Predicted finish: 11th in the East (5th in the Southeast, 25 in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 9th
Coming into the NBA Draft, I was worried the Hornets were going to overpay to trade up for a position that frankly just isn’t worth doing that in centre. Instead, they stuck at three and picked in my opinion the best prospect in the draft, LaMelo Ball. From there, the team also added draft twitter hero Grant Riller and traditional bigman Vernon Carey Jr. It was a good night for Hornets fans, something we can’t say very often. Then, the team made the interesting decision of signing Gordon Hayward in free agency. Now, don’t get me wrong, the money is stupid and sets their cap situation back for years. However, who cares? This team is four years minimum from being really good anyways so why not bring in a guy like Hayward who can take the pressure off Melo and allow the other young guys like Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington and Miles Bridges to continue to develop. The money was insane but at least they’re trying to put their young players in a chance to succeed unlike so many other teams in basketball. This team for 2021 feels like a competitive, fun, young well-coached team. I don’t think they’re a playoff team, though they may make the new weird 7-10 play-in. I do think though they are on the right track, a positive for this embattled fan base.
The big question for the franchise: Is LaMelo going to live up to his potential?
As much as Hayward and his money is going to get the headlines, what really matters this season is the development of LaMelo. Ball comes into a camp standing 6’8 with a generational passing ability but with a multitude of areas he needs to improve on to reach his ceiling. It feels like Charlotte is going to give him a good chance to get there, bringing in vets to relieve some of the pressure for him which is a weird thing to say as I can’t ever remember praising Charlotte’s development history. In this new front office to be fair, Malik Monk feels like a miss but Graham is a hit, Washington was a steal last year and I’m a fan of Bridges game. Quietly, they’re building an interesting young core. Of course, it’ll all come down to if Melo can find things like a jump shot and any semblance of defence for it to truly matter and that is why regardless of anything else, this Hornets season is all about Melo. If he hits at that size and skillset, this team could get really interesting really fast.
One move I want to see them make: Trade Terry Rozier
With Melo coming in and the explosion of Graham last season, Rozier feels like a third-wheel once again. We all know how ugly that turned in Boston so it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if Rozier is moved to a place with a chance to carve out his own role. There’s a few teams that need point guards and although his contract number is heavy, at least he would offer stability at the position. Remember, before Kyrie came back, he thrived in a solid, well-run system. Maybe in the right organization, with the right cast he could do the same. I don’t see that being Charlotte though which is why it’s time to move.
Offseason Grade: B-
I hate how much they gave Hayward but as a fan of their draft and in understanding the role they see the Hayward filling I can’t be furious. Was it a patently absurd amount of money for an injury prone player? Absolutely. However, this team needed a second ball-handler last year as Graham fatigued throughout the season so bringing in Hayward and Ball to push Graham into a more realistic role feels like a positive move for all. That money is just so bad though I can’t give them anything higher than a B-.
Young player I’m excited for: PJ Washington
Since a disappointing freshman season at Kentucky, Washington has continued to improve. Last year in his rookie NBA season, he showed flashes of being a proficient offensive player and an overall net plus on a good team at that end. His defence needs work and that should be a big focus for him in 2021. But with improved playmakers like Hayward and Ball entering the team, Washington’s offensive life should only get easier as they’ll create easy looks for him that just weren’t there as a rookie. I’m excited to see Washington this year because I really think there’s something here and if he hits along with Melo, the Hornets could be frisky in the not too distant future.
Charlotte had a very Hornets offseason in the sense that it felt like only they were capable of some of the moves they made. That said, they’ve built an interesting infrastructure around their top draft pick and feel like they’re on the right track. They may not be a playoff team in 2021 but don’t be surprised if it’s not long before they’re competing to make it back into the eastern conference playoff picture.