MKG’s Extension and What Comes Next


Let’s put Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s contract extension into perspective: Perpetual third stringers Arron Baynes and Cory Joseph just received a combined $50 million in guaranteed money AND neither deal instigated a Twitter riot. Simply stated, we’re now living in a world where $13 million dollars per year for a non-All-Star wing is good value.

The Hornets will pay MKG that rate over four seasons starting next July – approximately three months before the former number two overall pick turns 23. The deal is one year shorter and $1 million less per season than the one Khris Middleton just signed with the Bucks and around two thirds more than Al Farouq Aminu received from the Blazers.


In 2011 2013  the NBA’s cap was set at $58 million. Thanks to the new TV deal, the 2017 cap is projected at $108 million – a 90% increase that nearly doubles the amount teams have to spend. And since the league hasn’t added any new franchises or vastly expanded roster limits, that money is going directly into the pockets of the same pool of players.

You are certain to hear a local sports talk rant (or ten) in the next week about how MKG isn’t worth close to this much cash and that’s due to many not understanding the basic dynamics of the new cap. It’s a simple conversion really: just take MKG’s $13 million salary and divide it by 90%.

This reveals a 4 year, $27.5 million deal with an average salary of $6.875 million. Keep in mind than in 2011 2013, when the cap was 90% lower, Gerald Henderson signed a 3 year, $18 million extension with Charlotte at $6 million per. So in relative terms, MKG signed for a little north of Hendo money. Bad for sports talk radio and internet trolls, good for the Hornets.


MKG didn’t have to sign an extension this summer. He could’ve waited it out and tested the very tempting waters of Free Agency 2016. As former Nets exec Bobby Marks noted in his excellent piece for Hoopshype last month, 24 of the league’s 30 teams will have cap space next summer with an estimated $825 million to spend. Peruse the list of next July’s free agents and you will find a dearth of quality unrestricted players worthy of that type of cash.

In years past, teams could use the restricted status of their own free agents to ward off offer sheets from hungry franchises with big space. That will change next July. Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes are virtual locks to get max offers and if MKG has the breakout season Charlotte is hoping for, you could’ve easily added him to that list.

But Kidd-Gilchrist has missed over 50 games in his first three seasons with a variety of injuries. Like Gerald Wallace before him, MKG plays at only one speed – FULL ON – and that reckless energy has a tendency to lead straight to street clothes.

Kidd-Gilchrist will only be 26 years old at the end of extension and at the beginning of his prime. If his jumper keeps making progress and he can stay on the court, MKG will have another legit shot at a max-type deal. If not, he’s set himself up very nicely with over $70 million in guaranteed career earnings.


Extending MKG this summer greatly reduces the burden on Charlotte’s front office next offseason. The team’s highest paid players (Nic Batum and Al Jefferson) will become unrestricted free agents. Jeremy Lin is a near guarantee to opt out of his deal and test the market. Jeremy Lamb will be a 24 year old restricted free agent who can shoot and (maybe) defend.

Depending on how the season plays out, Charlotte will aim to bring back each of these key players. Removing MKG from the list of moving parts is huge. And getting him at such a reasonable number leaves the team with around $45 million to spend on bringing all of those guys back.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hornets started negotiating with Lamb on a rookie extension today. Throw an offer of, say, 3 years, $18 million and see if he bites. Sure, the jury’s still out on Lamb as a high-end rotation player but $6 million in 2017 dollars is just a touch over $3 million per in relative terms. It’s worth a shot.

The Hornets could then throw big 3 year deals at both Batum and Jefferson and bring back Lin at a reasonable number if he thrives in the Queen City. All while maintaining flexibility for the following summer when Steph Curry becomes a free agent. See the Projected Salary Chart below:

BaselineProjectedSalariesPostMKGEXTQUICK HITS

  • MKG becomes just the fourth Bobcats-era Lottery pick to sign an extension with the team after Emeka Okafor, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker.
  • This marks the second consecutive offseason that Charlotte has reached an early rookie extension with one of their Lottery picks. A big milestone for an organization that has struggled mightily with the Draft.
  • Once the cap hits $108 million, MKG’s per year salary will account for just north of 1/10th of the team’s available space.
  • If both MKG and Kemba Walker complete their extensions in teal, they’ll become the longest tenured Bobcats-era players in Charlotte history and in line to challenge Dell Curry’s all-time record of ten seasons.


It was reported on Wednesday that the final year of MKG’s contract will be a player option, giving Kidd-Glichrist the ability to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent again at the ripe young age of 25.

The player option also times MKG’s free agency perfectly with Kemba Walker’s. One of the most interesting pieces of information to come out of the extension coverage is just how close the two players are off the court. While each player has their share of work to do to make the All-Star leap, both are extraordinarily high character, team-first individuals who will set the tone for the roster and organization as they mature into veterans.

By inking both players until 2019, the Hornets are essentially giving themselves a four year window to win with this roster. Expect the team to pursue similar three year extensions with Nic Batum and Al Jefferson in the offseason to complete the core.


Jeremy Lin VS Kemba Walker: By The Numbers



The point guard position has long been an issue for Charlotte’s NBA franchise. The city’s last great lead guard (Baron Davis) was hijacked along with the original franchise back in 2002. The expansion Bobcats subsequently invested three Lottery picks into the position over a period of six years (2005, 2008, 2011) yet failed to find their franchise defining quarterback each time.

Walker represents the last and best of those picks. He just turned 25 in May and is entering both his prime and the first year of a four year, $48 million contract extension. The team clearly sees Kemba as an asset and has positioned him as a major piece of the team’s future either as a starter or key reserve.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin is playing on a cheap one year contract with a player option that he’ll almost certainly turn down next July. Both sides have (wisely) framed the marriage as an opportunity to both rehabilitate Lin’s career after an ill-fitting season in Los Angeles and to provide Charlotte with a steady backup point guard behind Walker.

