2”, 270+ pounds, Roy is a giant and one of the few seven foot plus players to have never battled foot injuries. He was the game’s best rim protector just a few short seasons ago and is still only 29 years old.

The Hornets are clearly buying low. Hibbert signed a one year deal at half the price that Jefferson will be paid next season from Roy’s first team ($10m per from the Pacers). It’s a smart move by both sides.

Roy is banking on big man guru (and fellow Georgetown icon) Patrick Ewing doing for him what the staff has done with Jefferson and Dwight Howard over the years: Have a renaissance campaign and cash in next summer for one last pay day.

Hibbert will play serious minutes for Charlotte next season; anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t watched Clifford coach. Cliff loves veterans and he loves size and he loves rim protection. Unless Roy utterly poops the bed with his effort, conditioning or effectiveness, expect him to average 16-20 minutes a night, depending on the matchup.

With Cody entrenched as the team’s starter, Frank bulking up for more minutes at the five and Spencer Hawes still on the books, the Hornets suddenly have a ton of depth at center – but only one of those guys can protect the paint. Given that Roy’s previous team just guaranteed a gimpy Timofey Mozgov $64 million over four years, a one year flyer on Hibbert at $5 million is a terrific gamble.

GRADE: A+

Going Forward

FiveThirtyEight’s Carmelo Projections are mostly favorable for Charlotte’s longterm contracts and upcoming restricted free agent candidates (Zeller and Kaminsky).

Given Marvin’s age and career numbers last season, you’d expect his projections to suffer the most and they do – dropping off to just 1.7 Wins Above Replacement in his player option fourth year. Kemba and Nic Batum are projected to play at an All-Star or near All-Star level for at least the next three seasons. MKG, Cody and Frank will enter the season at age 23 or younger.

From a cap perspective, barring a major trade, the Hornets are essentially punting on 2017 Free Agency. The Steph Come Home hopefuls (myself included) likely had our dreams dashed the moment Kevin Durant made his Super Team decision. Realistically, Curry was the only superstar who was ever going to sign with Charlotte as an unrestricted free agent in his prime. With that possibility removed, locking up the roster’s core for the next few seasons was the next logical plan.

Assuming that Cody Zeller signs a reasonable extension in the next 12 months (4yrs, $48m sounds right given 2017’s more robust FA class and smaller cap spike), the Hornets will be capped out next summer but could have as much as $20m in cap space in 2018 to go after an All-Star quality talent. See the attached a projected salary chart below for more details.

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Extend Cho (#ExtendCho)

I’ve been on the Rich Cho bandwagon since he joined the Bobcats in 2011. The one quality decision that Rod Higgins made during his entire stint with the franchise was recommending Cho to ownership. His reputation as a terrible drafter is somewhat unearned – we still have no idea who makes the Draft day calls – but his asset management, trade and free agent work has been exemplary since day one.

If you stop and think about the hand Cho and his team were dealt heading into the offseason**, it’s borderline amazing what they were able to pull off. The quality of the Hornets roster is either on par with last season’s; arguably stronger and certainly deeper.

Here’s hoping the next extension made by the team is for Cho himself.

(**and if you really want to be impressed go back and check out the Bobcats cap sheet, roster and draft pick situation prior to Cho’s hire in 2011)

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Marco YOLO | Explaining Hornets Draft Day 2016

Belinelli Trade Salaries Hypothetical
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It’s that time of year again. Time for my annual post aimed to cool reactionary fans angered by Rich Cho’s refusal to do exactly what they want him to do. As in years past, Draft Day 2016 can only be understood if we place the move in context within the roster building to follow. Let’s break it down thus far…

The Mystery Trade

The only details about the trade that we know for certain is that Marco Belinelli will be a Hornet and Charlotte’s 22nd overall pick (Malachi Richardson) will be moving on to Sacramento. The trade hasn’t been officially announced and won’t be until after the free agency moratorium ends on July 7th. Other players and picks could be included on either side but for now, let’s assume it’s the vanilla version and call it Version 1A.

TRADE VERSION 1A: Breakdown

Let’s start with the obvious. On the court, Belinelli makes a ton of sense for Charlotte. He can play on ball and off, can stroke the three, create off the dribble and has proven to be a capable system defender when the system is good. Think of him as a defensively inferior, offensively superior Courtney Lee. Done.

