The Case for Point Guard Malik Monk

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Real talk: Malik Monk was horrendous through his first seven pro games. Outside of his 17 point effort versus the Nuggets (with former coach John Calipari in the building) there was little to be excited about.

Monk shot 20 for 68 from the field (29%) through this stretch – not good considering that shooting was supposedly his one surefire NBA skill heading into the Draft. His defense was awful (so bad that I caught Jeremy freaking Lamb shaking his head when Malik lost his man for the gazzilionth time). Worst of all, Monk was a turnover machine, averaging nearly 2 TOs per game in just over 20 minutes per.

Not all of this was the rookie’s fault. Injuries to both Hornet backup PGs (Michael Carter-Williams & Julyan Stone) forced Monk into a lead ball handler role he wasn’t ready for in the NCAA much less the pros.

Yet some of these problems are (and will continue to be) endemic to the type player Monk is. His handle at the moment is loose and when a defender locks in, Monk resorts to a nervous head down dribble in the full court. Given his size, strength and ability, Monk is essentially fated to guard ones and micro-twos so playing him next to Kemba for long stretches will be difficult against good teams. If and when Malik goes through his physical “mansformation”, this could change but that won’t be for several seasons.

No one’s been more critical of Rich Cho’s decision to draft Monk over a ready-made defensive beast who can shoot (Donovan Mitchell) than me – and through Malik’s first seven contests I was terrified that Charlotte’s front office had done what they do best again: Nail trades (Dwight Howard) and blow the Draft (Monk).

Malik’s effort Wednesday night against Milwaukee lowered my stress levels by half. Aside from the ridiculous 4th quarter explosion (18 points in a blink of an eye – we knew he was capable of that pre-Draft), what warmed my teal and purple soul was Monk’s carefulness as a ball handler and how he was able to play within his niche.

So much of Malik’s struggles early on were due to his insistence on trying to do everything on offense. Against the Bucks he focused on catch & shoot opportunities and jump shots off screens – which perfectly setup two impressive dribble drives midway thought the 4th. He was beautifully efficient. Much credit to both Malik and the coaching staff for figuring this out so early in the season.

The Off Court Benefits of Monk at Point Guard

Cho and Steve Clifford have more than just on-court reasons for accelerating Monk’s ability to play point. For the reasons stated above, if Malik is going to reach his apex as an NBA player – and for the team to succeed while he does so – Monk is going to have to play a lot of his minutes at the one.

When (if?) this apex is achieved, the trickle-down benefits carry enormous ramifications. For one, Charlotte can finally end its yearly bargain-bin search for a primary backup to Kemba Walker and instead invest those meager funds in a quality third string player should either Monk or Walker miss time.

Malik’s rookie deal keeps him cheap until the 2020-2021 season, timing perfectly with Nic Batum’s near max deal. The only reason to pay a player like Nic that kind of money is to team him with a lead guard who’d rather play like a primary scorer. That’s obviously true now with Kemba in his prime and could continue as Malik approaches his.

Once Batum returns this season, I expect him to play quite a lot with the 2nd unit (as he did last year), especially now that Lamb has proven to be such a great fit with the starters. An early rest for Nic would see him playing most of the 2nd quarter with Monk at nominal point, creating more efficient scoring opportunities for the rook.

Perhaps most importantly, an effective Monk at PG can cut Kemba’s minutes down to the low thirties. Walker has had two knee surgeries in as many summers and the big minutes slowed him down late last season. With unrestricted free agency (and a massive contract) looming just 18 months from now, the less wear and tear on the 27 year old star, the better.

Future Concerns

Speaking of that next contract (and yes, I know it’s nearly two seasons away), it’s important to remember that Walker will be 29 when he signs it and potentially coming off of three straight All-Star appearances.

What happens if the Knicks decide to break the bank in order to bring the Bronx native home at the full max? Do the Hornets really want to be on the hook for that kind of contract? Is a 33 year old Walker at around $30 million per season a wise move?

What if Kemba has yet another knee procedure? How does his game age? No one wants to think about this now that he’s balling out (including me) but rest assured, these questions are being contemplated by the Hornets front office.

And if they look into deep recesses of Rich Cho’s database, they may see a scenario in which Monk is not only Kemba’s short term backup at PG but his longterm replacement should things go awry.

