A season that showed much promise, chemistry, and flashes of what is to come when fully healthy, ended at the hands of a short-handed Indiana Pacers team that was also without its star 2-way guard Caris LeVert, who was sidelined due to health and safety protocols. Indiana started the game on a 20-7 run, which included shooting 50 percent from deep, leading the first quarter by 16 points and never looking back. The famous TNT kiss of death by Charles Barkley should have told you all you needed to know as far as predictions. Before the game, Barkley guaranteed the Hornets would win by 30.
The Hornets lost in blowout fashion, 144-117. Playoff basketball is a different breed. Yes, the Hornets are best at running in transition. With their personnel, they’re best suited with an uptempo style offense. But what happens when it’s playoff time? The pace and game-speed slows down tremendously, and outside of Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier, the Hornets don’t have much playoff experience. The play-in game versus the Indiana Pacers demonstrated how you can fold and look like a different team under pressure.
The Hornets head into the offseason with many questions needing to be answered, but for certain, the Hornets want to build around it’s youthful backcourt in rookie of the year front-runner Lamelo Ball, and “Scary Terry Rozier.”
Head coach James Borrego stated after defeat, “All Great players, all great teams have felt this moment right here and we’re no exception. It’s how you respond from that. The guys that we need to drive the bus for us to get better, they have to remember this moment.”
Gordan Hayward durability issues still a concern?
Star forward, and money man Gordon Hayward, who was signed this past offseason for over 120 million dollars on a 4-year deal, has been out since April 2nd with a foot sprain. Durability and injuries depleted his promising season after he started his Hornets campaign with much fire and aggression – proving to naysayers like myself that he indeed has a lot of gas left in his tank. I still question the Hornets giving him so much money, and him not being available when the Hornets gave up the most points in a must-win elimination game since 1994 , doesn’t help. I’m not talking about being a defensive force, but being able to put the ball in the hoop. Jacking up 40 three pointers (12/40) in a loss against the Pacers, the Hornets needed Hayward’s 41% from deep and 47% field goal percentage shooting.
Building around Rozier, Melo & Gordon
All season, when the Hornets needed a bucket, Terry Rozier is who they called upon. Averaging career highs in points (20.4,0 assists (4.4), steals (1.3), and shooting 45 percent from the field, it’s safe to say the Hornets are building for the long haul and Rozier agrees stating, “We’re building something and we’re looking forward to what’s ahead. Not looking back. I’m just happy to be here. I like this organization a lot. I love this city a lot. So I’m just looking to grow and keep getting better with my guys around me.”
Moreover, paying someone $30 million a year, after previously trying to acquire the same player over 5 years ago, pretty much tells you the Hornets wouldn’t be looking to ship Gordon after just one shortened, pandemic season.
What we know is Lamelo Ball is the presumed favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie sensation Anthony Edwards will make it interesting with voters after playing a full-season averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds and two steals a game. Several 30 and 40 point outings may sway some votes, but those career-high point outings didn’t necessarily get wins for the team. The difference will be the total impact both players had on their respectable franchises. The Minnesota Timberwolves finished an abysmal 26 games under .500, whereas the Hornets finished the season as the 10th seed in the NBA playoff play-in format. Check-mate.
Who leaves and Who goes
The Hornets have four free agents – two unrestricted. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are listed as unrestricted, meaning they can sign wherever they choose. As veteran role players, both will find viable options if they choose to hit the open market. Restricted free agents Malik Monk and Devonte Graham can seek free agency, but the Hornets can match qualifying offers. According to the Charlotte Observer, Monk just wants to be wanted stating, “If they want me here, I’d love to be here”. If there were rumors that Raleigh native Devonte Graham was displeased with coming off the bench, Graham erased those notions – admitting he doesn’t mind coming off the bench and won’t allowing an ego to erase the chemistry the Hornets’ back-court has in place.
The cold-blooded truth
Yes, Cody is beloved in Charlotte and great role player, but he’s being paid like a true starting 20 &10 center in the league, which can’t happen. We often fall in love with the norm of consistency. The Hornets need a star on the interior – which is their downfall right now and has been. The expiring contract creates an excess of over 15 million for the Hornets this upcoming off-season.
Drafting rookies Vernon Carey and Nick Richards for an immediate impact was never the quick solution in the paint. More so, giving them more playing time throughout the season would have given the Hornets a faster solution prior to the trade deadline. It’s obvious the Hornets have been missing a piece on the inside since the departure of Al Jefferson. This is no secret. Mitch Kupchak has to go into free agency and spend money on a center. Most of those funds were allocated on a small forward that can’t stay on the court, and now is being questioned by the media on the seriousness of his sprained foot (ESPN Stephen A. Smith/First Take)
Worth noting, the Hornets hold the 4th year team option on current head coach James Borrego. It’s been mentioned throughout NBA circles that the Hornets are expected to sign him to an extension.
Dates to keep an eye on
NBA Draft Lottery June 22
NBA Draft July 29