Off the court, things get a little trickier. As a cap enthusiast, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why and how this is supposed to work:

If the deal is strictly Marco for the 22nd pick, you’re looking at $6.3m coming in and around $1.2m going out. Charlotte doesn’t have any trade exceptions of that size to absorb the extra money, so if it’s strictly one to one, they’d have to move Marco into cap space.

This is a problem because the Hornets won’t have any cap space until they renounce some of their unrestricted free agents after the moratorium – which would have to be done immediately before the trade is made official.

According to my numbers, the Hornets are sitting currently at around $112m – factoring in all of their cap holds – which is roughly $17m over next year’s projected $94m cap.

To absorb Marco’s extra $5.1m, Charlotte would have to renounce around $22m worth of salaries. Renouncing Al Jefferson, Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez, Jeremy Lin and Tyler Hansbrough seems like the obvious way to get there.

One downside: You’d lose potential sign & trade scenarios with Big Al (using his Bird’s rights) but it’s doubtful many of those scenarios exist on the market anyways.

Renouncing Lin (more on Jeremy later) and Daniels seems alarming at first but given that both players are non-Bird’s rights free agents, the team will have to go into their cap room (or the MLE in Daniels’ case) to bring them back anyway.

So how do we grade Version 1A of the trade? The Hornets, in a maelstrom of unrestricted free agency decisions, figure out a way to replace Courtney Lee with a similarly-aged, cost-controlled, two year rental. In return, they give up whatever potential a cheap-salaried, late round pick could give them.

A Small Sacrifice

In an alternate reality, Charlotte could’ve kept the pick, taken a project wing and then used their Bird Rights to overpay Lee to make sure he stays (think between $10-14m per year). Instead, they get a similar player who’s the same age at around half the price who’ll most likely be on a shorter deal.

Factor in the salary for the 22nd pick and you’re looking at an immediate savings of around $7-$8m in cap space depending on what Lee ultimately gets on the market. This added flexibility could be just enough for Charlotte to retain Lin via cap room (see salary chart below) while paying him market value.

So, even in Version 1A of the trade, the Hornets could (and likely will) end up ostensibly getting two ready-to-play rotation players for the relatively small price of a late round pick in a weak Draft (and let’s face it, Clifford wouldn’t play that late round pick for two years anyway).

Belinelli Trade Salaries Hypothetical

GRADE: TBD in July

TRADE VERSION 1B: Breakdown

Version 1B of this trade is based on some chatter that the Hornets were able to attach one of Jeremy Lamb or Spencer Hawes to the pick in a salary dump.

I was a lot more excited to write about this version of the deal until I actually got around to thinking about it. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much if either of those players is involved in the trade because:

  1. Neither players’ contract is an albatross
  2. One of the Hornets’ strengths last season was their depth and both players have proven themselves rotation capable during the regular season
  3. With so much cap room available and so few quality free agents, it won’t be hard for the Hornets to find a taker for either player later in free agency

With either Version of the trade, Draft Day 2016 can’t be properly evaluated until we see what Cho & Co are able to do in July.

Get ready Hornets fans because, to quote the esteemed Jim Ross, “Business is about to pick up.

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Up, Down, or Out

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In his pre-draft presser, Hornets GM Rich Cho said they have explored trading up, trading down, and trading out of the draft. This should sound familiar. He said the same thing last year. And it really means nothing. It’s a way of answering a question without giving an answer. But it’s worth exploring the merits of each of these strategies with respect to the 22nd pick, the team’s needs, and the make-up of this year’s draft.

Trading Out

Trading out of the draft could be used as a way of obtaining a piece more prepared to contribute next season or shedding salary to facilitate keeping as much of last year’s team together. It’s impossible to predict which players might be available and what it would take to get them, but trading for an established player would have to offset the value of a team friendly rookie contract. I would be hesitant to move the pick for anyone on an expiring contract. It would also mean less money available for the current free agents so Cho would have to have a pretty good idea who is going and who is staying.