In that case, it’s very important for Monk to not only improve as a pro but to improve at a position few expected him to ever play.

–ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Baseline 2016-2017 Season Preview

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As easy as it is for me to get hyped about the upcoming season – and let me tell you, I’m extremely hyped – there are legit reasons to be skeptical about the 2016-2017 Charlotte Hornets. You may have already heard some of these reasons voiced by league prognosticators and network pundits. And listen, I get their concerns, really I do.

Sure, last year’s team finished the season tied for third in the Conference – propelled by a Top 10 Defense (now a Steve Clifford hallmark) and, surprisingly, a Top 10 offense.
Sure, the team returns the bulk if its core roster and respected coaching staff.
Sure, half of the team’s top eight rotation players are 26 or younger.

But…things can go wrong…right?

Peaks and Plateaus

FACT: Half of last year’s rotation experienced either a career year or a bounceback season. Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Kemba Walker: all but Kemba were in contract years and each received massive raises in the offseason.

In all, Steve Clifford’s career rejunvenation system was responsible for roughly $300m in new contracts (including Al Jefferson’s deal with the Pacers) signed in the month of July. The Hornets have to hope that their two returning free agents (Williams and Batum) were no flukes – that the fires that fueled both players’ exceptional seasons will remain.

Walker’s motivation has never been questioned but last season’s peak was defined by an incredible increase in shooting percentage and overall efficiency – two areas in which Kemba has struggled with since arriving in Charlotte five seasons ago.

So, the question remains: was last year’s Kemba the “new” Kemba? KW annhilated his traditional and advanced shooting numbers (which had settled in at a vomit-inducing 39%/33% FG/3PFG% and 48% TS%) by hitting 42%/37% FG/3PFG% and 55% TS%. These are by no means say, Chris Paul numbers, but at least elevated Kemba’s previously horrific averages into the respectable Mike Conley tier.

Players have hit new sustainable plateus before. Kyle Lowry is another barely six foot lead guard who dabbled in mediocrity until he found a perfect fit in Toronto.

But Lowry is burly with a game that is as much power as speed. Kemba’s slight frame and lightning quickness require that he work at full athletic capacity – making his offseason knee surgery (the second surgery on the same knee) more than a little worrisome.

How long can a player of Kemba’s size and playing style function at a high level? Can Kemba build off of last season and become an All-Star? Or will he regress to the low efficiency, head-down lead guard of Bobcats past?

Replacing Two-Ways with One-Ways

Rich Cho did a tremendous job retaining and restocking talent given his unique free agency challenge back in July. The roster is arguably just as strong overall and potentially stronger if Clifford’s rejuvenation magic can continue. There is however, one potential area of concern.

With Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, the Hornets had perimeter players who could be counted on at both ends of the court. Lin’s ability to defend twos (Dwyane Wade notwithstanding) and Lee’s ability to switch onto threes was a huge reason for the Hornets late season surge. Last season’s Hornets could field “mismatch” proof lineups full of defensively sound, mobile defenders who could switch on to nearly anyone.

FACT: the Hornets replaced Lee and Lin with Ramon Sessions and Marco Belinelli. Ouch. Both players have ranked in the bottom tier of guards in defensive rating at their position over their careers.

Keep in mind that Clifford’s rotation featured just two defensive liabilities last season: Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lamb. Big Al’s role was minimized and he was ultimately allowed to walk in free agency. Lamb has one foot in Clifford’s doghouse and the other on the trading block. Maybe the pundits are right – this could be bad, right?

Now the good news: neither Marco nor Ramon suffer from the same defensive unawareness as Lamb (although Jeremy’s shown signs of improvement during the preseason). And their physical limitations won’t hurt Charlotte quite as much as Jefferson because they’re not in charge of protecting the paint. Also, they’ll likely have that other guy playing next to them…

*IF HE CAN STAY HEALTHY

Only four teams have ranked in the Top 10 in defensive efficiency over the past three seasons: The Spurs, the Warriors, the Pacers and Steve Clifford’s Bobnets. Amazingly enough, Charlotte has achieved this distinction without a single All-NBA defender on the roster.

