(Written by David Walters)
There was a considerable buzz leading up to last season in Charlotte; the team was fresh off a playoff appearance and they were entering their first season as the rebranded Hornets. It appeared that the team was poised for an even stronger campaign in the 2014-2015 season but things were not as they seemed. The team was plagued with injuries throughout the preseason and, despite a fantastic home opener where Kemba Walker knocked down the game winner, things never really seemed to come together for Charlotte as they limped their way to a 33-49 record.
The Charlotte Hornets are now set to start training camp in their second season of a franchise renaissance. There are quite a few question marks going into this season after an extensive overhaul of the roster. With seven new players on the team, the Hornets have retooled the roster for this upcoming season by acquiring players that can help space the floor, opening up more space inside so that the existing core can play to their strengths.
Al Jefferson’s game is less effective when defenses can simply pack it in on defense because of a lack of floor spacing. Both Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist excel when they are able to get to the basket, an aspect of their game that was hampered when teams clogged up the lane on defense because of the lack of any reliable threat from long-range. I liken it to the philosophy that Orlando used a few seasons ago with Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard, where the Magic stretched the floor with four players whose range had to be accounted for, keeping defenses honest while giving Howard the room to operate.
The Hornets thought they had a steal last offseason after signing mercurial guard Lance Stephenson to pair with Kemba in the backcourt. It appears that the Pacers knew something we didn’t though, as Lance had chemistry issues and struggled to fit in. He was hampered by an early hamstring injury, and despite one memorable game winner, his time in Charlotte was painfully forgettable. The team flipped him to the Clippers in exchange for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes, who was immediately bought out. Hawes is a rangy big man, who had signed with the Clippers but never seemed to fit in…sound familiar? Nonetheless, he adds depth and range to the Hornets, keeping with the team’s offseason goals.
Gone is the team’s longest tenured player in Gerald Henderson; he was moved in exchange for Frenchman Nicolas Batum, a lanky wingman that will bring a versatile set of skills to Charlotte, albeit on a one-year deal. He will likely step in as the Hornets starting shooting guard, and the team will be able to use him as a playmaker at the position with his well rounded skill set. Batum offers size, court vision, and shooting range, albeit on a one year deal. Also moved in that deal was little used 2014 draft pick Noah Vonleh, who was injured in the preseason and rarely found his way off the bench in Clifford’s rotation.
In the draft, the Hornets continued their love affair with Big Ten frontcourt prospects by taking Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, college basketball’s 2014 Naismith Player of the Year. In doing so, they added a player that fills a positional need for them; what Frank lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with versatility and basketball I.Q. He can get buckets down low and he can stretch the floor with his shooting. He showed glimpses of what he can do in the summer league but there were also stretches where he would seemingly disappear for minutes at a time. However, when he was involved on offense, you could see how he could help an offense flow and, in a best-case scenario, he could be a great compliment to Big Al in the frontcourt. It will be interesting to see how the battle for the teams starting power forward position will play out between Frank, Marvin Williams and third year forward Cody Zeller.
Last seasons back up point guard Mo Williams is gone, having left to reunite with LeBron in Cleveland. In his place, is Jeremy Lin. I like this signing, I’ve always felt that Lin was a victim of his own success, and its overshadowed what has since been a very solid career. Lin will fit in perfectly in Charlotte and I think this was a great under the radar signing for the Hornets. Clifford has said he will experiment with lineups that have Walker and Lin on the floor at the same time, which could work well, allowing Kemba to play off the ball more as a scorer.
There is also plenty of competition for minutes as the first wing off the bench. Lin may get some minutes at the position but P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels and newly acquired Jeremy Lamb will all be fighting for time on the court this season. Hairston is down 13 pounds from last year, having spent part of his summer training with John Lucas; a former player and coach that is known for being able to reach troubled players. Troy Daniels offers three point shooting, but says he has worked on the other aspects of his game this offseason in an effort to improve his value on the court. And , a former teammate of Kemba’s from their UCONN days, is here after spending most of the last three seasons languishing on the bench in OKC. All three can shoot well, and all three are hoping to find their way into a significant part of Clifford’s rotation this season. Ultimately, it’ll come down to who wants it the most, and competition usually does nothing but push players to get better, which should work out either way for the Hornets.
And of course, we still have our remaining core of players between Kemba, MKG and Big Al. Kemba was on fire last season, going on a tear of games with 30+ points before going down with an injury. He never quite regained that form after returning but this season he will have more help around him and he won’t be so pressed to take the scoring load all on himself. MKG, fresh off signing a new contract extension, is the lynchpin of the Hornets defense. When he missed games last season, the team suffered. He brings much needed energy to the Hornets and often draws the opposing teams top defensive assignment. Big Al has also cut weight this offseason, his reason being that he is trying to save his knees in an effort to extend his career. Clifford has said that he won’t be the main focal point of the offense this season, but you can bet he will continue to be a major part of what the Hornets do on offense, particularly now that the team has improved their floor spacing.
It’s an exciting time of year, training camp has started and preseason games will get going this weekend. Despite the question marks entering this season, there is an heir of cautious optimism after last season’s disappointment. Stay tuned as the Hornets get cranked up for the year, it will surely be interesting to see how things play out this season as Clifford has as dynamic and versatile a roster as he’s ever had. Speaking of Clifford, this could be a make or break season for the teams head coach. He coaxed this team to a playoff berth just two seasons ago and it will be paramount that he gets this team off to a good start out of the gates for the Hornets to jump into the mix as one of the easts top teams.
It’s getting to be that time of year again folks, soon enough we’ll be watching our Hornets take the court to sting the competition! Until next time, KEEP BUZZING!!!
you can follow David W. Walters @Original_DWade.