Again, this is how the team is framing it publicly. The brain trust has doubtlessly imagined a future in which J-Lin returns to semi-Linsanity heights and re-signs as the team’s starting point guard next July. The Hornets could begin to transition Kemba to his more natural sixth man role – where he could dominate both the ball and opponent’s second units.

After the Lin signing was made public, Coach Clifford spun tales of playing the two together for big minutes. I’ll believe it when I see it. Clifford hates going small and the team tried a similar experiment with Mo Williams late last season to mostly poor results. With a weaker defensive frontline this season, heavy dual point lineups could get even dicier.


So how do we rate these not quite All-Star point guards? What individual strengths and weaknesses do they bring? For that answer, we’re going to have to go down the metric rabbit hole.

WARNING: I’m about to get geeky on you. If esoteric statistics and decimal points make your eyes cross, skip to the TRANSLATIONS at the end of each section. For those brave souls who remain, let’s start with the basics:

Jeremy and Kemba have played roughly the same number of career games (291 vs 283 in favor of Lin) while Walker’s notched around 1500 more career minutes. Kemba has 283 career starts compared to J-Lin’s 170. Walker just turned 25 in May while Lin will turn 27 in August.

Lin also notched around 9 minutes per game fewer than Walker last season so any non-weighted per game numbers will be converted by 32%. With that out of the way, let’s get on with the breakdown.


SportsVU ranked Kemba 5th overall last season in Touches per game (92.4), eighth overall in time of possession (7.6 mins) with an average of 1.88 points per touch.

Lin averaged 56.3 (74.3 converted) touches, 4.9 mins in time of possession (6.46 converted) and exactly 2 points per touch.

TRANSLATION: Both guys like the ball in their hands but Kemba takes it to another level. Walker averaged more touches per game than Russell Westbrook and his time of possession suggests that he’s either an elite scorer (false) or the best scorer on a bad offense (true). The Hornets have added ball-movers and shot-creators all summer so Walker’s game will need an adjustment.

Advantage: Lin


Despite his rep as a mini-Iverson, Walker ranked fairly low in isolation attempts per SportsVU. Only 9.9% of his plays per game were of the isolation variety and he converted at a relatively decent .84 points per possession.

Lin ranked higher at 12.1% isos per game and only managed .74 points per possession on those attempts. Score one for Walker.

More good news for Kemba: while each player manufactured the same amount of free throws out of isos (~14%) Walker did so with a fantastic 5% turnover frequency (as opposed to J-Lin’s concerning 14.8%).

TRANSLATION: No surprise Kemba is the better isolation player, a pleasant surprise that he is a relatively efficient one.

Advantage: Walker


Kemba used the pick on 48.1% of his possessions which ranked 9th overall – a surprising number considering Walker’s reputation as a non pick and roll player. Walker managed .83 points per possession off the pick, logged an eFG%** of 41.0%, Free Throw frequency of 11.6% and a fantastic Turnover frequency of just 10.6%.

By comparison, Lin used the pick on 40% of his possessions – again, surprising given his pick and roll heavy reputation. He notched an identical .83 points per possession, a much higher 45.8% eFG%, a higher 13.8 Free Throw frequency and a frightening 20.6% Turnover frequency.

*Effective Field Goal Percentage grants additional weight to 3PT shots*

TRANSLATION: Kemba used the pick more but scored less efficiently out of it. Lin uses the pick less but with greater shot efficiency and at a much greater risk of creating a turnover.

Advantage: None


More SportsVU: Kemba registered .6 Free Throw assists, 1.5 “hockey assists” and 11 assist opportunities per game.

Lin averaged .4 (.53 converted) Free Throw assists per game, .8 (1.0 converted) hockey assists per game and 8.9 (11.75 converted) assist opportunities.

In terms of raw per game assists, Kemba tallied 5.1apg while J-Lin notched 4.6 (6.1 converted). Assist rates again have Jeremy out in front: Kemba 20.9 (career low average), J-Lin 26.5 (around career average).

The real story is in the turnovers: Lin has improved his ability to protect the ball in recent years but is still far, far behind Kemba’s Top 10 ranking in assist to turnover ratio.

TRANSLATION: Lin is nominally a better shot creator but comes at the high cost of turnovers. Kemba’s limited court vision is made up for somewhat by his elite ability to take care of the ball.

Advantage: Walker


Basic stats: Lin shot 37% from downtown last season, raising his career average to 35%. Kemba regressed to 30%, bringing his number to 31.8% from deep. Overall FG% has J-Lin at around 44% for his career, Kemba just below 40% overall. Each draws FTs at a decent rate and converts at or around 80% from the line when they get there.

Jeremy wins the FG% battle on drives 46% to 41.6%. Kemba wins on “close shots” 66.7% to 57%. Catch & Shoot and Pull-up percentages are slightly in Lin’s favor but Lin’s three point shooting abilities has him easily out in front in effective FG% 47.3% to 42.9%.

ESPN’s True Shooting Metric takes eFG% even further, accounting for free throws as well as threes. Kemba notched a 48.6 (about average for his career), while Lin registered 53.9 (also around average for his career).

TRANSLATION: Easy (and expected) win for Jeremy Lin. Kemba has struggled mightily with his shot since entering into the NBA. If there’s one aspect of Walker’s game that has and will continue to prevent an All-Star appearance, it’s this one.

Advantage: Lin

DEFENSE has Kemba as a slight net minus (–3.0) while ranking Lin a slight net plus (+1.0) which is in line with ESPN’s real plus minus rankings for both PGs (Lin is 19th at +1.66, Kemba 37th at –1.03).

Lin is clearly the bigger defender on the court and has at least three inches and fifteen pounds on Walker. Lin measured a 6’5” wingspan and an 8’2” standing reach at the Portsmouth pre-Draft camp back in 2010. Kemba measured a near 6’3” wingspan and just over 7’7” standing reach a year later. Both players are solid on the boards and have nearly identical rebound rates over their careers.

