The Dell Vinci Code

The Dell Vinci Code
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A few years ago someone forwarded me the now famous picture from the 1992 All-Star Weekend featuring a young Steph Curry with his father Dell, Mitch Richmond, Drazen Petrovic and Don Nelson.

My first reaction was “that’s neat, I remember watching that three point contest”. I right clicked and saved the pic to my Bobcats Baseline Dropbox folder and moved on.

A couple of years go by and I see the pic again in a random tweet. The photo hits me different this time. I linger. I stare. What am I looking at? There’s something about this picture; something deeper, something odd.

UNITED COLORS

Let’s start with the obvious. Take a look at Steph’s jacket. At first glance, it looks as if he’s wearing a junior Hornets warmup of some kind: teal with purple accents just like his dad sitting behind him.

But Steph’s jacket features a third color, a gold-yellow. The original Charlotte Hornets never wore this color and the franchise would only incorporate anything remotely approximating this hue upon their move to New Orleans a decade later.

MEMPHIS - MARCH 26: P.J. Brown #42 of the New Orleans Hornets points arcross the court against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedexForum on March 26, 2005 in Memphis, Tennessee. The Hornets won 96-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** P.J. Brown

The New Orleans Hornet gold was more of a mustard-turmeric yellow (see the PJ Brown image above) and not the bright, sunshine gold featured in Steph’s ‘92 jacket. Have a look at the image below and compare the three dots at the left side of Steph’s name and number.

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The first dot is a sampling of the New Orleans Hornets mustard-gold. The second and third dot are samplings of the hue found in Steph’s ‘92 jacket and the hue found in the jersey pictured. Only a highly trained colorists could spot the difference. They’re virtually the same.

In fact, I would argue that they ARE the same color. Steph is wearing Golden State gold at the 1992 All-Star Weekend. Weird.

But he’s also wearing Hornets colors, right? Half right. While Steph’s purple is nearly identical to the Hornets version, take a closer look at his dad’s warmup behind him. It’s a classic Hornets powdery teal and quite a bit different from Steph’s more “electric” blue.

The hue doesn’t match the current Hornets teal either. It does however match Steph’s favorite football team’s blue.

stephasgdell-insertnfl-carolina-panthers

This makes sense, right? Dell and Sonya decided to drape Steph in a combination of Hornet purple and Panther blue. Except there’s one problem. The NFL wouldn’t award Charlotte an expansion franchise until October of 1993 – a full twenty months after the photo was taken.

Steph + Cam

An odd coincidence, isn’t it? That a not quite four year old Steph Curry is wearing the colors of his future NBA team, his father’s NBA team and his beloved hometown NFL team that had yet to exist.

UNUSUAL SUSPECTS

The strangeness only begins with the colors. Let’s look at the composition and subjects in the frame

First, let’s work our way west to east across the photo. Seated up and to the right of Dell and Steph is longtime NBA head coach (and former player) Don Nelson.

At the time of the photo, Nelson was in the midst of his most successful season as conductor of the three-point happy, fast-paced “Run TMC” Golden State Warriors.

Actually, that last sentence isn’t entirely accurate because the “M” in the “TMC” no longer played for Nelson’s Warriors. The sharp-shooting former Golden State team captain is seated just to the right of Nelson, dressed in his Sacramento Kings warmup.

Richmond had been traded to the Kings just months prior to the photo, breaking up the Dub’s most promising core in decades. The Warriors would have to wait another twenty years to assemble a team of gunners as deadly as Richmond, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin.

Before we get to Petrovic, let’s take a look at the eye-line dynamics going on in this photo:

The Dell Vinci Code

We can see that Coach Nelson is gazing left, a calm smile resting on his face. He seems both at peace and optimistic at what he sees in the distance.

Richmond is also amused and impressed at what he sees out of frame; in fact, he seems relaxed by it.

Dell’s eyes are wide and giddy; his smile barely hidden by Steph’s left shoulder. He’s the only one in the frame looking right (east). It’s as if there is no need for him to gaze left; he has already seen what the others are now experiencing.

Steph’s eyes are closed; his hand is raised, with five fingers extended. More on this later.

Drazen the Herald

At the far right of the frame we have the late, great Drazen Petrovic. The European Michael Jordan of his time would pass away tragically in a car accident less than two years after the photo was taken.