Trading out for the sake of freeing up some money to re-sign free agents could be valuable in the short term. The most likely candidates for a dump would be Spencer Hawes and his $6 million per year over the next 2 seasons or Jeremy Lamb’s 3 year, $21 million contract. Trading Lamb kills an already thin wing rotation.

The problem with using the pick to create cap space is in the long term. Again, you’re sacrificing a tiny rookie contract that would be more valuable financially in the long run than the short term gains of dumping Hawes. At that point, the team would be locked into the roster for the foreseeable future with limited methods for improvement. A rookie contract and the youth that comes with it would be a valuable way of providing future improvement internally rather than having to constantly make trades and sign free agents.

In the end, dumping the pick would be short-sighted. The Hornets are the type of team that can fill the roster out with ring chasing veterans and buy-out candidates the way Miami or OKC does. By using the new D-League team and draft picks with potential, the Hornets can build a talent pipeline to sustain the organization as players needs to be replaced.

Trading Up

Trading up brings its own risks in the form of sacrificing depth and/or future assets. In order to move up in the draft, Cho would have to package something with the pick. Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller seem the most likely candidates for such a move. Even if Charlotte retains all of its free agents, the team would still be at a deficit and forced to rely on a rookie to play a prominent role. Depth became a problem in the playoffs us multiple key players suffered injuries. With the free agent situation being what it is, the Hornets are just not equipped to handle sacrificing players.

I’m morally opposed to trading future picks of any kind unless you are a legit title contender. Too many things can happen in the interim, even with protections, to make that kind of gamble. Particularly in a draft as muddled as this one where the difference between the 15th and 40th pick might not be all that big. Cho would have to really love a prospect and have a plan in place to establish depth by other means for this to be an option.

Trading Down

Where the depth of the draft makes trading up a bit pointless (barring a huge jump into the top 8), it lends itself to opportunities to trade back. Cho did this before with the Heat, who coveted Shabazz Napier (that had NOTHING to do with LeBron, right?), while knowing that the guy he wanted, PJ Hairston, would be there 2 picks later. To make the move, Miami included a 2nd round pick.

This is the type of move that would be a golden opportunity to start establishing the talent pipeline previously mentioned. While the Hornets could use some wing depth, there should be plenty available late in the draft. Denzel Valentine, DeAndre Bembry, Malik Beasley, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Brogdon… All these guys are projected in the back third of the draft and into the 2nd round.

As with all deals, it takes 2 to tango and while the depth of the draft could serve the Hornets well, they’re not the only team in their position. Someone would have to really love a prospect to be willing to help out. But if the deal is there, it would be worth it in the long run.

Stay Put

In the end, the most likely thing is usually the simplest and that is drafting a player with the 22nd pick. It’s what I expect to happen and, while boring, could provide an important bench piece down the line.

Draft Thoughts

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As the NBA season draws to a close, the draft is only 3 weeks away. That means team workouts, mock drafts, and misinformation all over the place. Look no further than Jonathan Givony of Draft Express for how this stuff works:

It can be difficult to know what to trust, what to value, and what to dismiss. In perusing all the draft coverage that has been coming out, a couple things stand out regarding the Hornets in particular. The first is that there is very little information. In Chad Ford’s latest big board, found here.
(more information can be found in his workout confidential here)

The Hornets are linked to a only 3 prospects in this list. For comparison’s sake, the Hawks, picking right before the Hornets, are mentioned 6 times and the Celtics 23rd pick is mentioned 6 times. Cho keeps things in house and I wouldn’t expect much else before the draft.

With that being said, there is some information to be glean from the light coverage. Actual reports, not guesses by mock drafts, have the Hornets showing interest in Malik Beasley, Denzel Valentine, Demetrius Jackson, and Malachi Richardson. Translation: Charlotte is looking at wing players, whether they be in the guard/forward variety or the combo guard. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given the possibility of losing Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee (and Batum, but I believe he’s staying).

All of these players are also shooters (at least allegedly). Again, this jives with what Steve Clifford has been saying for over a year now as well as the style of play implemented this past season. If you’re not protecting the rim on defense, you better be shooting from deep on offense.