TRANSLATION: Real plus minus is far from perfect but when combined with the eye test and Lin’s physical advantages, it’s obvious that Jeremy is the better defensive option of the two.

Advantage: Lin


Anyone who has traveled through Southeast Asia will have doubtlessly come across the expression “same same but different”. It’s a concise little phrase that the Thai people use to describe two things which, while quite similar, have a few key features that make them uniquely their own. Example: Banana bread and a banana muffin = same same but different.

In the midst of researching the Lin and Kemba combo, that lyrical phrase same same but different kept popping up in my mind over and over again. The Hornets now have two upper-middle class PG options. Neither are an elite talent but both are very good scoring guards who can benefit a team in their own way.

One guy can protect the ball and break ankles but can also shoot you out of a game. One guy can hit threes and score off the pick but is reckless with the ball. One can manufacture offense out of nothing while the other can elevate a team’s defense. Same same. But different. It will be fascinating to watch how Coach Clifford handles the dynamic and how each player responds. Who knows? Perhaps the Queen City’s next great point guard are a duo.


Illustration by @MikeSakoon – download an iPhone 6 wallpaper version here.

Frank Kaminsky and the 2012 NBA Draft



The Charlotte Hornets ranked dead last in three point field goal percentage last season and second to last in overall field goal percentage. They ranked in the bottom third of the league in three pointers attempted and were tied for worst in the league in points per shot. They notched the third fewest assists per game and achieved the league’s lowest adjusted field goal percentage.

In summary: the Hornets were an abhorrent offensive team last season. A full-on disaster. They couldn’t shoot and they couldn’t pass. Friendly reminder: Golden State just won a title because they could really shoot and really pass.

Since their season ended in April, the Hornets have tripled down on the triple. The league’s all-time worst shooting-shooting guard Lance Stephenson was swapped out for floor-stretching big man Spencer Hawes. Mid-range bandit Gerald Henderson was shipped west for distance shooting playmaker Nic Batum. The team used a glitch in the matrix (Matt Barnes’s semi-guaranteed contract) to take a flyer on range shooting wing Jeremy Lamb.

So on Draft night it should’ve come as no surprise to Charlotte hoops fans that the team would use it’s Lottery pick on an NCAA player of the year who shot 41% from downtown. Except that it did.


Justise Winslow had a tremendous freshmen season at Duke. He did everything. Scored, rebounded, notched Bojangle Hustle Stats, you name it. And then he and the Blue Devils won the national title. It was the feel good movie of the year and it happened in our backyard.

Who would’ve thought that three months later at the 2015 NBA Draft, Winslow would’ve slipped past not one, not two, not threebut five teams in need of a young small forward? Yet that’s exactly what happened. Suddenly the Hornets were on the clock at pick number nine – and even though the entire internet knew that Charlotte was sold on Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky – it seemed like a no-brainer to select Durham’s Mr. Intangibles and get the steal of the night. Instead, Adam Silver walked to the podium, read off a Polish surname and Twitter exploded with disbelief, snark and disgust.


Three years earlier, another freshmen phenom won a national title while teaming up with a dominant big man. This freshmen was also a big-time intangibles guy who eventually found himself as the number two pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. His name was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and he’s currently the heart & soul of Charlotte’s Top 10 ranked defense.

The similarities are striking. Like MKG, Winslow struggled with his shot mechanics during his young hoops career. And also like MKG, Justise is a big-time worker. Winslow revamped his form enough to manage 40% shooting from the college three point arc. While Winslow’s length and upside on defense aren’t quite that of Kidd-Gilchrist, his jumper is certainly further along at this point than MKG’s was three seasons ago. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news: Winslow’s shooting is still a major problem. Free throw percentage is generally a strong indicator of actual shooting ability and Justise only managed 64% at Duke (that’s six percentage points lower than MKG’s KU numbers). As DraftExpress’s Mike Schmitz pointed out on a recent Nate Duncan podcast, most of Winslow’s three pointers were of the spot up variety, where Justise could have more time to get set and wind through his methodical shooting motion. More concerning is the fact that a lot of these spot up attempts came while matched up against slower, shorter collegiate power forwards who lacked the elite closeout abilities of NBA small forwards.

Justise rarely shot or made mid-range twos during his time at Duke and while that shot has gone out of fashion recently, it’s still a required skill for a scorer. In short, Gerald Henderson is currently a much better shooter than Justise. And Hendo’s pairing with MKG led to the league’s worst offense. Justise would’ve only made them worse.


Steve Clifford and Patrick Ewing spent half a decade together in Orlando helping Stan Van Gundy build around a dominant defender. They surrounded an offensively limited Dwight Howard with as many shooters and playmakers as possible. It worked. They even made the 2009 Finals. It was a modern update on a traditional strategy – from Bill Russell to Alonzo Mourning – scorers on the outside and a shotblocker in the middle.

What Clifford and Ewing are attempting to do in Charlotte has never been done before. They are using the same Orlando formula except they’re building around a offensively limited, dominant wing defender. It’s a bold move. Maybe even a little crazy. But the plan is there, plain as day:

  • Kemba Walker as Jameer Nelson: scorer and primary ball handler.
  • Nic Batum as Hedo Turkoglu: secondary ball handler and halfcourt distributor.
  • Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky as big men versions of shooters JJ Redick and Rashard Lewis.
  • And finally…Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as Dwight Howard, defensive stopper.

Again, it’s kind of insane. And it just might work. Unlike decades past, nearly all of the league’s most dangerous scorers play on the perimeter. Steph, KD, Westbrook, Harden, Melo, Lebron. A lumbering, paint-shackled center is useless against defending a step-back twenty-three footer. If you need to make a stop, it has to start outside.


Frank Kaminsky breaks every modern Draft stereotype. He’s a four year senior, none of his measurables blow you away and he’s goofy looking. Instant bust, right? The problem is that Frank can really play. He’s a pick and pop weapon. He’s a spot up three zone buster. He’s a high post facilitator. He takes advantage of smaller defenders on the block. Will the dribble drive game work in the pros? Maybe. If it doesn’t he’s Ryan Anderson. If it does, he’s Dirk or a short-armed Pau.

