Of course, the 24hr media cycle devoted to Curry’s dominant performance against the Hornets was well deserved. The hometown phenom effortlessly hit long-range shots that no other player would have the guts to attempt, and put up 40pts in only three quarters of action.
After the latest episode of the Steph show, the online hoops outlets have finally put the spotlight on the competition. Unfortunately, Kemba Walker has been elected to represent the Demoralized Opponent Tasked with Guarding Steph Curry.
Despite the task of installing a new offensive system in the last year of his contract, Hornets coach Steve Clifford received a vote of confidence from the team’s executives this past week. Clifford gained a well-deserved sense of security after coming to terms with the club on a multi-year extension. This should bode well for the organization, the coaching staff, and the still-congealing roster learning to play by Clifford’s fundamentals.
Now in his third season as head coach, it’s nice to hear a bit more swagger from his interviews. His bravado came through loud and clear when discussing how his extension could impact the team as a whole. The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell played a little tee-ball with Clifford, and asked him how his contract extension could possibly affect Nicolas Batum’s upcoming free agency. Here’s the coach’s response:
“(Batum) trusts me. He believes in me. So that could be a big factor.”
From a few rows back, it’s easy to see that the Charlotte basketball franchise is now legitimate with Steve Clifford at the helm. We need to take this Thanksgiving weekend to be grateful for that. The forefathers of the team – Bernie Bickerstaff, Sam Vincent, Larry Brown, Paul Silas, and Mike Dunlap – captained a franchise that was mostly a joke, a sucker, or a d-league affiliate to the other 29 members of the Association. The Hornets’ remarkable turnaround hasn’t been entirely the result of Clifford’s work, but he’s been a big part of the equation. Let’s hope that they can maintain the momentum with “Cliff” in charge.
Just two weeks removed from the closing game of the 2015 NBA Finals, and significant moves have quickly been made all around the league. Sparing little time, the Hornets kicked off the Summer as one of the most active clubs reworking their roster. At this point, GM Rich Cho appears to be ambitiously taking on major renovations, while hesitant to chisel at the foundation of last year’s disappointing squad.
Over the last decade, the Bobcats/Hornets haven’t hid their desperation to add legitimate talent. The results haven’t amazed, as they corralled rosters through free agency, drafts, or trades. The free agent market delivered a mixed bag of guys like Ramon Sessions, Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, Jason Maxiell, and Lance Stephenson. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s habitual weakness – the NBA Draft – hasn’t counterbalanced their lack of free agent appeal (or cash). Their scouting and drafting practices have resulted in a young group of prospects that are living in the shadow of their own “potential” – Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Jeffery Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, and the newest Hornet Frank Kaminsky. It’s a good bet that none of these guys will be wearing an All-Star uniform next February, but it’s possible that they can all contribute as pros somewhere in the Association.
If there’s one way to ease the anxiety or apathy of the fanbase, it’s a tool that Charlotte’s been leaning on for years – Trading. The Bobcats existed in a constant state of upheaval (internally and on the court). While the basketball product was underwhelming, they could always draw attention as we speculated on the next far-fetched (Allen Iverson) or bone-headed (Tyson Chandler) move they could make. Apparently, Michael Jordan decided to pivot from aimlessly swapping for dumb contracts and took an interest in shaping a balanced roster when he hired Rich Cho. Moving bad contracts and getting valuable, NBA-calibre talent through trades has proven to be Cho’s biggest strength as he’s rebuilt the club. Just a week ago, he surprised us by applying these skills to address his own mistake in signing Lance Stephenson last year.
After last season’s disappointing record, it should be no surprise that Charlotte is taking action to turn things around. Here’s a quick recap of what’s happened for the Hornets in June:
Moved Lance Stephenson (Guard)
Result: Saved us from watching him ruin every offensive possession while on the court.
Acquired Spencer Hawes (Center)
Result: Added a quality backup center with shooting range that opens up the floor, and gives Jefferson ten minutes of rest
Acquired Jeremy Lamb (Guard) for Luke Ridnour for Matt Barnes
Result: Now have a taller reserve guard with reliable shooting, and experience in a successful NBA offense. Rich Cho showed a little of his savviness to add talent in exchange for nothing.
Moved Gerald Henderson (Guard)
Result: Lost a captain and loyal teammate, but finally let Henderson see how things work outside of the ever-rebuilding Charlotte club.
Moved Noah Vonleh (Forward/Center)
Result: Gave away a promising young big man. Yet, allows us to watch him develop from afar without the risk of being let down by another failed developmental talent project.
Acquired: Nicolas Batum
Result: Kemba and Al will have room to work. Batum is enough of an offensive threat to spread defenses, allowing Charlotte to run a pro-style offense this season. As a bonus, MKG will have a handful more opportunities to slash to the paint with Batum drawing attention.
Drafted: Frank Kaminsky (Center)
Result: GM Rich Cho is going to have to defend this pick for a while. Charlotte just traded for Spencer Hawes, and Kaminsky will likely bring the same set of skills to the court. Who knew that Hawes was the prototype for the next generation of big man in the league?
Released: Bismack Biyombo
Result: The Hornets gave up on a project that wasn’t showing much return on their investment. This leaves the team without a real rim protector, and allows Biyombo to find a better fit elsewhere in the league. Rich Cho somehow gets a pass on this despite the obvious gamble.
Released: Jefferey Taylor
Result: More minutes are available for a wing behind MKG and Batum. Who will step up?
As a whole, these moves signal a concerted effort to address the team’s painfully unwatchable offense. This could be the wave that elevates the Hornets to the Playoffs, as they’ve already claimed the reputation as a top defense under Steve Clifford. The organization has yet to establish a “system” like some of the league’s most respected clubs, but this off-season has shown that they’ve transitioned away from simply clearing the books and acquiring young (cheap) prospects. This Summer, the Hornets look like they’re actually building toward winning.