Buzz Kill

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets

(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.

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The Charlotte Hornets Season Has Officially Become One Huge Mess

 

cliff and ref.jpg(Image from Boston Herald)

Where should I begin? There is no easy way to describe this season for the Hornets, it has been riddled with injuries, chemistry issues, and rotation problems, but don’t all teams battle some of this? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but that should not have rolled over into this mess of a season you would not assume. As of right now the Hornets sit at five and a half games out of the playoffs with 22 games to go in the season. Nobody wants to be in the situation we have found ourselves in, but here we are. We have a lot of issues to address this off-season, and maybe the next several off-seasons, but let’s take a look at everything that has gone wrong and needs to be addressed.

The first and most immediate mistake is the cap situation. We have dug ourselves a hole by offering Nic Batum, MKG, and Marvin Williams long term, high salary contracts. This is easily the hardest to work with, it makes trades difficult to make because you have to fit it into your salary, and during free agency you can’t really sign anyone who will make a significant difference. What you do with these bad contracts though is the real problem. Nobody wants to touch our contracts, and I do not blame them. Who knows what the front office was thinking giving these players as much as they did, but they better figure a way to get out of it. At this point if you can get any one of MKG, Nic, or Marvin off the team without losing Kemba you do it. They are all good supporting pieces, but none of them are worth the money, nor good enough to play in the role we have them in.

The next issue is one I think has caused the majority of our problems, and that is Rich Cho. When we first got Cho, I was excited I felt hope for the organization. He has been nothing less than exceptional in trading, but I think it needs to be accepted by everyone he has sucked at drafting and signing. Cho’s contract is up after this season and he has to be out the door, hopefully for someone that if nothing else will hopefully be a competent drafter. We could also take the route the Panthers did several years ago, signing Dave Gettleman as GM to manage the cap. He was ultimately too conservative, but he was able to make tough decisions that many people would hesitate to do.

The third problem that this team has is bench production. We have overpaid the starters and now have no cap to improve the bench through free-agency, so the only to ways left to strengthen it for cheap is internal improvement (Monk, Bacon, Hernangomez), or by drafting quality pieces. A backup point guard has to be priority one, but I think a replacement for Frank is easily second. I have had my limit with Frank, and I want him traded more than anyone. Watching Frank back down a point guard when he gets the switch, only to turn and do a dirk fade away is enough to make me break my TV, not to mention his incompetent shot selection. Just because of his annoyance alone I could easily move his replacement to the top priority, but I’m being realistic.

 

At the end of the day, the blame does not lie on Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, or coach Cliff. Following the trade deadline Howard seems to have taken a step back, but looking at the season as a whole he has played fantastic. Calling for a new coach also just is not reasonable. Cliff is a very strict all business coach who many teams would love to have, we have just offered him nothing to work with outside of Kemba which obviously isn’t enough. And finally, the case for Kemba, if you wanted him traded before the deadline you have lost your mind. If you live Outside of Charlotte like me, I can promise there are very little Hornets fans, and when I happen to see a Hornets fan I always go out of my way to speak to them. More times than not they want to talk about Kemba, or only know Kemba. Without Kemba all these fans would be gone, I promise. This season has been a catastrophe, but lets be cautious where we place the blame, and what we want the team to do.

Nic Batum Needs to “Shoot His Shot,” or Else…

092915-NBA-Hornets--Nicolas-Batum-pi-ssm.vresize.1200.675.high.42.jpg

(image from Scout.com)

Nic Batum has been the basis of my frustrations through the first half of the Hornets season. My anger with Batum isn’t his play style, I understand the type of player he is and I realize he is not going to change, but my problem lies in the difference in his production from the 2015-16 season to now. It isn’t that I feel he needs to change his play style to be effective like some couch coaches, it is that I have seen him be much more effective before by playing the exact same way. In the 2015-16 Batum was very talented, talented enough to land him a 120-million-dollar contract over the course of 5 years. Looking back to when we gave Nic this handsome contract, we had just come off of a playoff series which saw us lose to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. This team looked to have a lot of potential, and one of the key players who had an expiring contact was Batum. Entering the off-season, we let Jeremy Lin walk, and signed Batum with the expectation being he would continue to improve adjusting to being a leader of this team, and hopefully help Kemba change the narrative of this franchise by leading us to more playoff consistency. Fast forward to today and none of that has come to fruition, we failed to make the playoffs last season and we are currently sitting 5 games out of the 8th seed half way through this season, and something needs to give.

