Hopefully, the Charlotte Hornets will be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean, sipping margaritas and celebrating their first NBA championship in franchise history in 12 months.
They'll be coming off of their first season since regaining the Hornets name and brand next summer. Michael Jordan and Rich Cho put a lot of time and effort into rebranding the Hornets, and all reports thus far suggest that fan support is at an all-time high since the original Hornets left Charlotte in 2002. Last August, Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer of the Hornets, said that season ticket sales were up 59 percent from the previous year, and attributed that to the excitement surrounding the Hornets' rebranding. That's an excellent figure, and should have a significant impact on the Hornets' attendance numbers. They ranked 25th in attendance last season with just over 15,500 fans per game in an arena that holds about 20,000.
On the basketball side, the Hornets' young core will have another year of experience under its belt. Most of their core is still under 25 years old, and at 30, Al Jefferson will be the oldest player on the team not named Jannero Pargo. That's very promising, as the Hornets made the playoffs last year while the majority of its roster was still learning the NBA game. It remains to be seen if another year of experience pushes the Hornets forward, but considering the team's steady development over the last couple of seasons, I believe it will.
Last season, the Hornets ranked 21st in 3-point percentage, sporting a pedestrian mark of 35.2 percent. They were also 25th in 3-pointers made, and when you look at last year's roster, that's no surprise. Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal, and Jannero Pargo were the team's only consistent snipers, and Luke Ridnour, a historically solid shooter from deep, struggled immensely with his shot for the Hornets. Ben Gordon was unable to get much playing time, and even in his few minutes, only managed to shoot 27.6 percent from deep.
Their lack of 3-point shooting has been mostly addressed in the offseason. In addition to internal improvement, the Hornets drafted P.J. Hairston and signed Brian Roberts, Marvin Williams, and Lance Stephenson. All of the aforementioned players are average shooters at worst. Expect a much more explosive squad on offense, and considerably better spacing around Al Jefferson as a result.
Their improved offense should translate into more wins in the regular season, and giving Steve Clifford another year with pretty much the same team should ensure an even better, tighter defense. These improvements could get Charlotte out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Hornets will need to work out an extension with Kemba Walker within the next year or so, and decide if they want to keep Jeffrey Taylor and Bismack Biyombo as well. That could be pricey, depending on the number Walker and his agent are looking for. Luckily, Rich Cho has done an excellent job of managing the roster financially thus far, and will have some flexibility going forward, even if Walker, Jefferson, and Stephenson are making big money over the next few years.
They also need to decide on Gerald Henderson's future. Henderson is under contract for two more years, and while fans are worried that the signing of Stephenson signifies the end of Henderson's time in Charlotte, Cho might want to retain him. Henderson's been a stoic figure in Charlotte since he was drafted, so it's possible that he wouldn't be upset with a role as the first man off of the bench. If that isn't the case, however, Henderson might be moved this season.
Henderson is the only Hornet that looks like he might be traded, as the rest of the roster is stable and well balanced. If the Hornets aren't fond of Biyombo, though, he could be moved as well before the season is over. Biyombo's development has been slow despite the Hornets' patience with him, and that's unfortunate because he's a great teammate and fun personality.
If Charlotte's looking to acquire talent, it will likely be a power forward. As previously mentioned, Biyombo's development has been slow, and Cody Zeller hasn't been what the Hornets expected. That isn't to say Zeller's a bust -- he only has one year under his belt. However, the Hornets are looking to win now, and their weakest position is the four. Noah Vonleh was drafted as a perimeter big, but his shot wasn't consistent during the Las Vegas Summer League. He's also just 18 years old, and has plenty of learning ahead of him before he's ready to start at the NBA level.
All in all, the next 12 months will be an exciting time for the Hornets. Their rebranding is complete and they have a solid, young core in place that should continue to develop for the foreseeable future. Steve Clifford has proven himself to be a good defensive-minded coach that has used the assets Cho has provided to the best of his ability. Charlotte will probably find out if they will host an NBA All-Star Game in 2017 this season, too. This is a great time to be a Hornets fan.