By Will Stevenson
The 76ers had a slogan of “Trust the Process”. The wallowed in the NBA cellar ever since they were an 8th seed, led by Doug Collins, Jrue Holliday and others. After they were swept by the Heat, they began down the road of professional tanking, getting rid of Holliday, Iguodala, Lou Williams, Michael Carter Williams (ROY), Nerlens Noel and getting the highest pick possible in the lottery. After years of disappointment, it seems to have worked with them picking first in the lottery and choosing Markele Fultz to go with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Joel Embidd. As a Charlotte Hornet fan, I know nothing about “trust”, and nothing about “the process”.
As Hornet fans, we never really know what to expect from the Hornets. Just a few years ago, we had Larry Brown, we were the Bobcats, and the playoffs were where we belonged. We had no stars, but we had veterans, defense, and leadership that propelled us into a playoff team. We didn’t expect to win the championship, but we were hopeful to be participating in the playoffs, rather than watching the NCAA tournament to see who we’d pick in the lottery with our “pin the tail on the donkey” method. Al Jefferson was productive, but injuries and age made it easy to let him go. Bismack Biyombo wasn’t the explosive rebounder he was with the Raptors as when he was drafted by the Hornets, but sometimes it happens that way. Every so often, a team will whiff on a drafted young prospect. We hit on Kemba, twice. First we drafted him, then we extended him, and now he’s an All-Star level player who is becoming more efficient by the year. Michael-Kidd Gilchrist was a number 2 pick, and injuries have slowed him, but Kidd-G is the player we expect: He hustles, defends multiple positions, rebounds well for his size and can play in the New NBA. Cody Zeller has turned out to be better than advertised, as he was extended and still produced throughout the season. Frank Kaminsky was viewed to be a Charlotte E-Scapecoat, but his volume three-point shooting and defensive hustle is something to be admired in the Space and Pace NBA. Jeremy Lamb hasn’t worked out, but 7 million a year isn’t too bad if he’s just average, and Nicholas Batum is who we thought: a ball-handling wingman who can do it all at a mid-level. All in all, the Hornets are a playoff team if the 3s are falling and the players stay healthy. Maybe.
As we watch the NBA scramble to keep up with the Warriors and then the Cavaliers, the Hornets are scrambling to stay relevant. Without consistent showcase games on Espn, ABC, TNT, or even NBA TV, the Hornets made a move that brought in Dwight Howard from the Atlanta Hawks. I’ve watched teams run and shoot Howard off the floor as teams went smaller, and Howard just couldn’t keep up, stay out of foul trouble or hit his free throws. With Howard having a player option after next season, the Hornets could presumably only have Howard on the books for one season, and with the trade getting Miles Plumlee off the books as well, the Hornets may actually have cap room for Kemba or another mid-level star in free agency. Howard brings us defense, and a player that can protect the rim, but not a player than can play the pick and roll effectively. Howard has his limits, but his strengths should rove well under Head Coach Steve Clifford.
As Hornet fans, we don’t get much excitement in the offseason. There was Lance Stephenson (meh), Batum (eh), and now there’s Dwight Howard (hopefully more than meh, and slightly above eh). Free Agents don’t come here, and trades usually involve someone who will end up on a D-League roster or a Ramon Sessions. Would I welcome a SuperTeam in Charlotte: Of Course! But the only way we achieve it is through the draft and player development. Not every player can ascend as Kemba Walker, but if players can mold into their roles as Cody Zeller and MKG, then we have a chance to have something substanable as a team, a city, a fanbase.
So today is not the day I ridicule Mr. Cho, Dwight Howard, or the inefficiencies of our draft scouting. I’m holding out hope just like the rest of you. I won’t say Kemba will be an All-NBA player this year, nor will I proclaim Howard to return to his Orlando form, but I will wait to see if the Hornets do what the Hornets have always done: Just enough to stay unnoticed. The draft is coming, and even though we are on the outside of the top-10, all we need to do is choose wisely, and with the frontcourt being bodied up by Howard, Zeller, Kaminsky and Williams, the shooting is where the holes need to be filled.
So somebody please stay in Michael Jordan’s ear, because you never know with him. Rich Cho is under fire, and I actually like it. The fire made him go get Howard, and even though it doesn’t change the landscape, it leads us as fans to believe than he’s willing to make a move or two to keep his job.
Fingers crossed everybody.