That could change this year. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can crack 70 games this season (it would be his first since his rookie campaign), expect him to get a first or second team All-D nod.

Anchoring a Top 10 defense while consistently matched up with the opponents’ best perimeter scorer will place MKG in the All-D conversation; averaging double digit rebounds could seal it.

With no Big Al to soak up defensive boards and with rebound-phobes like Roy Hibbert and Frank Kaminsky manning the middle, expect Clifford to give MKG a free pass to crash the glass and push the ball all season – boosting his stats while covering up a potential weakness.

Clifford’s teams have led the league in defensive rebound percentage since he arrived – his first without Jefferson will be a challenge if MKG, now the team’s strongest rebounder, can’t stay on the floor.

In fact, if Kidd-Gilchrist goes down with another major injury, it could be the difference between this particular Hornets roster challenging for homecourt or barely sneaking into the postseason.

Ceiling and Floor

Speaking of which, what exactly is the team’s ceiling this season? Suppose the roster stays relatively healthy and no other Eastern Conference team loses a major superstar. How far can the Hornets rise? Let’s look at the East in Tiers:

TIER ONE | Elite

Cleveland
They’ll win just enough games to nab the one seed and enter the Playoffs rested and healthy.

TIER TWO | Homecourt Teams

Toronto
Great coach, roster continuity, rotation guys mostly in peak prime years. This team has averaged 50 wins over the last three seasons. I’m done doubting them.

Boston
Great coach, tons of flexibility to add talent during the season, deep, somewhat unfinished roster. Would be dumb to bet against them.

TIER TWO POINT FIVE | Potential Homecourt Teams

Atlanta
Great coach, savvy late-career vets (Korver/Millsap), potential Dwight rebound year, could also nosedive thanks to Teague/Schroeder, Horford/Howard downgrade.

Charlotte
Great coach, deep roster, young vets who could break out, free agent losses could weaken bench.

THIRD TIER | Playoff Teams

(6) Washington, (7) Detroit, (8T) Chicago, (8T) Indiana

Again, barring catastrophic injury, the odds of Charlotte (or any other East team) topping Cleveland are nil. It’s safe to assume both Toronto and Boston will be locks for homecourt. Which means one of Charlotte or Atlanta is most likely to nab both the Southeast Division crown and the final homecourt spot.

IMO none of the Third Tier teams listed has the combination of roster or coaching continuity, depth or talent to challenge for homecourt this season. Although I’m sure I’ll receive hate-tweets from deluded Pacers fans questioning my sanity.

So let’s assume Charlotte’s Ceiling is an Eastern Conference Top Four seed and a SE Division banner. 48-52 wins sounds about right.

Alternatively, let’s say Kemba misses 20 games, MKG misses another 20, Hibbert and Belinelli flame out as has beens while Batum and Marvin regress from last year’s highs. What does that season look like?

I’m betting high 30’s, low 40’s as the team’s floor – things would really have to break bad for that to happen but it’s certainly a possibility.

Clifford in 2014-2015: What Went Wrong?

In fact, things have only broken bad once in Cliff’s tenure as coach. The rebrand year or, infamously – and perhaps more accurately, The Lance Year is so far the only stain on Clifford’s resume.

There were injuries: Kemba, MKG and Big Al missed big chunks of time. But those same players missed even more games last season and Charlotte enjoyed their most successful campaign since relocation/expansion.

Ultimately, it was roster construction that sealed the team’s fate. Lance Stephenson was a horrible fit next to Kemba and Big Al. The team needed a “connector” after losing Josh McRoberts. Lance and PJ Hairston brought weird vibes to a previously joyous lockerroom.

Why rehash this now? If this year’s Hornets team underachieves it will not be because of what sabotaged them two seasons ago. The roster pieces, while not perfect, all fit.

TraderCho’s Midseason Bargains

So what could make this season’s roster more “perfect”? At every trade deadline since 2013, Rich Cho has made a low-cost, under the radar move that has turbo-charged the team’s finish:

  • 2013: Sends Hakim Warrick to ORL for Josh McRoberts. McBob plays well, re-signs and starts the next season, propelling team to a Playoff birth.
  • 2014: Sends Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien to MIL for Gary Neal. Neal’s scoring punch pushes CLT to the postseason.
  • 2015: Sends Neal to MIN for Mo Williams (and Troy Daniels). Mo steps in for an injured Kemba Walker, nearly salvages a lost season – winning Eastern Conference player of the week in the process.
  • 2016: Sends PJ Hairston and two 2nd Round picks to MEM for Courtney Lee. Lee’s acquisition propelled Hornets to the league’s third best record after the All-Star break.

