Greetings, and welcome to my first post for Baseline Buzz!
First, a brief history: I have been a Charlotte Basketball fan since 1988. My family owned season tickets during the franchise’s golden age (top row section 238, seats 1 and 2). I was at the playoff game when Zo hit the shot to beat the Celtics, and I was at every home playoff game in 2001 when the Bugs swept the Heat (and would have beaten the Bucks if Sam Cassell would have kept his glad-hands off the refs’ backsides). During the decade I lived in San Francisco, I bought NBA League Pass every year specifically for the purpose of watching every Bobcats game, and I was surely the only person to ever purchase a ticket to a game in Oracle Arena to cheer on Gerald Wallace. And no disrespect to Muggsy, Kendall, Johnny Newman, LJ and Zo, but I believe the greatest Hornets lineup of all-time was Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn, PJ Brown and Elden Campbell (and the best bench player on that team was Eddie Robinson, for what it’s worth).
With Adam’s departure from Baseline Buzz, I am stepping in midseason and attempting to fill some gigantic shoes. It is no simple task, to say the least. Rather than pick one thing to hone in on, I am going to about two bad things, two unknown quantities, and two good things. Without further ado.
—Steve Clifford’s Refusal to Give Rookies Meaningful Minutes
Look, I get it. Steve Clifford is an old-school coach, and making rookies earn their place in the Association is an old-school move. The problem is that the Hornets are not old-school good.
I like Steve Clifford, and he is a much better coach than his predecessor. He seems like he would be a fun guy to have a beer with. But his propensity for driving rookies into the ground before they get their feet wet is one of his least endearing qualities. Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon are both solid picks with gigantic potential upsides, but they need to play in order to develop into anything more than second or third-tier role players. Bacon is a solid second-rounder—if he develops into a solid NBA player, that is all gravy. But Monk needs to be in games early and often. He is a rhythm shooter, and you can’t develop rhythm on the bench. Give him meaningful minutes now, and he could be a star. Bench him so he can “learn the game” and he could be…. reverse-MKG?
—The Dwight Howard Experiment
Speaking of old-school basketball.
Unlike Adam, I hated the Dwight Howard trade from the beginning. The shedding of Plumlee’s contract was huge, and Howard’s star power is undeniable, but Dwight has a reputation of being a cancer in the locker room, and he is an admitted child-abuser.
That being said, he is putting up All-Star numbers on the basketball court, he obviously cares about the team’s performance, and I get the sense that he is trying very hard to push his teammates into the playoffs.
The problem is that he is a black hole on offense. A large portion of the Hornets’ plays so far this season consist of Kemba (or MCW) bringing the ball up court, passing it to Dwight, and then dropping back and watching Dwight either shoot or pump fake until he gets fouled.
In the past, the Hornets offense has worked with Cody Zeller at center because the CZA knows how to make the second, third and fourth pass to a cutting teammate or a shooter out on the perimeter. Of course Cody has been injured for a season and a half, so he hasn’t been an option of late.
Look, Dwight Howard is very good at basketball. There is a solution out there, I am just not sure if that solution is to teach Dwight how to pass to his teammates or look to trade him to a contender who needs a center that doesn’t know how to pass to his teammates. Either way, he has been a disruption to offenses on both sides of the floor.
—The Coaching Situation
Coach Clifford took a hiatus from the team for undisclosed health-related issues, and though Stephen Silas has a strong tie to Charlotte Basketball’s past (his father is former Hornets coach and current season ticket holder Paul “Huggy Bear” Silas), he doesn’t appear to be the answer should Clifford’s health or job performance become a longer term issue.
Jason Kidd just became available. Just throwing that out there.
—The Kemba Walker Fiasco
Floating Kemba Walker’s name in trade conversations was a mistake. Woj knows all and Woj tells all. The only scenarios that make sense regarding this mistake:
Kemba has been a little stagnant of late. Maybe a trade rumor is the fire he needed to get going.
2) A Godfather Offer
An offer along the lines of Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love and the Brooklyn pick or a package including Andrew Wiggins makes sense for both sides (Minnesota has always been high on Batum).
3) The Steph Factor
There is a Berenstainian possibility that a trade of Kemba Walker could pull Steph Curry further towards the Hornets in the future.
Reasoning: If Kemba does not get traded, he is all but guaranteed to pass Dell Curry as the leading scorer in Charlotte Basketball history. A trade to preserve Papa Curry’s legacy is sure to be looked upon favorably.
Now, the trade scenarios that do not make sense:
1) Cap Relief
I don’t believe the Hornets are willing to dismantle their franchise to save a few bucks so long as Jordan is at the helm. Jordan wants to win, even if he hasn’t figured out how to do so as an owner.
2) Anything Involving Draft Picks
The Hornets are terrible at drafting and even worse at developing rookies. Trading an All-Star caliber player for draft picks does not make sense for this franchise.
—The Remaining Schedule
Over the first half of the season, the Hornets had one of the toughest schedules in the league (anywhere from the toughest to the fifth toughest, depending on metrics used). For the remainder of the season, they have the easiest schedule in the league. Barring further injury or a dumb trade, the playoffs are still in reach (as of this writing, the Hornets stand four games back of the 76ers for the eighth seed).
The advantage of developing an organization where you draft and retain players is that the players have the opportunity to learn together and grow together as professionals. Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon have all spent the entirety of their careers as products of the same developmental system. They don’t know anything different than Charlotte Basketball. Injuries to MKG and Zeller have derailed several potentially prime years, but they still know how to contribute if they are able, and everyone mentioned above is still very young.
And speaking of oft-injured players, Nic Batum isn’t a native Hornet, but he has recently built a house in Charlotte, so one can imagine that he has bought into the organization as much as he possibly can. If Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams are able to become more comfortable with their teammates, good basketball could be over the horizon.