Again, the legitimate information out there is limited and will most likely continue to be. But there are enough crumbs that lead me to believe the Hornets are looking for wing depth and shooting in the draft and will attempt to add some rim protection in free agency. So no, I don’t think Charlotte picks Brice Johnson. And if we’re going off bizarre, correlation but not causation trends, wouldn’t you think Cho would desperately be trying to trade up and grab Henry Ellenson? White power forwards from the Big 10 for life!

Hornets Offseason Predictions 2016

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Rich Cho’s Season Has Only Begun

Nearly seven months ago I predicted the Hornets would win 44 games and finish sixth in the East. Most called this prediction overly optimistic and a few called it naive. In the end, Charlotte surprised us all by totaling 48 victories, finishing just a game out of the third seed despite a myriad of injuries to key players and a drastic change in their style of play. It was without question the most successful post-relocation season in Charlotte NBA history. Now it’s up to Rich Cho and the team’s front office to continue this success and propel the team to the next level.

Batum is Everything

When Charlotte traded for Nic last summer, there was no question about the player’s talent or fit; it was Batum’s impending unrestricted free agency status that loomed over the entire season. Credit the Hornets for making his return feel more inevitable than it should and Nic’s postgame remarks after Game 7 sounded like a guy who plans on being back. The hope is that both sides have something on the table the minute free agency kicks off in July. They’ll need to make it quick. Why?

The Hornets have to structure their offseason plans around Batum for two reasons:

  1. He’s one of the team’s top three players along with MKG and Kemba Walker and his abilities as a point forward are a perfect fit alongside them.
  2. His near $20 million cap hold needs to be addressed before the team explores alternative options.

For those unfamiliar with cap holds, unrestricted free agents count against a team’s cap sheet until they either sign with another team or are renounced by their current one.

Batum will turn 28 next December and is in the beginning of his prime. Inking a deal that pays him near max money into his early 30s does make sense from the player’s perspective, especially a wing. Alternatively, Nic could gamble on himself with a short term deal or a player option after two seasons but as we saw last offseason, even with new CBA cash around the corner, players are much more likely to take the safe money – especially if it’s in the vicinity of $20m per.

Ultimately, Nic seems happy in Charlotte and comfortable with the coaching staff, front office and ownership. Expect His Airness to pony up with the largest contract ever signed on his watch as an owner: 5 years, $100 million with a player option in the 5th year. Little Ayden Richard Batum will be living that bon vivant 4LIFE.

PREDICTION: Batum Returns on a near max contract

Bon Voyage, Big Al

Jefferson finished the season in a quintessential Big Al sorta way. He shot 50% against Miami and manufactured offense when the Hornets couldn’t buy a bucket. But he was also in less than great shape and contributed to Charlotte’s atrocious postseason paint defense.

Coach Clifford received a blessing in disguise when Jefferson went down with an injury slash suspension midseason, discovering that a Cody Zeller/Marvin Williams frontcourt (especially when combined with MKG at the three) was much more effective at both ends of the floor.

Big Al turns 32 next January and his inability to get into or stay in shape does not bode well for his future play. Renouncing his rights frees up a valuable $20 million in cap space for Charlotte to use on Jeremy Lin (player option) or Courtney Lee (updated, see below) both of whom will need to be re-signed via cap space (no Bird Rights). The Hornets could also use the $20 million in conjunction with another move (salary dumping Spencer Hawes and/or Jeremy Lamb) to bring in Dwight Howard.

Either way, I fully expect Jefferson to be playing elsewhere next season. Thanks for the memories Big Al. We’ll always have the 2013-2014 Bobcats season.

PREDICTION: Jefferson is renounced, signs elsewhere

Key Secondary Guys

Of the three key secondary free agents (Williams, Lee, Lin), only Marvin ($9.1m cap hold) can be re-signed over the cap.

[UPDATED: The Hornets have Full Bird Rights for Lee, Early Bird Rights for Marvin and non-Bird Rights for Lin. So the team can go over the cap to sign Lee but given situation outlined below, I still believe he’s the least likely to return.]

Technically Lin isn’t a free agent yet but he’ll surely opt out of his $2.2 million player option in July; even so Jeremy’s cap hold will be less than $3 million so the Hornets will have some wiggle room to wait (if) they re-sign him.

Lee’s cap hold ($10.8m) complicates things for his return and with MKG healthy and Jeremy Lamb being groomed for a larger role, he’s my bet for least likely to return of the three.

Marvin will turn 30 in June and has logged a decent amount of miles. The elbow injury prior to the Miami series explains his disappearance on the offensive end. He was a key cog all season for Charlotte and a fantastic fit when Clifford goes small at the five with either Zeller or Kaminsky. I could see the Hornets offering a one-year $12 million deal and Marv taking it. Why that much and why one year? More on this later.

Lin is the most interesting of the three in many ways. He’s clearly found a home with Clifford as a third guard. MJ loves him and Lin’s off the court ability to attract East Asian/Asian-American interest in the team can’t be denied.

Given his consistent struggles with turnovers and his jumper (one of which did improve this season) I would be surprised if another team were to offer him their starting gig. Something in the neighborhood of 3 years, $21 million seems about right for J-Lin. He’ll get consistent minutes and a positive environment to showcase his talents. Consider him Kirk Hinrich in teal (or a more likable Ramon Sessions).

PREDICTION: Marvin and Lin return, Lee walks

A Big Handsome Payday

Cody enters the final year of his rookie deal next season that will pay him a little north of $5 million. The following season he’s scheduled to count over $13m via cap hold. Cho won’t let it come to that. Charlotte has extended their Lottery picks in back to back seasons (Kemba, MKG) and I fully expect them to do the same with Zeller this summer.

Fortunately Cody is still under the radar enough that Cho can likely get a deal done, even in the current cap environment, for something less than his on-coming cap hold. Again, just like Marvin, this is important and I’ll cover it more below. Something like 4 years, $40 million makes sense for a skilled, mobile seven footer like Zeller.

PREDICTION: Cody signs a four year extension lower than his 2017-2018 cap hold

Rounding Out the Roster

Troy Daniels, Tyler Hansbrough, Jorge Gutierrez are unrestricted free agents. Daniels is the most valuable and is likely to be retained if the numbers are right but don’t expect Charlotte to break the bank if another team shocks him with real money.

Aaron Harrison has a league minimum non-guaranteed option that could be picked up if the Hornets like his progress. Exhaustion plagued Kemba in the Playoffs; if Harrison isn’t ready to play, expect the Hornets to pursue a veteran 3rd PG later in free agency.

Charlotte owns the 22nd pick in the Draft and could find a developmental big man or rotation player late.

The Hornets traded their 2nd Round pick to Oklahoma City as part of the Jeremy Lamb deal.

PREDICTION: Charlotte supplements their core with a third PG and backup Center.

Focus on 2017-2018

Make no mistake, the Hornets will compete in 2016-2017. With a (fingers crossed) healthy MKG, Kemba and Batum and one of the league’s best coaches and GMs – Charlotte has assembled a solid foundation on which to build. Next season should be about building on the previous one, trying to earn homecourt and win a round in the Playoffs; then pushing the momentum forward towards the summer of 2017. Why?

Because (if you buy my predictions above) the Hornets will have all of their key guys under contract that summer with an additional $26 million in free cap space. If they can prove to a key All-Star free agent that they’re only one player away after next season, they have a shot of luring a top tier guy to the Queen City. Then the fun really starts.

Until then, enjoy the offseason Hornets fans…

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

What Happened?

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Things clearly didn’t go the Hornets’ way in game 1 against the Heat, getting shellacked by 32 points. One might assume the Heat are a far superior team and the series might as well be over after that kind of performance. However, the numbers over the course of the entire season point to this being the most competitive and evenly matched first round series. If that’s the case, and I believe it is, what went wrong and how fixable is it? In this case, the tape is far more instructive than the numbers.
The Heat built the cushion they would need for the entire game in the 1st quarter, outscoring the Hornets 41-22. That lead begins and ends with Luol Deng’s performance, who played the entire quarter and went 5-5 including 3-3 on 3 pointers and scoring 14 points. Of those 5 makes only 2 were contested. The other 3 were defensive lapses: a miscommunication on a switch, a transition 3 after Frank saved the ball to the wrong team, and a drive when the defense failed to get organized after an offensive rebound. While Deng is a good player, Charlotte shot themselves in the foot and allowed him to get his points.