When the Hornets drafted Cody Zeller two years ago they did everything they could to turn Cody into who Frank Kaminsky is today. But Zeller rarely shot the mid-range in college and is to this day visibly uncomfortable when he’s put into position to attack. How many times have we seen Cody set a screen, get to his spot and not even look at the rim. His eighteen foot jumper has improved but it’s painfully obvious that Cody would rather pass or roll to the hoop (and only if the lane is empty).
Mark my words: Frank will have the exact opposite problem. If he has space, Kaminsky will put it up. No hesitation, no apologies.


After watching clips of Frank the Tank over the past few days, two major questions arose: 1.) Will his off the dribble game translate? and 2.) Will he become a servicable system defender?
The answer to the former is intriguing. If he can punish closeouts in the pros with creative dribble drives, he’s a stud. If not, he’s Anderson or Channing Frye. But it’s the answer to the latter that will determine Kaminsky’s career.

Vantage Sports recently pubished a nice piece on collegiate big men pick and roll defenders which surprisingly ranked Frank highest amongst his peers (including top picks Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein). Kaminsky may not have the Javale McGee turbo jump button but he tends to always be in the right spots when sealing off penetration. Encouraging, sure, but this is while playing center against collegiate competition.

Frank has said numerous times that he fancies himself a Dirk-like stretch four in the pros and if so, his ability to closeout on perimeter shooters and recover on drives will be tested immediately. Guys like Pau Gasol, Dirk and David West have succeeded in spite of below-average mobility but each of them have played with rim protectors throughout most of their careers. Frank will have Al Jefferson. Speaking of which…


What on earth does this pick mean for Al Jefferson’s future in teal? If Clifford can maintain a Top 10 NBA defense with a big rotation of Al, Frank and Spencer Hawes, he deserves a Hall of Fame induction. I’m not even joking. It will be a minor miracle. Sure, the Hornets may field the East’s best defensive wing combo in MKG & Batum but eventually opponents will figure out ways to neutralize them. Kemba and Al defending a one/five pick & roll with Frank as the help will have the Russell Westbrook’s and John Wall’s of the world salivating when they see the letters “CHA” on the upcoming schedule.

This is why all of the talk about playing Al and Hawes or Al and Frank together confuses me. Clifford is neither dumb enough nor hubristic enough to try something like that as more than a gimmick, right? Right? Stauskas? Stauskas?


The Hornets notched back to back elite defensive seasons with Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts playing next to Jefferson, both of whom are much more laterally and vertically gifted than Kaminsky. After the Draft, Clifford made it a point to say out loud what many of us were already thinking: he would be experimenting with Kaminsky/MKG/Batum/Lamb/Kemba small-ball lineups next season.

That makes a ton of sense theoretically, though I wouldn’t expect to see Charlotte play that way in heavy doses. MKG already gets banged up and misses a ton of games playing against guys his own size; having to go head to head with the Tristan Thompson’s and Greg Monroe’s of the world seems like a bad idea. That said, expect MKG to at least log part of his 30-34 minutes per game at the four. The team plays much better with him on the floor and having a stretch big create more driving and post up opportunities may be the thing that finally opens up the twenty-one year old’s offense.


Those of you who have made it this far have likely already connected the dots. The Kaminsky pick had as much to do with the 2012 Draft as it did with 2015. The team is putting it’s former Lottery picks (MKG and, to a lesser extent, Kemba Walker) in position to win and to improve much like Washington has done with Wall and Bradley Beal.

Some have called this strategy short-sighted and a poor management of assets. I see the opposite. With these moves, the Hornets are doing everything they can to maximize their most prized assets. It’s risky, sure. But isn’t it more risky to endlessly recycle mis-developed prospects and perpetually mortgage the future on another nineteen year old could-be? Charlotte has made their decision and are moving forward in a unified direction. To that I say bravo, Hornets. Bravo.

Nic Batum: The Upside of Winning


The old man places his grandson on his knee. “Child, let me tell you about the good old days. The days filled with happiness and excitement. Our team had just drafted a nineteen year old kid – a freshmen, just out of college. Boy, you shoulda seen that kid’s upside.”

The child looks up at his grandfather, puzzled. “What’s ‘upside’?”

The old man gets a twinkle in his eye. “Why, upside is – well, it’s hope. It’s the feeling that eventually this young man will be very good and lead us to the promised land.”

The boy is sharp. His mind sorts out the logic. “Well did he? Did he turn out good and lead us to the promised land?”

“No. No that never happened. But man, you shoulda seen his upside.”


It’s the day of the Draft. Fans are obsessed with potential. It’s fun. For a while. And then it’s not. We want to see results. Fans will not reminisce into their twilight years about Steph Curry’s upside. They will reminisce about his MVP season, his championship season. In fact, Curry never really had any upside as a junior coming out of Davidson. He was a physically limited combo guard who could really shoot. Crazy measurables? Hardly. Now he’s a champ.

The Hornets haven’t won 50 games since the late ‘90s. I remember those teams but I’m also closer to forty than thirty. So many younger Charlotte NBA hoops fans have never known what it’s like to cheer for a winning team. Michael Jordan has decided that it’s time to change that. Immediately.


Nic Batum can pass and shoot. Two things the Hornets struggled with mightily last season. A team starting Kemba Walker at point guard needs a wing compatriot who can facilitate in the half-court and defend. A team with Al Jefferson at center needs a wing compatriot who can stretch the floor, complete entry passes and keep his man from running free into the paint. Batum checks all of these boxes. All of them. I posited a Batum trade two weeks ago for these very reasons. If Charlotte is intent on building around Kemba and Al, then adding a player like Nic is non-negotiable. The system simply won’t work without one.


