Executive Indecision: the Charlotte Hornets struggle to be heard over the deafening Sound of Silence

written by redditor we mention below on the r/nba sub.


With the NBA offseason mostly settled (?), we can start to look back and judge just how well these organizations fared. Given that, we’re reviewing some of the best and worst offseasons so far. Unfortunately, we’re embracing our evil Debbie Downer side today with a negative “Executive Indecision” post about a popular punching bag.

EXECUTIVE INDECISION: CHARLOTTE HORNETS

PART ONE: HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND

As far as relevance with the modern NBA fans go, the Charlotte Hornets rank right on par with Simon and Garfunkel. The franchise may be the most anonymous in the league right now, mentioned only to be mocked by this sub (the r/nba sub on reddit).

Even we trolls can be empathetic though, and we can understand the team’s dilemma coming into this offseason. The team’s one signature star — PG Kemba Walker — was slated for free agency, and eligible for a sizable max after making third team All-NBA. Re-signing Walker to a massive extension may have appeased the fan base and ownership group and represented one ray of light in an otherwise gloomy situation.

But honestly? Re-signing Walker to a super-max would have been the wrong move. Kemba Walker has improved and improved and improved every season in the league, but the last three seasons he’s led the Hornets to records of 36-46, 36-46, and 39-43. In an ideal world, you could improve the supporting cast around Walker, but that’s made more difficult by the “bad money” still on the books (Bismack Biyombo at $17M, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at $13M) and a smaller market. The team would have been stuck in place. And if the Hornets couldn’t make waves with Walker at age 29, what logical hopes could they have to win with Walker at age 32? And age 33?

Rather than try to frantically doggle paddle to stay afloat (in the 35-40 win range), the Charlotte Hornets decided to hold their breath and drown to the bottom of the standings. That makes total sense. They needed to torch the building and start over. Through that lens, shaking Walker’s hand and wishing him well was the best decision for both parties. I can even understand the decision to let Jeremy Lamb go (even if he signed a super-cheap $10M contract with Indiana.) At 27, even Lamb was too old for this timeline. Without Walker, the Hornets waved the white flag and acknowledged the deep, DEEP rebuild on their hands. It may 3-4 years before they resurface again.

PART TWO: A VISION SOFTLY CREEPING / LEFT ITS SEEDS WHILE I WAS SLEEPING

The decision to let Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb go and to embrace the darkness may have been a tough pill to swallow, but it was the right medicine to take for what ailed this franchise (dreaded mediocrity.) In some ways, Charlotte’s direction could have mirrored the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were another small market team that found itself struggling with the decision about whether to blow it up or not for several years now. For them, there was a fear that their market and financial uncertainty wouldn’t allow them to outright tank. Eventually, Memphis decided to pull the trigger and trade Marc Gasol and then Mike Conley so they could fully hand it over to the young bucks.

Did the fans revolt? Did they burn their jerseys? No.

Modern basketball fans are savvy, and understand the natural ebbs and flows of a franchise. If anything, Grizzlies fans were happy to watch Gasol and Conley go to destinations where they could compete for titles. Better yet, they were left with a new generation in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. that they could get excited about. If anything, fans of rebuilding/tanking teams get MORE invested in their franchise than mediocre teams, because optimism can run rampant. It’s fun to be a fan of rebuilding teams (be it Memphis or a “Processing” Philadelphia 76ers a few years back.)

With that in mind, the Charlotte Hornets could now pivot and hand more responsibilities to their young guns in order to see what they may become. After two years in the NBA, SG Malik Monk still hasn’t looked comfortable, but perhaps he could thrive in a different role. The undersized SG was always an odd fit next to Kemba Walker, but theoretically he could blossom as a scorer with a longer leash. Last year’s lottery pick SF Miles Bridges was on-and-off, but certainly has the physical talent to become a solid starter. I also like this year’s lottery pick, PF P.J. Washington(Kentucky). He’s quite talented himself, and would have been taken even higher if not for durability concerns.

To be fair, no one is expecting Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and/or P.J. Washington to develop into MVP candidates who can carry a franchise on their back. If they turn out to be long-term starters, that’s a “win” and that’s the type of prospect you should expect in the late lottery. Getting a pick in the high lottery (1-5) is truly where the Hornets needed to be to secure a great shot at a future star. And given that, the Hornets decision to let Kemba Walker go makes even more sense. This team didn’t need to get bad — they needed to get VERY bad. By hook or by crook, they needed to secure a top 5 pick next season and potentially the next few seasons after that. They need their Ja Morant-Jaren Jackson Jr. They need their Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid. They need potential superstars. And to do that, they need to suck ass.

PART THREE: MY EYES WERE STABBED BY A FLASH OF NEON LIGHT

I was completely on board with the Charlotte Hornets’ tear down, until I saw some strange words in my reddit feed. The Hornets sign PG Terry Rozier. For 3 years. For $56.7 million dollars. ($18.9M per year average.) Wait, really? Was this an RDAmbition situation here?

Nope. Turns out this was real. Very very real.

Honestly, I’m shocked that a team would go that far to secure Terry Rozier. Throughout his career with the Celtics, I always scoffed and rolled my eyes at the wild rumors surrounding Rozier. The idea that he was a valuable trade piece. The reports that teams were going to offer him $15M+ a year in free agency. Whatever. I completely wrote those off as absurd spin by Rozier’s representatives. But clearly, joke’s on me, because either I am wildly out of touch with basketball or Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak is. (And he’s never signed bad contracts before, right?)