During the ’92 AS weekend it was Drazen’s mom who was tasked with looking after young Steph while Dell was busy in Orlando. Decades later, Steph would send his game worn Finals jersey to Petrovic’s mother to hang in her son’s museum in Croatia. It’s a great story.

Let’s get back to the photo: notice that Drazen is the only one looking upwards. His hand is cupped near his mouth in a way one would amplify a shout. Or maybe it’s cupped towards his ear in a way to better hear a message?

Is Drazen receiving a message from above? Has he already heard the message and now wants to announce it to the world? What are Nelson and Richmond seeing to their left (other than Steph)? Why is Steph holding up five fingers and why are his eyes closed? Is this all some kind of crazy coincidence? Am I reading too much into this photograph?

It gets weirder. Seventeen and a half years after 1992’s NBA All-Star Weekend, Steph Curry would be drafted by the Golden State Warriors. His first head coach as a pro?

don-steph

Reading the Tea Leaves

This we know for certain: the ’92 All Star image has already correctly predicted Steph’s current NBA team, his ability to impress even the league’s greatest three point shooters, his favorite NFL team and his future head coach.

But what about those five fingers? What do they represent? Steph currently owns two league MVP trophies. Adding three more would tie Curry with Michael Jordan for second most in league history. Steph currently has one championship to his name – four more between now and retirement seems possible given the Warriors’ current super team status.

There is also the question of whether the purple in Steph’s jacket represent his father’s pro lineage or predict a future stop in Charlotte at some point later in his career.

Finally, why are young Steph’s eyes closed? What image is in his mind that could generate such a confident smile? My best guess…

STEPH DA GAWD

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

A Disruptive Force

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Big Al Jefferson. He is a plodding, slow-to-react defensive liability. He hesitates to pass out of doubles. His mere presence throws the games’ pace back to the mid–90’s. And he’s by far the Hornets’ most important player.

This is not up for debate. Why? Because the other team actually has to scheme for him. He’s Disruptive with a capital D. There is literally no other player on Charlotte’s roster who inspires this sort of effort from an opponent. As young and promising as some of the Hornets’ prospects are, no player outside of maybe (fingers crossed) Noah Vonleh will ever put this type of pressure on a defense. It’s a simple fact.

Complementary Players Everywhere

We all love Kemba Walker. He’s the definition of gritty & tough but his style of play inspires little fear in the opponent. He can’t consistently kill you in the paint – either on the dish or the drive – and he’s at best a mediocre three point shooter. Walker does most of his damage on iso fall-away two’s and the occasional spotup three. In fact, it’s better for an opponent if he’s hitting those shots because he’ll get tunnel vision. “Please, play the poor man’s Iverson game,” opponents beg. It’s pretty low efficiency stuff and easy to defend. Remember that Gerald Henderson and Kemba ran this type of show together back in 2012–2013 as a “promising young backcourt” that averaged a combined 32.5 points per contest and won 21 games all season.

Opposing teams will live with guys like Kemba, Gerald and Gary Neal going for a team high 28. Keep them outside of the lane and you’re good. None of the Hornets’ complementary scorers are exceptional three point shooters and none of them can force their ways to the bucket. Rudimentary pro defense can stop that. But a healthy, engaged Big Al is dangerous. He will get your bigs in foul trouble with pumps and fakes on the low block. He will command double teams. He will hit sixty percent of his shots from the low block. If he goes for 30, the Hornets have a legitimate shot of beating a good team. Opponents have to stop him.

Disruptors Disrupt

Big Al is a prime example of why this league is all about Disruptors: Guys who do things opposing defenses don’t want or aren’t prepared for them to do. There are many Disruptors out there and most of them are superstars: Lebron, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker. But there’s also guys like Kyle Lowry, Big Al and Kyle Korver. Players who specialize in dominating either of the two zones modern NBA defenses are setup to protect at all costs: the rim and the three point arc. Check out the following shot charts:

BigAlSC14 HardenSC KorverSC LowrySC

Now check out Kemba and Gerald:

GeraldSC KembaSC

Sure, Gerald hits a high percentage once he actually gets inside but because he can’t shoot, the defense sags off and prevents the push into the lane. Same goes for Kemba’s poor numbers. Even with his improved three point percentage in December, teams are hardly running Walker off the line. And once Kemba gets into the paint, a good defensive opponent will live with sub-50% finishing at the rim. The ugly truth is that none of the Hornets secondary “threats” are worth losing sleep over defensively.