This trade is impossible to grade until you know two things: A.) Noah Vonleh’s realized upside and B.) Nic Batum’s next contract. Noah was a consensus Lottery pick last year for a reason. He’s a physically gifted (if non-athletic) big man who can score in a variety of ways. He can rebound and block shots. He might be a star. We don’t know. Coach Clifford rarely played him last season and immediately after the trade there was some chatter that Charlotte found his inability to grasp basics of the NBA game worrisome. He’s still only nineteen years old so it may take several more years before we know exactly what the Hornets gave up.

In the meantime Batum is on an expiring contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next season and can walk freely. Sure, Charlotte will have his “Bird Rights” but given the landscape of the new CBA, that really doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps Rich Cho and Nic’s people have some sort of understanding in place – sell Batum on Charlotte this season and reward him next July – again, we shall see. Hopefully Nic enjoys the Queen City more than the last French baller – Boris Diaw – who was so miserable in the South that he transformed into Paul Blart: Mall Cop.


All this said, it’s worth the risk. Batum and MKG on the wings is the East’s best defensive perimeter duo. Nic did wonders for Damian Lillard’s career as a secondary pick and roll ballhandler and he’ll do much the same for Kemba. Big Al has an underrated pick and pop shot out to around eighteen feet and Batum can run similar plays with Jefferson that he did with LaMarcus Aldridge. If the proposed Jeremy Lamb trade goes through, Clifford will almost certainly trot out MKG/Batum/Lamb/Kemba small ball lineups with either Spencer Hawes or Cody Zeller at center. The sort of ball movement and shot-making these lineups produce will leave Hornets fans confused, wondering if they’d mistakenly tuned into a Western Conference team instead.


Finally, they’re not finished. The Draft is tonight and the Hornets love making trades. Expect the unexpected. Draft Frank Kaminsky? Why not. Trade him to the New York Knicks? Why not. Trade him in a package for Carmelo Anthony? At this point, why not. Michael Jordan wants his team to win games and make this city proud again. Unlimited Upside? Defiantly no. The Upside of Winning is so much sweeter.


10 Thoughts on the Lance Trade


Within hours of posting my Draft preview yesterday, news broke that Lance Stephenson had been shipped to the Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes.
I really like the deal.

  1. Lance had to go.
    Stephenson is a ball dominant guard with a high turnover rate who can’t shoot. That’s basically every single Hornet pain-point bundled together into one human being. Clifford’s system is dependent upon minimizing giveaways and Charlotte has led the league in fewest turnovers committed for the past two seasons. The team already has a ball dominant lead guard (Kemba Walker) who has his own shooting issues. Benching Lance for another season both wastes a roster spot and creates a distraction. He had to go.
  2. Waiving him was worse.
    The team could’ve simply “Josh Smith’d” Lance and eaten the last year of his salary ($9m) for the season. But that’s one sixth of the team’s cap literally gone to waste. They also could’ve used the league’s Stretch Provision and paid out Stephenson’s salary over the next three seasons ($3m per) – which is a better option in some ways until you consider the next point.
  3. The $3m Backup Center.
    Spencer Hawes is owed approximately $5.8m per season over the next three. Once the team either unloads Matt Barnes’s contract or buys him out ($1m cap hit), Hawes’s salary is all Charlotte will be on the hook for. As Kevin Pelton noted in his excellent trade grade piece for ESPN Insider, once factoring in the stretch provision penalty – the Hornets are essentially getting a very good backup center for less than $3m per season. This is tremendous value.
  4. The fit.
    Nearly twenty five years of hoops geekdom has taught me a valuable lesson: Fit is just as important as talent. Every once in a while a Duncan or MJ or Lebron comes along who would dominate on any team in any era. That’s rare. How a franchise develops and uses the player is extraordinarily important for everyone else. Josh McRoberts was headed out of the league before Steve Clifford helped resurrect his career (and earn him another $25m). Is Draymond Green a max guy on the Timberwolves? Does Zach Randolph experience his wonderful second act if he doesn’t go to Memphis? The Hornets are desperate for three point shooting and playmaking. Hawes brings both. Seriously. Just watch some of these highlights:
  5. A Defensive Sieve.
    Steve Clifford built a Top 10 NBA Defense in back to back years with Al Jefferson at center. Think about that. The odds that this foundation will be destroyed with Hawes playing 16-18 minutes a night are quite low. The system remains the same: prevent penetration, get back on defense and commit as few turnovers as possible.
  6. Bismack Biyombo: Superstar.
    Everyone likes Biz. He works hard, is a super pleasant guy off the court and does a few very nice things on it. But some of the reactions after yesterday’s trade made it sound like we were talking about Bill Russell. Biyombo has become one of the top rim protector’s in the game. True. He also stinks at offense and his team struggles to score even when he’s on the bench. I’ve been saying for years that a good team can’t have both Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the same rotation. You have to pick one. And if this trade was made with the intention of letting Biz walk in free agency, then so be it. I want Biyombo to succeed first, succeed on the Hornets second. Put Biz in a situation like Dallas and he can start and never touch the ball outside of a dunk.
  7. How the trade affects the Draft.
    Hawes is essentially a veteran version of Myles Turner or Frank Kaminsky. Expect Charlotte to pass on each of them and focus on finding wings or trading the pick entirely. There’s been some noise about a trade back to nab RJ Hunter and another asset. The team could also package Marvin Williams ($7m expiring contract) with one of Noah Vonleh or Cody Zeller plus the nine pick to grab an All-Star type veteran wing. Cho has been big on collecting assets versus consolidating them so I’d put the chances of this sort of trade at around 25%.
  8. They’re keeping Hawes.
    From Rich Cho’s comments post-trade, it sounds like they’re thrilled to have him and getting Hawes was just as big a part of making this trade as was unloading Lance.
  9. How the trade affects Free Agency.
    All will be revealed between June 30th and early July. Will Biz be extended his meaty ($5.4m) qualifying offer as the team’s third center? Will Gerald Henderson exercise his player option? Will the team turn their back on Jeff Taylor or give him one more shot? Until then, we won’t know for certain how much cap space Charlotte will have to play with. It certainly won’t be enough for a max-type offer.
  10. Cheer up.
    Hawes is going to help on the court and in the lockerroom. The Lance distraction is a thing of the past. The Draft is quickly approaching and the team’s young trio of Cody, Vonleh and MKG are getting better every year. The books are relatively clean and the team owns all of its first round picks going forward. All is good.