So far, the team has yet to remove Batum from the starting lineup following disappointing outings and fourth quarter struggles, as if they are still trying to justify the contract given to him. If the coaches are not yet willing to move him into a 6th man role, he is going to have to shoot the ball. As it stands Nic is averaging 10 points per game and that just isn’t going to cut it for 30 minutes per game and 20 million dollars a year. He has all of the scoring ability he needs to average a solid 15 to 18 points per game and the idea that he is a facilitator should not be an excuse. Last season Batum averaged 15 points per game to go with 6 assists, while this year his assist total has dipped to 4.7 per game along with his scoring dropping back to 10 points. This proves he can score and pass effectively at the same time, it all just depends on his aggressiveness.

When Batum is making it a priority to score and pass equally it forces defenses to focus more on him, and opens up passing lanes for everyone around him. His best version is when the defense never knows if they should expect the pass or the shot and that is the Batum we need. If Batum can’t find a balance, and the coaching staff refuses to bench him, then Batum, and the team is in hot water. Our hopes to salvage this season rely on this dilemma and it definitely should not be overlooked. Nic might be on the trading block soon if this continues, and we could be looking at more lottery picks for the next couple of years if his contact is not unloaded. We will have no cap flexibility in the FA market, and Batum will continue to soak minutes from developing players on the roaster if this turns out to be the case.

            With all of this being said, I still have a glimmer of hope for Batum and our season. Batum is a very intelligent player and I know he has produced at higher levels before. Clifford is also returning Wednesday, which could produce different results from what Stephen Silas has been receiving. Also, five games out of the 8th seed is not insurmountable, so if things begin to click at the right moment we could manage to recover from this disappointing season so far. I have not given up hope on our season yet, but we are beginning to run out of time to recover.

The Incredible Disappearing Nic Batum

Recently there have been rumblings around Buzz City from Nic Batum not being happy with his role in the offense, blaming his struggles on the coaches and new teammates, and while some may be willing to brush this off, I’m not buying what Nic is selling. There are conflicting reports as to what the Hornets expected when the inked the French swingman to a massive deal in the offseason after the playoff run two seasons ago. Was he supposed to be the Robin to Kemba Walker as Batman, or was he there to facilitate for others and his scoring was a bonus. Lets look at the facts shall we, the starting line-up this year has one change. Dwight Howard replaced Cody Zeller, that was it, and while Dwight scores more than Cody he isn’t expected to drop 20 a night just like Cody wasn’t expected to tally big points. The reality is Nic Batum has to put up his share of points every night with the starting line-up this team has, MKG and Marvin are 10 to 12 point a night guys who fill roles on offense but are expected to extend themselves on defense each night.  MKG draws the more difficult wing match-up to allow Nic to do his damage on offense, and to keep him fresh for the 4th quarter.

You know the 4th quarter, Winning Time, Crunch Time, the time when stars in the NBA make their checks. They make the plays that decide the games, that get them the big contracts and the post game interviews. The problem is this is when Nic shows off his greatest trick, he disappears without a trace. I started to notice a trend recently and decided to look deeper into the numbers, and what i saw made me throw up in my mouth a little. In the last 11 games Nic has TOTALED 18 points in the 4th quarter, including 6 games where he didn’t score at all. I was shocked at these stats, and for a team that dating back to last season has lost 13 games in a row decided by 3 points are less, I began to wonder if this was a fluke or a real problem.

Now before you tell me about his injury and how its Dwight Howard’s fault for taking shots away looks from Batum, Relax…..we will cover it all.

Batums 4th quarter stats by year in Charlotte: (via NBA.COM)

Year            MIN       POINTS       FG%     3PT%     ASSISTS

17-18          7              2.5               38.5       20.7           1.1

16-17          7.8           2.7               31.8       30.0           1.2

15-16          7.9           3.0               36.4       25.6             .9

That is not pretty at all. Now we can argue about whether Nic was kept here to score or not. The simple fact is those numbers do not equate in anyway to a Max Contract player. No matter who is on the court with him, he struggles to help the team win in the fourth, add in the costly turnovers that can sometimes plague him in late game situations and we have to be honest as fans, part of the Hornets 4th quarter struggles have to be attributed to this. I could compare his numbers with anyone, but I went with Jeremy Lamb for a couple reasons. Lamb played with the starters during the time Batum was injured and he is the logical replacement, also this year they average nearly the same minutes in the fourth.