Let’s dig into the specifics of my skepticism here. Rozier has now played 4 seasons in the NBA, so it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt as some rising prospect. And now, through season 4, he’s shot a grand total of 38.0% from the field. He’s a solid three-point shooter (35.3%) but he can’t convert inside (40.4% from two for his career.) He also doesn’t get to the line very often (under 3 FTA, even when starting.) All told, he’s a player that has scored with a true shooting percentage of 49.2% (career high 52%) in a league where 55% is the standard.

And sadly, scoring is the trait that he’s supposed to bring to the table. By the standards of point guards, he’s not a good playmaker and passer (4.6 assists per 36 minutes.) He’s a decent defender, but nothing exceptional on that end (ESPN RPM grades him a -0.04 last season.) He has good energy, but it can often veer into the “out of control” and into tunnel-vision scoring.

The natural defense is: there’s a difference between Terry Rozier and “STARTER!” Terry Rozier. Okay. Sure. Through his 30 regular season starts, Terry Rozier has played much better. But again, we’re talking about a 30 game sample size here. And in those 30 games, Rozier’s shooting from beyond the arc has ballooned up to over 40% (despite being a 35.4% career shooter from three.) There’s merit to the idea that a starter would play with more confidence, but the idea that starting a game would magically improve your shooting by 5% strains credibility. Simply: the Hornets are gambling on a small sample size here and put themselves at a risk for regression.

To be fair, I expect Terry Rozier to put up good raw numbers with this team. Almost any starting PG will put up decent stats, whether he’s Dennis Schroeder or Elfrid Payton or whoever else. With the greenlight, Rozier should be jacking up threes and should easily score 18+ PPG. But the idea that (likely inefficient) scoring will translate to winning basketball is very dicy. And if it doeslead to 5+ wins? That’s not good, either. The Hornets may push themselves past other young teams like Cleveland and Memphis and fall behind the tanking eight-ball. In theory, the new lottery reforms makes it irrelevant if you’re # 1 or # 4 in the order (since they have the same chance at the top pick), but that slotting still matters if you don’t win the lottery. There can be a big difference between pick # 5 and pick # 7, and the Hornets need to land as high as possible.

Adding a veteran like Rozier doesn’t help to that end, and may potentially lock them into a long-term contract and limit their roster flexibility going forward. It’s a little too early to dig into the 2020 prospects, but tankathon does exactly that, and lists 4 of the top 7 prospects for next season as either PGs or PG/SGs. The Hornets need to be in a position to take the best player available in the next draft, and shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the prideful Rozier will poison the well for a rookie PG.

If there’s any positive here, it’s that Rozier’s contract de-escalates (from $20M to $19M to $18M) so he may become more “tradeable” as an asset as the contract wears on. However, if he puts up inefficient numbers, that will be hard to move regardless.

PART FOUR: MY WORDS LIKE SILENT RAINDROPS FELL

As mentioned in the post about the New York Knicks, it’s always easier to play Monday morningquarterback and criticize a plan; it’s a lot harder to offer a feasible one of your own. So when I criticize a franchise’s moves, I need to submit my own plan as to a better alternative.

If you’ve read this ranting manifesto, you’d know that I would not have signed Terry Rozier to a $19M a year contract (especially for 3 seasons.) I would not have signed any expensive free agent, and would have fully committed to a rebuild. You don’t necessarily have to “tank” and purposefully lose games with a team of scrubs. Simply handing the reins over to a very young team tends to do that on its own. The team should play a lot of Malik Monk, a lot of Miles Bridges, a lot of P.J. Washington, and see what they have on their hands going forward. If the team lost 60 games in the process, even better.

To be fair, there’s something to be said for developing good habits and honing your playing style. Not signing any true PG at all could have been problematic in that regard. Young teams that don’t have field generals can often stagnate and stall — as we’ve seen with the Phoenix Suns over the last few years. However, you don’t have to spend $20M to land a solid, steadying PG. Among the options that these Hornets could have gone for included Tyus Jones (who signed for $8.8M a year), T.J. McConnell (who signed for $3.5M), or even someone like Tim Frazier (who signed for $1.9M.) Would T.J. McConnell or Tim Frazier have helped the team win games? Probably not. And that’s good. Moreover, those pass-first point guards may have been able to help run the offense and facilitate the young guns’ own scoring and development.

The other avenue that I would have liked the Hornets to explore would be selling off the remaining spare pieces. Still only 26, Cody Zeller could be worth keeping around, but the team should assess the market for those that won’t be part of the future. For example, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is overpaid ($13M expiring), but he’s also a former # 2 pick that may still have fans somewhere. Perhaps a team would have given up a tiny asset (even a R2 pick) for him. PF Marvin Williams ($15M expiring) is another option for that as well. Unlike MKG, he’s proven to be a playable and positive rotational player (if not pure starter). Williams is not cheap, but he can help out quite a few different playoff teams right now.

A veteran player like Marvin Williams has some tangible value to the Charlotte Hornets right now because he’s a good mentor for their younger prospects, so you wouldn’t simply give him away for free. And “free” may be the estimated return for him given his price tag. However, if you presume that you’re taking in a bad contract or two in return (say Meyers Leonard from Miami, for example) then you may be able to squeeze out an asset along with it. In some ways, it works on both fronts. You allow Williams the opportunity to contribute in the playoffs, and you make your own team worse (in anticipation of a high lottery pick.)

More than anything, that’s the takeaway from this Charlotte criticism. If you blow it up (as you should), then you better bring out all the dynamite you can and demolish as much as you can. Taking two steps back and one step forward is not the right approach. Somewhere, Art Garfunkel is nodding solemnly in agreement about regrettable decisions (like integrating 1970s references in a post on Reddit.)


u/ZandrickEllison was kind enough to let us host this post on our website. Be sure to follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/Zan_Ellison and check out the podcast for more.

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