Hornets 2015 Offseason Preview | Part Three


Part III: The Draft

Yes, my friends, it is that time of year again. The time in which desperate Queen City hoops fans project their hopes and dreams upon a young man who is legally unable to purchase a beer. The 2015 Draft marks the tenth Lottery in the past eleven Charlotte NBA seasons. None of which has yet to produce a single All-Star selection for the franchise. Yikes.
Not all is doom and gloom however. For the first time in ages, the Hornets actually have a few decent prospects and quality veterans on the roster to build around. The immediate expectations for this year’s Lottery pick will be measured and in line with the team’s win-now philosophy.

The Rules of the Game:

  1. I’m assuming the Hornets neither trade up nor trade down, so will ignore the Draft’s consensus Top 7 Players (Karl Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay, Justise Winslow and Mario Hezonja) and any of the other late round prospects the team has worked out or have been linked to (Jerian Grant, R.J. Hunter, Sam Dekker)
  2. I’m assuming the Hornets will keep the pick. For the first time in the Rich Cho Era, the team has made it clear that they will entertain trade offers for their draft selection. Al Jefferson is in his prime and Kemba Walker is entering his. Bringing in a young-ish vet to complement those two makes sense.


My favorite trade idea: Sending Lance Stephenson Marvin Williams (later, Lance!) and the 9 Pick to Portland for Nic Batum. After losing Josh McRoberts last summer the team desperately needs another halfcourt connector and Batum fits the bill. Nic’s averaged 4.9 assists per game in his past three seasons and adds another three point threat (36% career 3PT average) to the mix.

Having a connector like a Batum (or a McRoberts, Boris Diaw or Gordon Hayward) takes the playmaking onus off of Walker’s shoulders and allows Kemba to function as a scorer. Batum is both young enough (26) and experienced enough (seven NBA seasons) to contribute now and grow with the team into the future.

Slotting Nic into the SF slot and moving MKG to the other wing slot (ala Tony Allen in Memphis) gives the Hornets a tremendously long and athletic wing combo that could make up for Kemba and Al’s defensive short-comings. Add in the Cody Zeller/Noah Vonleh stretch four platoon at PF and this could be a VERY good team in the East next season.


If the Hornets do indeed stand pat at nine, they’ll have plenty of options to consider.

Willie Cauley-Stein, C | Kentucky

WHAT TO LIKE: NBA-ready defensive anchor armed with the shot-blocking, rebounding and post defense skills to contribute right away. Super mobile big man who runs the court like a wing. Potentially excellent in transition. Unlike some offensively limited centers *COUGH*BIZ*COUGH*, WCS projects as a nice rim diver and scorer off the pick and roll.

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: Outside of dunks and putbacks, there are no real expectations for Stein’s offensive game. To paraphrase the great philosopher John Fox, “he is what he is”.

UPSIDE COMP: Tyson Chandler

DOWNSIDE COMP: Sam Dalembert

HOW HE FITS: Of all of the players profiled in this post, Cauley-Stein is the least likely to be available when Charlotte picks at nine. He’s a can’t-miss defensive anchor who may still have a little offensive upside left. The Hornets can take him, wave goodbye to Biyombo in free-agency and have a rotation-ready backup center on a cheap four year contract who could potentially start if Big Al leaves in free agency next summer.

Stanley Johnson, SF | Arizona

WHAT TO LIKE: At 6’5”, 245 pounds, Stanley Johnson is a bonafide “hoss-cat”(©Jim Ross Productions). Outside of Paul Pierce, Ron Artest and Lebron James, I can’t remember a wing player with a lower body like SJ’s. You can absolutely see Johnson punishing wings with backdowns and drives to the hoop. His jumpshot looks good and is improving. He is tenacious on defense and regularly blows up passing lanes with his quickness.

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: That large base makes Johnson a very gravity-challenged player. You never see him going strong over the top. Despite being 6’5” plus, he relies on floaters and fadeaways down low. He’s going to get his shot blocked a lot. Stanley’s entire career is going to be dependent on his jumper – which, at the moment – is firmly “decent”. If he can be a knockdown shooter, Johnson could be a version of Pierce. If he doesn’t, he may be out of the league in five years.

UPSIDE COMP: Ron Artest, (mini) Paul Pierce

DOWNSIDE COMP: Ryan Gomes, post-back surgery Larry Johnson

HOW HE FITS: SJ, unfortunately, doesn’t project into a such a dominating player that he’s worth ignoring all of the team’s needs over. His defense is good enough to put him in Steve Clifford’s rotation immediately but a lack of distance shooting could shrink the court even more for the league’s worst three point shooting team. The offseason goal for the Hornets should be to create more space, not less. SJ could actually struggle more with the Hornets roster than with others.

Devin Booker, SG | Kentucky

WHAT TO LIKE: Smart and unselfish, Booker is one of, if not THE best shooter in this Draft. At 18 years old, he’s also the youngest player in the 2015 class. Booker shot 41% from three and 52% overall in his single season at Kentucky, which fits an obvious on-court need for Charlotte. The thought of Booker working off screens to bust double teams and zones likely brings tears of joy to Steve Clifford’s eyes and it’s no wonder Clifford took special interest in Booker during Devin’s workout with the team last week.

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: If the Hornets are going to build around Kemba Walker as their point guard, they’ll need a strong defensive SG to pair with him. Booker’s ability to stay in front of collegiate players is already in question. Holding his own versus NBA stars will be Booker’s ultimate test. Unfortunately, it won’t be his only one. Devin’s ability to attack and finish off the dribble are still very much works in progress and his inability as a rebounder already sticks out on the tape like a sore thumb.