Build Around the Disruptor

Both Atlanta and Toronto have played it smart. Even though their Disruptors are minor stars, they’ve built entire systems and rosters around maximizing their Disruptors’ advantages. Atlanta has emphasized crazy offensive rotations and ball movement to free up all of the other shooters around Korver. The Hawks have added size, length and toughness inside, at the wing and at the point of attack to neutralize Korver’s average abilities at the other end. Lowry is a bowling ball that wreaks havoc in the paint and he’s upgraded his ability to find shooters on the dish. The Raps have also surrounded Lowry with long, organized defenders and big, rangy backcourt mates who’ve now been together as a group for nearly three seasons.

If the Hornets are going to build around Big Al’s Disruptive force, they’ll need to go back to the three keys that made his game so effective last season:

  1. Get Al quality looks. Find ball-movers and passers either at the four or on the perimeter who can shift the defense and get Al easy entry looks. Josh McRoberts worked that very role to perfection last season and the Hornets ended up replacing him with a spot-up defensive-liability (Marvin Williams) and a ball-dominant iso player who can’t shoot (Lance Stephenson). With those moves, the Hornets’ front office literally did what few teams could do last season: completely neutralize Big Al.
  2. Give Al space to work. If the entire defense is focused on both stopping Big Al in the paint AND stopping any Charlotte defender from getting into the lane – guess where the entire defense is going to be hanging? You guessed it. McRoberts brought deep shooting that the new starting PF, Cody Zeller, doesn’t have. Lance, Gerald and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scare NO ONE from deep. Gary Neal, Kemba, Brian Roberts and Marvin either take too long to shoot or are so inconsistent that you’ll live with giving them open looks. P.J. Hairston is the team’s only hope as a pure shooter and he’s currently hitting 29% from downtown. The Hornets’ front office has done a tremendously poor job at opening up space for Al to work with. Names like Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow and Evan Fournier were out on the market last summer and Charlotte either passed or didn’t get involved. That can’t happen in today’s modern NBA – Big Al or no. One can only imagine how much wing shooting would improve Kemba’s drive and dish game going forward.
  3. Give Al a frontcourt mate who can defend. Cody gets pushed around regularly. Vonleh isn’t ready. Marvin is a liability. McRoberts played big last season and helped erase some of Jefferson’s defensive shortcomings. The front office needs to find a stout defensive presence at PF who can complement Big Al – at least until Vonleh is ready. They had one and let him walk.

Building Around Big Al is Dumb (Wait, Wha-?!)

This is the point where you say “Al Jefferson is old and is limited, why build around a guy like that?” First of all, he just turned 30. Second, he’s logged under 23,000 career minutes. Keep in mind that Lebron is the same age and just crossed 40,000 (which doesn’t include stints playing for Team USA).

More importantly, if the Hornets don’t build around Jefferson, who will they build around? Kemba? We’ve already covered that topic. He’s at best a complementary semi-star. MKG? Again, a nice glue guy but he’ll never force an oppenent to alter their scheme. Cody? Too passive and is a terrible finisher at the rim. Complementary role player.

Outside of Big Al, the Hornets have exactly three shots at finding another Disruptor over the foreseeable future:

  1. Win this season’s Lottery and select Jahlil Okafor. It may take another three seasons but he projects as a major Disruptive force in the middle.
  2. Vonleh realizes his potential. He’s a 6’9”–6’10” PF with a strong lower body, crazy wingspan and giant hands who handles the ball like a small forward and has a natural three point stroke. He’s also 19 and has at least another season and half to go before he’s ready to impact a meaningful NBA game. And there’s always the chance that both Noah and Okafor could bust out of the league entirely – as longtime Charlotte hoops fans know, there are no guarantees with prospects.
  3. Lure a big-name free agent superstar. I’m not talking Lance or even Gordon Hayward. I mean a real deal, legit, functioning NBA superstar. The only one I can imagine taking the Hornets money in the foreseeable future is Steph Curry – and that won’t happen until July of 2017 (if ever at all).

Conclusion

So this is where we are in 2015 with this Hornets team. Like it or not, Charlotte’s fortunes are tied to Big Al. And if they want to take advantage of his prime, they need to get everyone on the same page (coaching, front office and ownership) and do something about it now.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz