Key Losses: Josh McRoberts, Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour
Key Additions: Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts
What Significant Moves Were Made During the Offseason: For the second straight summer, Charlotte was able to land a notable free agent. Much like Al Jefferson in 2013, the Hornets added Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers. By waiting out the free agent frenzy, the Hornets were able to improve their depth at shooting guard. Stephenson is certainly not without his share of controversy from time to time, but there's no denying what he brings to the basketball court.
Marvin Williams was also a notable free agent acquisition. Williams already has the Carolina connection having graduated from the University of North Carolina, so this will be a bit of a homecoming for him. Williams will be asked to fill a vital role in Charlotte's offense, where he will replace Josh McRoberts, who departed for Miami earlier this summer.
Also gone is backup point guard Ramon Sessions, whom Brian Roberts will replace. With Kemba Walker firmly entrenched as the starter, Roberts will be counted on to be a capable backup as he was during his time in New Orleans.
The Hornets also had one of the better drafts last June. They added forward Noah Vonleh, who once healthy should only enhance a solid frontcourt rotation. With Cody Zeller, Jefferson, Williams and Bismack Biyombo, Vonleh won't be asked to do too much and can focus on a steady transition to the NBA.
Another rookie the team will be counting on is shooting guard P.J. Hairston, who certainly has had an unusual path to the NBA. Spending last season with North Carolina collegiately and later the D-League that same year, Hairston has already had a taste of a higher level of play. The Hornets will be hoping that his experience against heightened competition will make him a contributor sooner than later. If he is able to shoot like he has before, he could certainly see time over Gary Neal and even Gerald Henderson.
General manager Rich Cho has assembled a good blend of young players and veterans in hopes of making a second consecutive playoff appearance.
Team Strengths: A couple of things played into Charlotte becoming a playoff team in 2014: improved defense and drastically reducing their turnovers.
In his first season as head coach, Steve Clifford took what was largely the same group of players that was one of the worst defensive teams in the league in 2013, and turned them into one of the league's top units in 2014. This includes defensive rebounding, in which they were top-10 in the league. This enabled them to play at a much slower pace than the previous season because they were able to limit their opponent's touches on the defensive glass.
In addition to limiting their opponent's possessions by rebounding, the Hornets turned the ball over less than any team in the league. By maximizing their possessions and limiting the opposition's, Charlotte became one of the league's surprises last season.
Team Weaknesses: Of course, one of Charlotte's bigger weaknesses last season was their shooting. They were among one of the league's worst shooting teams thanks in part to their abysmal offensive spacing.
The loss of Josh McRoberts — who was one of the team's best shooters and facilitators — could hurt them this season. However, the Hornets brought in Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and drafted PJ Hairston in hopes of avoiding a stagnant offense. If the new additions are as capable as their track records indicate, they should be fine.
An improvement from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would also help tremendously. Coach Clifford said that in all his years of coaching he has never seen such a drastic improvement in a player's shooting form, which is encouraging. Working with assistant coach Mark Price appears to have worked out much of that infamous hitch in his shot, but we have yet to see how that will translate to the court. However, with improved technique and a confidence boost, we could see both Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets improve in this area.
Team Goals: With the excitement around the team after the name change and last year's playoff berth, the Hornets obviously want to capitalize on their momentum. This will likely hinge on the team's ability to integrate its new pieces, the development of their prospects like Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker, and Gerald Henderson's ability to slide seamlessly into a sixth man role behind Stephenson.
Ideally, the Hornets would like to bring their offense up to the same level as their stout defense from last season. In order to do this, Zeller will need to continue to build on his strong second half, and Stephenson and Williams will have to prove to be good systematic fits. If they are able to do these things, they should be able to win more games and snag a higher seed in a weaker conference.
In short, continue to improve on both ends and build further on last season's success.
"Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?": The Hornets have several players whose futures are up in the air.
For center Bismack Biyombo, who is already entering his fourth year, this season is a final chance to prove himself. The Hornets have shown that they won't wait for Biyombo to put it together, and have slowly built up their frontcourt depth above him over the last two offseasons. Once a starter, Biyombo only started nine games last season, but proved to be effective in a diminished role last season nonetheless. Still, is it worth paying lottery scale money for a limited offensive player to play 15 minutes per game? Probably not, especially as the Hornets continue to amass improved players at his position.
What about Gerald Henderson? Henderson signed a two-year deal in the summer of 2013 and has a player option for 2015. While the Hornets could still have Henderson in 2015, the Hornets' perimeter additions indicate they may not be married to him there in the longterm. If he can prove to be a strong contributor as a sixth man or spot-starter, he'll stick around. If not, the front office could view him as more of an asset.
Finally, Kemba Walker's rookie contract is also expiring and he will be looking to earn an extension. Unlike Biyombo, it's not a matter of "if", but "when", and for how much. Walker's efficiency slid last season, which could very well just have been be an off year, but he still continued to improve his ability to make plays for others. Walker could be in for a bigger extension if he is able to rediscover his shooting stroke and builds on what he already does well.
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