UPSIDE COMP: Klay Thompson, JJ Redick

DOWNSIDE COMP: Austin Daye, Reggie Bullock

HOW HE FITS: Booker won’t start right away but within one or two seasons, he could be a key piece in the MKG/Vonleh/Cody/Kemba future Hornets core – IF he can improve enough defensively to stay on the floor.

Kelly Oubre, SF | Kansas

WHAT TO LIKE: Squint and he’s the best wing prospect in the Draft. Oubre is the perfect combination of length (7’2” wingspan), frame, athleticism and upside. His shooting form is unorthodox but still good enough to nail 37% of his collegiate threes. Defensively, Oubre has the physical tools to be nightmare matchup for opposing wings.

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: Every aspect of Oubre’s game screams “potential” for a reason – he’s not even close to being ready and there are no guarantees he will be. Any team drafting Oubre will need to develop him over a couple of seasons – refining his jumpshot and reiterating fundamentals of the game.

UPSIDE COMP: Paul George


HOW HE FITS: If any NBA team has experience developing uber-raw projects, it’s Charlotte. Rich Cho loves guys with Oubre’s upside and, if developed patiently and properly, Kelly could be a star wing. The question is whether the organization is at a point where they want to undertake yet another one of these projects.

Cameron Payne, PG | Murray State

WHAT TO LIKE: Pick and roll maestro and a clutch scorer who really pushes the pace. Gets teammates involved in a big way. Good size (6’2”, 6’7” wingspan) and frame for the position.

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: Projects as a poor defender and an iffy finisher around the rim – a BIG no-no for modern NBA point guards.

UPSIDE COMP: Jamaal Crawford, Jeff Teague(lite)

DOWNSIDE COMP: Darren Collison

HOW HE FITS: I like Payne a lot. The question is really how big of an upgrade is Payne over Kemba Walker? Should the team be figuring out a way to get the most out of their $48m man and current starter OR already be looking to go in another direction?

The Bobcats had this terrible habit of drafting a Lottery point guard just at the moment their current one seemed to figuring things out. Raymond Felton had D.J. Augustin in his rearview mirror. Augustin had Kemba. Since the franchise has struggled with consistency over the past decade, I’m betting (hoping) the Hornets will pass on Payne and instead use the pick as an asset to help Walker succeed.

Myles Turner, C | Texas

WHAT TO LIKE: Turner brings big-time rim protection (2.6 blocks per game as a freshmen), is a solid rebounder with good fundamentals, has NBA 3PT range and is a very good free throw shooter for his position (84%).

WHAT NOT TO LIKE: Myles’s post game is very basic. He does have a nice little Kevin Garnett style flash into the post and turnaround but nothing close to resembling a Big Al-type game. Gets tunnel vision and rarely passes. Has questionable lower body strength that will hamper Turner’s ability to dominate the boards in the pros like he did at Texas. Suffers from something called a “glut deficiency” that is the cause for his unorthodox gait. According to DraftExpress, doctors have said this deficiency can be corrected over time. Overall, Turner is offensively raw outside of a jumper. As we’ve seen with wings like Klay Thompson, a standout jumper – especially at the five position – can buy a player both time and leeway.

UPSIDE COMP: Channing Frye, Pero Antic, Serge Ibaka

DOWNSIDE COMP: any number of failed Euro bigs, skinny bigs and project bigs

HOW HE FITS: This is where it gets fun. Let’s say the Hornets are one hundred percent committed to building around MKG and Kemba Walker longterm. In many ways, Turner posesses the exact skillset you’d want to balance out both of their weaknesses. Myles clears the paint on the offensive end for drives and post-ups and offers the team a much needed spot up shooting presence on the perimeter. On the defensive side, Turner projects as a top tier rim protector who could make bigger point guards think twice once passing Kemba. There are some question marks, sure, but I really like the fit – IF he works out. Myles is a MAJOR gamble but that’s never stopped Rich Cho before.


Hornets 2015 Offseason Preview | Part Two


The Lottery is over and we now know the Hornets will own (or at least temporarily own) the ninth overall selection in a very solid 2015 Draft. But before I jump into what the Hornets should do with that pick, we need to do a little free agent housekeeping.

Part II: The Free Agents – Will They Stay or Will They Go?

The Hornets have just about every type of free agent on the roster and each of these players will influence the team’s strategy heading into June’s Draft and beyond.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

These are the straight-forward, vanilla variety free agents. Guys who played for Charlotte last season and whose contracts runs out in July.

  • Mo Williams
  • Jason Maxiell

The big questions start with Mo Williams – professional NBA journeyman – who joined the Hornets midseason (his seventh team in fourteen eleven seasons) and kept them competitive once Kemba Walker went down with a knee injury. Even after Mo cooled off late in the season, Williams’ shooting and pick and roll/pop abilities were real assets on a team lacking both.

In many ways, Mo’s game represents Kemba Walker’s best case scenario long-term: an above average, volume scoring point with enough distribution skills to run a team alongside a point-forward. It’s no coincidence that Mo’s best season came playing next to Lebron on the ‘09 Cavs.

Williams has close ties to fellow Mississipian Al Jefferson and has gone on record saying that he’d love to be back – but will the Hornets bring him back? Money shouldn’t be an issue – Williams will be 33 next season and is far from a franchise cornerstone. Anything around $3m per is reasonable. There are a couple of issues however:

  1. Charlotte already has $2.8m committed to fellow backup PG Brian Roberts next season and
  2. may decide to move on from yet another head-down iso player.

In fairness to Mo, he’s the least ball “poundy” of the Lance/Gerald/Kemba/Big Al crew – but if the front office decides to go in another direction with their lead guards either in free agency, trades or the draft (Cameron Payne?) – Mo may be the odd man out. That said, my gut tells me Mo wears teal again next season; Roberts’ contract is easily movable and the Hornets will likely end up drafting a wing.