Jeremy Lamb in the 4th THIS SEASON: (for 1/3 of Nic’s salary)

17-18          7.3         4.8               47.1           29.3           .5

The numbers don’t lie folks, and I’ll give you the fact that Jeremy Lamb is not the passer that Nic is, and never will be. I am also not suggesting that Nic is solely responsible for the Hornets late game struggles, but we cannot ignore what these numbers tell us. Only once we identify the problem can we take steps to fix the situation. Hopefully the Hornets can find a way to solve this one soon, because we are running out of season as we speak, and for this team and staff, missing the playoffs could push the Hornets into another stretch of losing like we saw in the Bobcats era.

Losing Kemba Would be Catastrophic to the Hornets Fanbase

26232661_1620100248076425_3038207116099389908_oIt’s always good to remind yourself of where you’ve come from and why you started. In the case of Bring Back the Buzz it was started 7 years ago out of a place of necessity. Returning the Hornets name was never pitched from us as a way to save the franchise but more as a form of life support to buy this franchise some time to figure things out on the court. 7 years ago the branding was horrible, the team was horrible and the city was apathetic. Fast forward 7 years, the branding is really good,  the team is sinking below mediocrity and the city’s interest is waning.

Since 2002 (16 years) this city has seen their beloved franchise leave, a new one come in 2 years later and in 14 years have 3 playoff appearances, no series wins, and never finish above 6th place in the East. This same franchise has also managed to have 6 coaches in 14 years, 3 branding changes and one complete rebrand. This city has also seen this same team try to tank (like really tank, like the worst team in NBA history level tank) only to be robbed of the number one pick, and has seen them attempt to build in free agency only to go from terrible to mediocre. Oh, and in that time frame, Charlotte also managed to have an All-Star game taken away from us and given to the very city that took our number 1 pick. All this translates to no identity, no consistency and nothing for this fanbase to attach to. This city desperately wants an NBA team to support and has in all honesty been extremely supportive given how crappy the team has been for over a decade and a half.

With all this being said, the only bright spot has been Kemba Walker. Kemba Walker is on pace to go down as the greatest Hornet of all-time and now rumors have been circulating for weeks that the only way to fix this current situation is to trade Kemba. The idea of trading Kemba genuinely scares me, not because I’m that attached to the idea of him as a Hornet, but removing him from this team literally gives this fanbase absolutely NOTHING to hold on to and no reason to come watch them play. The “be happy you have an NBA team” has been used as a reason to support them for far too long and no longer works in a city that has increasingly more and more to do in it every day (not to mention since the Panthers showed up in 95, the Hornets have been playing second fiddle).

Kemba is not just the most talented person on the Hornets but he has also been the heart and soul of this team for a long time. That would be like if Cam Newton(talent) would’ve left the same year Steve Smith (heart and soul) did. Also, let’s say we trade Kemba, and receive draft picks and young players to develop… what evidence has this current front office given that they have any idea on how to pick talent or develop it?

I don’t envy the Charlotte Hornets, something needs to change but they’ve tried free agency and tanking and showed they are capable of neither. So now they find themselves in a situation where they are on the brink of missing the playoffs again in a city that can’t withstand much more bad basketball let alone the removal of the greatest player the city has ever had.

Oh, sidenote…stop complaining about marketing changes (new uniforms, 30th Anniversary patches, new courts…whatever) and using the excuse, “this team needs to focus on basketball”. Do you realize how dumb that sounds? Those 2 things are not mutually exclusive! The marketing department has absolutely NO input on the day to day basketball operations and visa versa. The marketing department is tasked with the responsibility of maintaining interest surrounding the team regardless of what is happening on the court and with the exceptions of a few things they are doing a great job.

Hornets Turn 30 with Big Plans for Next Year

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the organization will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the inaugural 1988-89 season during the 2018-2019 NBA campaign.

The Hornets will be unveiling new Classic Edition uniforms during “Classic Nights”. The team will also be providing fans with the opportunity to vote on the “30th Anniversary” team (basically the All-Hornets team). So start thinking about who you think are the greatest Hornets of all-time.

The Hornets also unveiled a beautiful 30th Anniversary logo. The logo looks exactly like something the first stint of Hornets would’ve used.

There will be plenty of merchandise in the team store with the new 30th Anniversary logo on it available for purchase as early as today.

Hornets Fans, Don’t Give Up Hope Yet!