So what bargain basement move will Cho make this season to boost the team’s Playoff push? Only Cho Knows!

UNDENIABLE STRENGTHS

The Charlotte Hornets have no superstar. There, I said it. Now we can move on.

What they do have is an All-Star caliber PG (Kemba), an All-Defense caliber forward (MKG), three Top 100 NBA players playing next to them (Marvin/Batum/Cody) and…wait for it…a two time NBA All-Star center anchoring a deep platoon.

Yes! Roy Hibbert is a two time All-Star. And he’s just thirty years old. So what if the game has passed him by. At least the Hornets finally have a guy who can stand a chance at guarding Hassan Whiteside or DeMarcus Cousins.

And really, Hibbert’s availability in special matchups highlights the first of Charlotte’s main strengths:

DEPTH: The team’s 10th and 11th men – Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes – are good enough to be rotation players on an average NBA team. Charlotte can throw four different looks at you at the five – and each of those looks are seven footers.

SHOOTING: Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Kemba Walker and Marco Belinelli can all get hot from behind the arc. MKG is improving from distance. As a team, the Hornets improved their 3P% from worst in the league to 8th last season and I expect that to continue even with the departure of Lee.

DEFENSE: Again, Clifford’s teams have ranked in the Top 10 since his arrival – and that was with Big Al patrolling, er should I say, perusing the paint. Add in Hibbert and MKG and Cliff may be able to push this team into the Top 3.

CONTINUITY: A Charlotte NBA team is entering it’s fourth consecutive season with the same head coach!!! WHAT?! I know, I know. It’s bizarre given the Bobcats coaching merry go round we had grown accustomed to. Cliff installed his base defense in year one and built around it with new and returning personnel since. Last year he revitalized the offense. Compared to Vincent, Dunlap and Kvetchy-B (Larry Brown), Cliff may as well be our Pop.

DIVISIONAL WEAKNESS: The Miami Heat stink now! Atlanta may have downgraded two starting positions. The Wizards backcourt not-so-secretly hate each other. The Magic’s GM is throwing poop at the wall. The Hornets finally have a legit shot at winning their division (remember, they are guaranteed to play each of these teams four times). Three SE Div teams tied with 48 wins last season and CLT is the only team in the Division to return both its Top 3 players and coaching staff.

THINGS I’M EXCITED TO SEE

A random list; compiled in no particular order:

  • Frank at the Five
    Kemba/Nic/MKG/Marvin/Frank lineups have got me extremely intrigued as a late game offense-first unit. As Spencer Percy and Nate Duncan discussed on their Hornets preview pod, the current core’s ceiling is in many ways tied directly to Frank’s development at the center position. If he can become a legit two way stretch five on a rookie deal, the Hornets will be free to invest their resources into finding another All-Star either in free agency or via trade.
  • Center Rotation
    Given Cody’s injury situation, Hibbert will start the opener – what happens after that is anybody’s guess. Cody is a solid B- at basically every facet of the game so can’t kill you when he plays. Frank can work in some matchups. Roy is too slow to guard stretch fives. And what about Hawes? He still has too much value as an NBA player to rot at the end of the bench.
  • Backcourt Rotation
    Speaking of rotation, how will Cliff run his backcourt now that Lin and Lee are gone. Batum will slide over and take Courtney’s spot. Marco will eat up some of Lin’s minutes next to Kemba. Ramon will run the second unit but will he play next to Kemba? Will Lamb get PT? Will Cliff stagger MKG and Batum’s minutes so that they can each play more SF?
  • Jeremy Lamb
    Speaking of which, it’s a make or break year for Jeremy in CLT. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman had less conflict than Cliff and Lamb last season. Given the potential high value nature of his contract, only good things could happen if Jeremy finally figures it out. So far in the preseason he’s shown improvement. The team would love to have another dependable offensive creator off the pine – the key word with Lamb, of course, is “dependable”.
  • MKG
    Is he Andre Iguodala 2.0? What is MKG’s true potential? Is this the season we finally find out?