For the Hornets to be competitive, Marvin Williams will need to play Deng to a draw. Instead he missed all 3 of his attempts, all of which were good shots that he’s been making all season. Other than Batum, the rest of the team didn’t pick up the offensive slack, though offense wasn’t the problem. The Hornets were getting good shots, they just weren’t going down. Miami pressured the perimeter heavily, to the point of over-extending the defense and leaving paths to the rim that Charlotte was able to take advantage of at times. Creating shots wasn’t the problem, it was making them. The whole team failed to convert open lay-ups, short runners, and free-throws.
Overall, the effort was just not there considering the stakes. Bad communication, boxing out an area rather than boxing out a body, trying to tip rebounds rather than go up with 2 hands and grab them, lack of second effort… It wasn’t pretty but the Hornets need only look in the mirror to see why they lost. Whether it was Batum letting Justise Winslow fly around for offensive boards or Jefferson failing to recover to his man for a rebound after helping on a pick-and-roll, the mental and physical effort just wasn’t there in a way that would off-set the poor shooting performance.

Aside from Deng, Dwyane Wade had a terrific game. Clifford gave Jeremy Lin a chance to guard him in the first quarter and it did not go well. While Lin has plenty of upper body strength, his base and core could not handle Wade’s post game. Rather than holding his ground with a strong base, Lin was leaning on Wade to use his upper body and Wade feasted on it, spinning every which way and getting whatever he wanted. This wasn’t the only mismatch.

But enough with the words, what did the video show? Frankly, poor communication. Here you can see Kemba do the right thing on a Dragic-Stoudemire side pick-and-roll. He helps off his man on the other side of the court, tagging Stoudemire to muck up his roll, while Frank slides down so he can recover to either shooter if the ball gets kicked out.

Kemba Tag

Stoudemire abandons his roll and steps out to give Dragic and outlet, then swings the ball to Deng who has repositioned himself to provide a kick-out option. Frank follows him while Al hangs back, prepared for a Stoudemire post-up or a Deng drive. Lee follows his man, Winslow, and all Kemba needs to do is get back to Richardson. Excellent, typical Clifford defense. Until Kemba hesitates, caught in no-man’s land and looking around, leaving Richardson wide open.

Where Did He Go?

Kemba does a solid job recovering, but Richardson never should have had a shot. The defense has done its job but a failure to communicate with Kemba, coupled with his own hesitation, lets the defense down.

Too Little, Too Late

At the end of the first quarter, with Dragic racing up the court, the defense again fails to communicate. I honestly have no idea what Jeremy Lin is doing here. I would guess he’s trying to anticipate the Stoudemire screen in an effort to get over it but he turns his back to his man, leaving a free lane to the rim. He and Jefferson have to do a better job of communicating what their coverage is supposed to be.

Ummmm.... Wut?

Transition communication was just as bad as half-court communication. In basketball, the guy with the ball is the only one that can actually score points, so maybe guard him.

Someone? Anyone?

The physical effort was just as concerning as the lack of communication. Despite having 9/10 of their feet in the paint on this shot attempt, the Hornets failed to get this rebound and, after several tips, Deng got the put-back:

Welp....

The lack of effort wasn’t just on rebounding. Here, Batum ices the side pick-and-roll and while Cody doesn’t do a great job containing Wade as he snakes back in front of the pick, Charlotte has 3 defenders in help position. Lin in particular has already left Richardson open to help, to the point he won’t be able to recover, but fails to take one more step and cut off the drive. Instead Lin, Walker, and Williams watch Wade convert an easy lay-up.

Wade Getting All Slithery
HEEEELLLLPPPPP!!!!!!

Batum isn’t doing anything to dispel the soft European stereotype here when he walks into a screen that Deng never had any intention of setting.

What screen?

Rather than taking one step up to pressure the ball, he allows himself to get screened.

Oops....

Marvin Williams, realizing what Batum is doing, has to change directions and hustle back to contain the drive, only to get smashed by a Haslem screen. Cody does a decent job preventing the easy lay-up, but Wade is able to convert a tough turn-around at the elbow like he has a thousand times before in his career.

