(image from NBA.com)
For my first BBTB blog post, I was hoping to have a more positive message to bring you. Before the season started, most pre-season prognosticators put the Hornets in the playoff picture somewhere between the 4 and 7 seed. That was in spite of Nic Batum being injured. The Dwight Howard trade along with what looked like a solid draft class of Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon had me feeling pretty good!
That was then, and this is now. The Hornets are clearly not on the path to the promised land. The team sits at 24-33, 5 ½ games out of the 8 seed. We just saw one of the more active trade deadlines in recent memory come and go with very little activity on the Hornets part. The biggest deal for us was the one that didn’t happen (#keepkemba).
It is abundantly clear that this current cast of characters on our roster is not the right recipe. Even flirting with the possibility of trading Kemba Walker – the closest thing we have to a star and a guy who truly loves being here – proves that the vision for this team moving forward has been lost. It feels like we are heading for a major shakeup this offseason. We need it.
How did we get here? It’s hard to point to one player or even one roster move to say “this is where it all went wrong”. Rather, it’s a series of bad decisions. We can talk about bad trades and bad contracts as part of the problem, but if the front office is drafting the right players then they don’t have to take big risks on trades and free agent signings to build the core of the team. There have been some major draft misses from 2012 to 2015 when they had the chance to build the foundation around Kemba. Let me show you what I mean:
- 2012 Pick (#2): After the worst season EVER, and facing the possibility of drafting the most obvious franchise cornerstone the league had seen in a long time in Anthony Davis, the ping-pong balls didn’t fall our way and we ended up with the #2 pick. That’s okay, we still had a chance to make a splash. Instead, we picked MKG. We passed on guys like Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond. I love the energy MKG brings, but he is clearly not on the level of the guys we missed.
- 2013 Pick (#4): Cody Zeller. We passed on guys like C.J. McCollum, Steven Adams, and some dude named Giannis. Cody has been solid and a good team player so it’s hard to knock the pick too much in and of itself. And frankly, a lot of teams missed on Giannis. But we had the chance to be visionary and grab him… and we didn’t.
- 2014 Pick (#9): Noah Vonleh. Remember him? Yeah we shipped him out to Portland as part of the deal to get Nic Batum. We passed on guys like Dario Saric, T.J. Warren, and Zach LaVine. For the record, the pick itself was a bad one. He never developed and is averaging 3.6 points per game this season in limited minutes.
- 2015 Pick (#9): Frank Kaminsky. At the time, I liked the pick. I also really liked guys like Devin Booker and Myles Turner who have turned into better pros and would have been better fits on this team. Since he’s only in his third season, you could say the jury it still out on Frank. But after two plus years, I see the same player I saw in his rookie season. Booker should have been the pick here.
The draft picks in this four-year period (combined with Kemba who was drafted in 2011) should make up the nucleus of the team. No team strikes gold every year, but the Hornets didn’t nail a single one of those top 10 draft picks in that four-year span. If the team is drafting effectively and building from within, there is less need to take huge risks on trades and free agent signings.
As a small market team, we live and die by the draft. And right now, it’s killing us.