That’s all I got for now. Enjoy the season, Hornets fans…

-ASChin

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

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

The Swarm Awakens

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The 2014-2015 Charlotte Hornets were the most disappointing reboot since The Phantom Menace. What was supposed to be a nostalgia-fueled romp to the Playoffs turned out to be an injury riddled, failed chemistry experiment that left casual fans and league observers shaking their heads, parroting old standbys like “same old Bobcats” or “same old MJ”.

What the skeptics missed in all of last season’s turmoil was that the Hornets organization had been trying like mad to be good. They went the extra mile to ditch the old brand and bring back the buzz. They hired competent basketball minds in Rich Cho and Steve Clifford over the years and phased out old cronies. They brought in real basketball talent instead of could be’s and could’ve beens.

Things simply broke bad. Lance Stephenson was a worthwhile gamble that went bust. Every starter either missed major time due to injury or went through a horrible slump. The glue that held the team together the previous season took his talents to South Beach. Stuff happened. Instead of scrapping the whole experiment, the franchise looked at what worked in ’13-’14 (passing + shooting + good vibes) and doubled down on it this summer.

Unlike George Lucas and his failed prequels, Michael Jordan isn’t forcing himself into the director’s chair and he isn’t selling the franchise in order to skip town. Jordan has given a primary directive (“be competitive, make the Playoffs”) and will occasionally make his opinions known in the Draft room when he feels it’s appropriate. To continue the analogy, MJ is now more Spielberg than Lucas – a collaborator working with a highly competent team. And last season, the shark didn’t work.

This season, the front office and coaching staff finally seem to be on the same page. Previously, Cho was attempting to hedge the “be competitive now” directive with one foot firmly in the future. For example: Sign Al Jefferson in his prime and then draft a 19 year old unpasteurized rookie to play next to him. In theory, that’s a neat idea but the league is much too competitive for that sort of hard-hedging to work. So Cho sent that rookie (Noah Vonleh) to Portland for 26 year old triple double threat Nic Batum. Both feet are firmly in the now (and near future).

The naysayers look at that trade and the Hornets selection of 22 year old senior Frank Kaminsky in June’s Draft as key evidence in the case for MJ as the Biggest Dummy in the league. The Hornets need to be collecting assets! They are striving for mediocrity! They need more Draft picks! They need to get better at Drafting! Jordan will never figure this out! He should sell the team!

It’s incredibly easy in life to point out what’s wrong. Twitter, YouTube and Xbox Live offer a cheap barrage of criticism daily. The Hornets struggles last season (and their macro-struggles as a franchise) require much more nuance and understanding. Since the time Cho was hired four years ago, the Hornets have made up a ton of ground from their past mistakes and taken several solid steps forward. Sure, they whiffed on Bismack Biyombo but scored on Kemba, MKG, Big Al and a slew of trades. They came within a few ping-pong balls of landing once in a generation talent Anthony Davis, barely missed and moved on to Plan B – build a winning culture. If you think this is naive, check out what perpetual tanking is doing to the Sixers organization.

For the first time in forever, the Hornets have a dozen competent professional basketball players and a well respected head coach. More than half of the roster can become free agents next season. Clifford’s on the last year of his deal. Motivation meet Incentive. They’ll bust their tails to go above .500 and make the Playoffs, come hell or high water. If a trade must be made, it will be made.

Charlotte will go 44-38 this season and make the Playoffs. The Force is Strong in this team. The Swarm will Awaken. Hugo, we’re home.

Charlotte Hornets ’15-’16 Bold Predictions:

1. MKG will return for a postseason run.

Defense, game planning and matchups reign in the Playoffs. MKG will be back and adhesively applying himself to John Wall, Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan.

2. Frank Kaminsky will eventually start.

By mid-season if not before, Frank will be in the starting five. Offensively he makes so much more sense than Cody as a ball mover and floor spacer. Kaminsky shouldn’t play more than half the game as a rook but every one of those minutes need to either be next to Al or as a small ball five.