CRUUUUNCH!!!

If it’s a botched switch, it’s poor communication as Marvin Williams clearly had no idea that was happening. I’m not convinced. Batum needs to step up and, if that screen hits him, he needs to shrug it off and not get dragged out of the play by it.

So the bad news: Charlotte got creamed. The good news: it’s easily fixable. I’m not convinced there were any serious schematic failures. There were concerns about the way Charlotte played pick-and-rolls, seeming to show hard more than dropping back, but I didn’t see that on tape. Cody has always done more hedging than Jefferson, especially on the sides. Here you can see that type of defense:

It's a trap!

The problem isn’t the hedge. Batum and Cody are in good position to cause a turnover or a timeout with no real outlet in sight and only 9 seconds left on the shot-clock. The strategy is sound. The execution fails though. They leave a seam in the trap, allowing Joe Johnson to step through with an escape dribble and hit Deng for an open 3. Close that seam and that pass never happens. Good strategy, bad execution.

The effort wasn’t there and shots weren’t going in. In the second quarter, the defense improved and held Miami to 26 points. With an offensive flurry the Hornets could have been right back in it by half-time.

Here, Lin helps off his man to stop a Whiteside roll to the basket. Making Whiteside make decisions with the ball in his hand outside the restricted area is a winning proposition most of the time.

Way to go buddy!

Basic pick-and-roll defense here as Jefferson walls off the paint and Lin fights over the pick, forcing Dragic to snake back in front of Whiteside, taking him out of the play and resulting in a tough, missed step-back jumper. Stan Van Gundy would be proud of that wall of defense.

Build an effing wall!

I don’t think there’s anything magic Clifford and Co. need to do, the team just needs to be more focused and on a collective string defensively. Grab rebounds with 2 hands, put a body on someone when a shot goes up, keep moving offensively, talk constantly, and make your shots. That’s not to say the team can’t make adjustments. 2 things stood out to me when re-watching the game, one offensively and one defensively.

On offense, Charlotte needs to get downhill. The Heat perimeter defenders are being very aggressive. Cody was able to drive right by Whiteside for a dunk because nobody was below the free-throw line. Aggressive attacks lead to buckets and fouls to the tune of 37 attempts to the Heat’s 21 attempts. Cody was as effective as a roll man as I think I’ve ever seen him. Whiteside can dominate physically, so you have to make him think and make decisions. When that happened, Charlotte often won. When they went straight at him, he was able to contest. Just keep attacking.
The biggest defensive adjustment involves some interesting action only Miami runs (that I remember). After multiple screens, they’ll get Wade or Johnson the ball at the elbow and immediately have Whiteside set a ball screen below the foul line.

Here it comes....

This forces Whiteside’s man (Cody here) to corral the ball handler (Wade) or leave a free rim run. With a shooter in the strong side corner (Richardson) and so little space between the screen and the basket, Lin is unable to bump Whiteside before he’s at the rim.

I GOT IT!

Whiteside’s length makes it easy to pass over the top, even someone like Batum, so a switch still leaves Charlotte at a disadvantage. What’s left is an easy pass over the top and a lay-up for Whiteside.

Ruh roh

This action repeatedly gave Charlotte trouble and will have to be addressed. To me, the best thing would be to have Batum deny Wade the screen, no easy task considering how quickly they get into the screen-roll once Wade gets the ball. If Batum can beat Whiteside to the spot and force Wade back towards the sideline/baseline, Cody doesn’t have to compromise his position on Whiteside and can drop back. Batum would have to recover in a hurry and use his length to bother any drive or shot by Wade. Otherwise Cody is stuck between contesting Wade and blocking the rim run by Whiteside. Lin might have to dig down a little to stop the drive without compromising his ability to defend the corner 3.

Spoelstra is a smart coach and this elbow screen-roll caused some serious defensive problems as Charlotte failed both in effort and communication. That being said, it’s not unguardable and I expect Clifford & Co. to have a solution.

I thought re-watching this game would be torture. I was pleasantly surprised. Charlotte can and will be better, both offensively and defensively. Increase the effort and communication, look to attack downhill offensively, and clean up some small schematic issues defensively and the Hornets will be right back in this series.