I get it Hornets Fans, you are down in the dumps. It is not easy being a fan of this team lately, with the losses outnumbering the wins, national writers suggesting we trade our Captain for old vets and young projects all in the hopes of a bright future with a draft pick we will likely just screw up anyway.  Its been a struggle and I understand, I watched as we lost games to teams we should beat with ease, or gave up leads late in games we had won. The “Blow it up and Start Over” group has been slowly growing along with the “I’m Done” and “We suck again” groups. I recently posted a poll on Twitter asking about how the Hornets would finish the season, and the vast majority figured we would be in the late lottery….again. Well dry your tears and get down from that ledge folks, because this SH%T AIN’T OVER YET!

I’m sure most of you are saying “Yeah right Homer, stop blowing smoke up my _____!” and first off i would never do that and i am a little offended at that insinuation and also I have got some legit reasons for my optimism so sit down and relax while I expand on this.

Now we all saw a better team on that 3-1 west coast road trip than we have seen all season. They played as a team more effectively on both sides of the ball. Now that should give us a little hope alone, but I took a real close look at the Hornets remaining 44 games on their schedule and think that is going to be bigger than we realize. We all have heard the Experts saying that our season started harder than it finishes, but with the season half over we can really grasp how much different it will be.

I broke down the Hornets opponents into 3 different levels of quality. The first group is the top 4 seeds in each conference. These are the contenders, the cream of the crop. They are as follows.

  • Celtics
  • Raptors
  • Cavs
  • Wizards
  • Warriors
  • Rockets
  • Spurs
  • Timberwolves

Then we have the Wanna-Be Contenders made up of the teams that are seeds 5-9 in each conference.

  • 76ers
  • Pacers
  • Pistons
  • Bucks
  • Heat
  • Clippers
  • Pelicans
  • Nuggets
  • Trailblazeers
  • Thunder

Finally that leaves us with the Crappy level, Teams that either can’t or don’t want to win.

  • Knicks
  • Nets
  • Bulls
  • Magic
  • Hawks
  • Lakers
  • Grizzlies
  • Mavs
  • Jazz
  • Suns
  • Kings

So those levels with be important as we move forward, go ahead and take a few minutes to look them over again before we continue, take your time, I will wait…

ALRIGHT, now lets look at the 38 games the Hornets have already played this season to a less than spectacular 15-23 record. We knew they had a tough schedule to start, but looking back now it almost seems like the NBA had it out for this team from the start of the season. They have played

  • 15 games against the Contenders Level going: 3-12

  • 13 games against the Wanna-Be Level going: 5-8

  • 10 games against the Crappy Level going: 7-3

All we have to do is look back at the month of November where out of 13 total games 9 were against the powers of the NBA, add to that guys being injured and having a shortened pre-season to integrate Dwight Howard into the team and is it any surprise this team got off to a rocky start? Now though we get to look forward to the final 44 games of the season, where things take a dramatic change in the favor of our Boys in Teal and Purple (and sometimes White and Black) The final 44 break down like this.

  • 6 games against the Contenders Level

  • 18 games against the Wanna-Be Level

  • 20 games against the Crappy Level

Talk about your all-time tale of two halves of a season! The Hornets are already done with the top 4 seeds in the Western Conference completely and half the remaining 6 are at home. So just to be on the cautious side lets say they go 2-4 in those 6 games. The 18 games vs. the Wanna Be level should be close to a 50% win rate for the Hornets, considering that is the level most experts and Las Vegas odds makers put a full strength Hornets team at to begin the season. They still have yet to play the 76ers and will play all 4 matchups with them in a 31 day stretch where they play 17 games in March, including tail ends of back to backs twice which could mean no Joel Embiid. So I’m going to give the Hornets the benefit of the doubt against this group and say they go 11-9. That brings us to those glorious 20 games against the Crappy level, who will likely begin full on tank modes in the next few weeks, pulling vets and playing the youth. That means lots of wins for more talented teams like the Hornets. For everyone who just mumbled something about those bulls games while reading this, I get it, but the simple fact is the Hornets won 70% of their games against this tier…and I see that continuing at minimum. I think expecting 14 wins out of 20 is on the low side, but lets just use that number so I don’t get accused of being a homer.

All that leaves is simple math now, we just have to add 15 (current wins) to the projected wins vs. each level: 15+2+11+14 = 42 wins and likely a 6-8 seed in the playoffs.  Frankly I could easily see 2 or 3 more wins combined versus all three groups which could push us as high as a 4 seed.

So I beg of my fellow Hornets fans, before we start deciding where to trade Kemba Walker and figuring out how to move up 2 more spots on the draft board, ask yourself if our schedule had been a bit more balanced and this team was sitting at 20-18 and 2 games back of the 4 seed, would you be thinking those same thoughts?