3. Nic Batum will not average 18 points a game.

That’s simply not his game. Expect a 14ppg/6rpg/5apg line from the French Army Knife. He’s not a perfect player by any means but Batum has the ability to fill in the gaps of an incomplete roster. Nic, Frank, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes will do what Josh McRoberts did two seasons ago and much, much more.

4. Jeremy Lin gets Sixth Man of the Year consideration.

I initially thought he was going to start next to Kemba once MKG went down but J-Lin’s ability to run the second unit and finish games is much more valuable. His shot mechanics have improved and while he won’t shoot 50%+ from the 3PT arc as he did in the preseason, his ability to run the pick and roll, penetrate, distribute and draw fouls are absolutely sustainable. Expect Lin to average 28-30 minutes a night.

5. Steve Clifford gets Coach of the Year consideration.

If Clifford gets the defense in the top third of the league minus MKG (they’ve finished in the Top 10 during each of his first two seasons with CHA), he’ll not only get COTY consideration but likely a fat new contract from MJ as well. Let’s hope so. The idea of a Charlotte NBA coach lasting more than three seasons would’ve seemed mythical just a few years ago.

6. Kemba shoots over 40%.

He’s only done it once (his sophomore campaign) but Walker is due for a league average field goal season. With Batum and the other connectors moving the ball, Kemba will have to force less shot-clock bailouts and take less bad shots overall. Smart offense is contagious and my bet is that Kemba catches the bug.

7. The Wing is going to be a Problem.

Outside of Batum, the Hornets have serious depth issues at the SG/SF positions. Jeremy Lamb looks completely lost defensively and PJ Hairston is about as consistent as AT&T coverage. If Cho does pull the trigger on a trade, expect it to be for wing help.

8. If any Hornets are traded it will be Cody Zeller and/or Brian Roberts.

Roberts has shot lights out (44% overall, 45% from 3PT) in the preseason and has run the offense like a pro. He’s too good to be a third PG who sits behind Kemba and Lin. Some team with lead guard issues (maybe his old team in New Orleans) will come calling.

Cody is an extremely intriguing athlete who could blossom on a fast paced squad with scorers. He’s also the Hornets only big who’s a legit plus defender. If the right deal comes along (and only if), I could see Charlotte taking it.

9. The Eastern Conference Standings in April:

  1. Chicago
  2. Cleveland
  3. Atlanta
  4. Toronto
  5. Washington
  6. Charlotte
  7. Milwaukee
  8. Miami

Detroit finishes 9th. Boston and Orlando tie for 10th.

10. Final Prediction: This Hornets season will be much more fun than last.

Bank on it.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Projecting the Hornets Starters and Rotation

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Right around the time of the Jeremy Lin signing, Steve Clifford told local reporters that he’d feature a strict nine man rotation during the season. In Clifford’s eyes, an NBA player needs at least twenty minutes a night in order to get into any kind of rhythm.

This will be a challenge. Unlike so many Bobcat teams of years past, this seasons’ Hornets roster is stacked with talent and a few high quality players will find themselves hoarding DNP-CDs. Injuries, matchups and merit will likely keep the cast in flux but I fully expect Clifford to stick to his word and get nine guys real minutes each game.

WHO ARE THE STARTING FIVE?

Absent serious injury or any more #TraderCho activity, look for Charlotte to open the season with following starters:

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Nic Batum
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford’s mantra of starting games with an emphasis on defense while ending them with an emphasis on offense gives Cody the easy edge over rook Frank Kaminsky. Even if Frank gets up to speed with pro defense during camp, Cody’s abilities as a mobile defender next to Al makes him a better fit to start.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Aside from the usual Kemba step-backs and Big Al post-ups, expect a steady diet of pick & pops with Batum and the two bigs. Nic ran a ton of them with LaMarcus Aldridge back in Portland and Big Al & Cody have dependable range out to around eighteen feet. Zeller and MKG will anchor the defense and look to exploit any extra attention given to Jefferson and Walker.

First Substitution: Mid 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Frank Kaminsky
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford traditionally rests two of his starters halfway through the 1st in order to bring them back at the begining of the 2nd to play with the reserves. In years past Josh McRoberts and Gerald Henderson would sit for guys like Cody and Gary Neal. This year we’ll likely see Zeller and Batum get a rest with Lin and Frank making early appearances.