As much as Coach Steve Clifford enjoyed Maxiell’s veteran presence last season as the rotation’s fourth big, there would be a guaranteed fan mutiny if Jason is brought back – simply because his mere presence would tempt Clifford to play him over Noah Vonleh. The front office, who’ve invested heavily in Noah, likely feels the same.

Potential Free Agents:

The Hornets have two veteran starters with player options for next season: opt-in and these guys play out their final contract year as Hornets, opt-out and they either re-sign new deals with the team or move on.

  • Al Jefferson
  • Gerald Henderson

How quickly things change. A year ago, Big Al Jefferson was a third team All-NBA center and a franchise building block who led Charlotte to its first winning season and Playoff birth in ages. But Al never fully recovered from the effects of the plantar fascia injury he suffered in last year’s sweep against the Heat. He arrived at camp out of shape and it all went downhill from there.

It wasn’t exclusively Big Al’s fault. Josh McRoberts’ departure created all kinds of spacing and post entry problems. Jefferson struggled to stay upright and effective all season and you could literally see it on his face. The guy was legitimately scowling and grimacing for 65 games – sometimes out of pain, sometimes at his own teammates. With little shooting or ball movement in the halfcourt, opposing defenses keyed in on Al knowing that he was Charlotte’s only legitimate weapon. It worked.

Jefferson has gone on record saying that he’ll opt-in and play the free agency game again when the cap skyrockets in 2016. That’s good news as it’ll be even more motivation for the 30 year old to drop some weight before November. If he does, we could see the return of the franchise cornerstone. If not, happy trails.

Hendo had the quintessential Gerald Henderson season: he played hard on D, he hit lots of mid-range jumpers, he made great cuts and threw down some ridiculous dunks. He also showcased a much more frequent corner three (the release is slowish and he doesn’t take enough of them but it’s still great to see). He’s always been a professional. The team had him riding the pine behind Lance Stephenson for nearly two months and Hendo said nary a word. He’s a lunch pail two guard who is sorely under-appreciated by the local fanbase – mainly because his weaknesses (distance shooting, ball-handling, head-down iso drives/post-ups) have also been the team’s.

Gerald turns 28 next season and his game is HIGHLY dependent on his athleticism. While other types of players his age could choose to wait for a bigger pay day in 2016, Hendo may survey the scene, see a weak free agent class and say, “screw it.” Wes Matthews’ unfortunate injury literally cost him tens of millions of dollars this summer. Gerald has always been both smart and practical. I could see him opting out and signing a nice sized deal with the Clippers, Knicks or Lakers.

Doing so would free up around $6 million for the Hornets to play with. That by itself won’t buy much – but if the Hornets combine the number with, say, a strategic cut (COUGH*LANCE*COUGH) – they may have just enough cash to offer a proper “3&D” shooting guard real money on the open market.

Restricted Free Agents:

These are guys coming off the last year of their rookie deals. They are free to negotiate with any team and Charlotte has the right to match any offer.

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Jeff Taylor

Let’s start with Taylor – and oh man, where do we start? JT is like a TV pro hoops character come to life. Meaning, he LOOKS like the prototypical NBA player but he’s not really all that good in real life. There’s lots of drama though. Tragedy in the form of his ill-timed achilles tear in 2014 and scandal in the form of his weird Detroit-based domestic violence incident that (thankfully) turned out to be more stupid than violent.

Aside from being a very solid on-ball defender, there’s really nothing to recommend here. Taylor was billed as a 3&D guy coming out of Vanderbilt but his shooting numbers (32% from 3PT, 41% from 2PT) are Kemba-like. JT turns 26 next month and we still have no idea how his game will transition post-achilles long term. His $1.2m qualifying offer is basically league minimum and I could see Charlotte picking it up to give him one last shot at putting everything together. I could also see the team moving on from a fringe rotation player who made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The real fun starts with Biz. Want to start an internet flame war? Get stat-geeks and casual fans talking about Biyombo’s merits as an NBA player. I understand both sides. The naked eye suggests that Biz should be nowhere near a professional basketball game. Four years into his career and he still has no idea what to do with the ball on offense unless it’s a dive to the rim for a dunk or an uncontested putback.

Biyombo will force moves in the post that will make you laugh/cry/laugh with regularity. These forced moves are universally proceeded by an offensive rebound because there’s no way in hell a teammate is going to feed Biz with a post look; thus beginning a viscious cycle (“this is my only chance to show people my stuff!!! I don’t care if Dwight Howard is standing right over me!!!”).

The real hoops smarties out there like Grantland’s Zach Lowe, At The Hive’s Frank Berndt/Bryan Mears and the Baseline’s own Bradford Coombs can paint Biz’s positives way better than I can. All I’ll say is that defensively, Biz is a legitimate game changer. He’s strong. He goes hard and he covers a ridiculous amount of territory for a center. Most importantly, he makes the paint a less friendly place for opponents. I don’t know if Biz will ever make the rotation of a legitimately good team but it could be possible in the right role.

Speaking of which, unless the Hornets draft another center (Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Willy Trilly Cauliflower Wonka), I’m fairly confident that they aim to bring Biz back on a second deal. That could change if another team jumps in with a real offer. There will be teams with rim protection problems that lose out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency. And if Roy Hibbert stays in Indy, a metrics-savvy, ballsy exec may say “screw it” and hand Biz $25-30 million. To the casual fan, this sounds crazy – I know. But getting a guy who can make up for the Damian Lillards’ and the Monta Ellis’s of the world is a real thing nowadays. Biz may end up getting paid.

State of the Roster

Making the proceeding free agent moves (and unloading Brian Roberts’ contract) would leave the Hornets with 11 filled roster spots minus any draft picks.

  • Point Guards: Kemba Walker, Mo Williams
  • Shooting Guards: Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels
  • Small Forwards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams
  • Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh
  • Centers: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo

There’s an obvious hole at the wings – which is why it’s the position the team is most likely to fill via June’s Draft and/or via run at shooter in free agency. More on those options coming up in Part III…