When a team has a disappointing and lackluster season, blame should be somehwhat put on everyone. The 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets are no different. After a surprising 43-39 record last season, earning themselves the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, their encore was a 33-49 finish and a seat on the couch during the postseason.
The reasoning behind the failure was not balanced. Some of the roles that led to this end result were more of a factor than others. A common string to pull for the blame was that of head coach Steve Clifford and the job he did this season.
To blame Clifford is to show flawed logic. He doesn't deserve all or even most of the blame. Coaching was not a major role in the Hornets' lackluster season.
Charlotte entered this year with sky-high expectations. Top-four seed in the East, team-to-watch type expectations. What led to that rise? A couple aspects that didn't have to do with Clifford and those factors didn't come to fruition.
It was believed the Hornets would have the version of Al Jefferson from the season that earned him third-team All-NBA. Didn't happen. It was believed that Kemba Walker would continue his fringe All-Star play from the season before and perhaps even improve on that. Didn't happen. Lance Stephenson would bring a little bit of everything to this team and be at least a decent 3-point shooter. Didn't happen. Marvin Williams was not expected to be the offensive leader Josh McRoberts was but his shooting was expected to stretch the floor for the Hornets offense. Didn't happen.
The Hornets also suffered from things that no one projects in the preseason: injuries. Kemba Walker missed 20 games, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed 27 games, Lance Stephenson missed 21 games, and Al Jefferson missed 17 games but he was playing hurt for a number of the 65 games he actually suited up for. Key reserves Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller missed 18 and 20 games respectively. Charlotte was forced to play 17 different starting lineups and the most any lineup played together was nine games.
Even when healthy, this roster may not have been that good. Clifford once remarked that he wasn't sure if he had 100 points on this roster. That's an issue when half of the NBA averaged 100 or more points per game this year. The offensive end was a gigantic struggle this season but it's not like this roster is built for that end. The strengths of this roster are defense, character, and competitiveness. They can defend, rebound, and commit a low number of turnovers. Little of that has any to do with putting the ball in the basket.
The strengths of the roster were used and used well, a compliment to Clifford. For the second consecutive season, Charlotte committed the fewest turnovers in the NBA this season, averaging just 11.9 per game. Charlotte also allowed the fewest offensive rebounds in the NBA (8.9) this season and led the league in defensive rebound percentage (.793). The Hornets led the NBA in opponent field goal percentage (.426) and ranked fourth in opponent scoring (95.3) after January 1. The Hornets also ranked fifth in blocks (6.0). Clifford squeezed all he could the fruits he was given.
Perhaps as disappointing as the season's finish was the season's opening. The Hornets got off to a dreadful 6-19 start but once 2015 hit, the team started to improve. On January 1, Charlotte ranked 20th in opponent points per game and 24th in opponent field goal percentage. At season's end, the Hornets finished seventh and first, respectively, in those categories.
Despite last season's success and the offseason's transactions, the basketball gods guaranteed the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets nothing but higher expectations. Injuries played the biggest role in the season's failure, quickly followed by a flawed roster. Coaching may be third or higher on that list to many but it's not for me and it shouldn't be for you.