LINEUP STRATEGY: J-Lin replaces Batum and makes certain the playmaking onus is never on Kemba entirely. Expect to see a steady dose of Big Al posts ups and a pick & roll/pick & pop bonanza with Lin and Kemba exploiting open lanes for drives.

Second Substitution: Late 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Jeremy Lamb
  • PF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • C: Frank Kaminsky

Clifford’s goal of playing Jefferson around 30-32 minutes per game should come to fruition this year and sliding MKG over to the four for a brief stretch is a nice enticement.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Depending on how Kidd-Gilchrist’s 3PT shot has developed, this lineup will either be a 4 out or a 5 out – a deep shooting rarity given the Queen City’s recent past. Expect this unit to play at a much faster pace with Frank spotting up for trailing threes at the top of the arc.

Third Substitution: Beginning of the 2nd Quarter

  • PG: Jeremy Lin
  • SG: Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: Nic Batum
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Spencer Hawes

Batum and Zeller check back in early and play most of, if not all of, the 2nd quarter. We get our first look at Hawes as yet another floor stretching big who can make plays.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Expect every possession to run through Batum, Lin or Hawes. Lamb thrived in OKC as a spot up release guy who didn’t have to rely on his handle. Cody should see plenty of rim-diving opportunities off Batum and Lin PnR’s.

Fourth Substitution: Mid-Late 2nd Quarter

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nic Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Frank Kaminsky
C: Al Jefferson

Clifford will slowly trickle back in the other starters towards the end of the quarter. Cody gets a rest swapping out for a floor spacing Frank.

LINEUP STRATEGY: A version of the starting five skewed for offense and floor spacing.

In this scenario, the Second Half substitutions play out in roughly the same sequence with Clifford riding hot hands deep into the 4th quarter.

240 Minutes of Action

There are 5 positions on the floor that need to be filled over 48 minutes for a total of 240 minutes per regulation game. If Clifford opts for a strategy similar to the above, we’re looking at an approximate minutes breakdown of:

  • Kemba: 34mpg
  • Batum: 34mpg
  • MKG: 30mpg
  • Cody: 28mpg
  • Big Al: 30mpg
  • J-Lin: 28mpg
  • Frank: 20mpg
  • Lamb: 18mpg
  • Hawes: 18mpg

Hawes and Lamb fall just a bit short of the 20 minute mark but of course that could change depending upon the matchup or individual performance.

The Expendables

The Hornets currently feature sixteen players on the roster. Two of the those players (Aaron Harrison and Elliot Williams) are signed to non-guaranteed deals and can be released at any time. A strict nine man rotation means that six or seven guys either sit or are inactive every night.

Brian Roberts

At risk of losing his roster spot to Aaron Harrison as the team’s third PG. Don’t be surprised if his expiring contract is traded to a team in need of PG depth before the start of the season.

Marvin Williams

Expect Marvin to be used in small ball matchups against bullying wings (Paul Pierce, Jabari Parker, Jared Dudley) as an alternative to Hawes.

Tyler Hansbrough

This year’s Jeff Adrien/Jason Maxiell. Psycho T (yes, I know he hates that name) will steal minutes from any big Clifford thinks isn’t being physical enough (you hear that, Frank and Cody?).

P.J. Hairston

Coming off a very disappointing rookie season and Summer League. P.J. was billed as a shooter but can’t seem to shoot. He’s another off-the-court incident away from joining Sean May and Jeff McInnis under the Tobacco Road overpass.

Troy Daniels

A nice Summer League surprise, Troy may get some burn as a bench scorer if Lamb and Hairston struggle with their shots.

Aaron Harrison

We should know by the end of camp just how serious a prospect Harrison really is. If he can build on his excellent Summer League, Brian Roberts may be out of a job. That said, Harrison won’t see court time unless one of Kemba/J-Lin goes down.

Elliot Williams

Not guaranteed to make the team.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

MKG’s Extension and What Comes Next

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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.

$52 MILLION – IT’S ALL RELATIVE

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.

GAMBLING ON A BREAKOUT, GAMBLING ON A BREAK

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.

WHAT COMES NEXT – HORNETS FREE AGENCY 2016

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.

UPDATE

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.

ASCHIN
@BaselineBuzz