Team Name: Charlotte Hornets
Last Year's Record: 33-49
Key Losses: Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, Lance Stephenson, Mo Williams
Key Additions: Frank Kaminsky, Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Besides literally everything the team did? The Hornets were clearly not thrilled with last year's results, and they decided an entire roster overhaul was necessary to fix the messes they had created. The Lance Stephenson experiment was a clear failure, and the team acknowledged that immediately. However, they didn't give up on their goal of obtaining a second creator, to take the load off Kemba Walker, and traded away a promising young prospect in Noah Vonleh for the talents of Nicolas Batum. Nobody knows for sure if this will all work, but you can't say the front office isn't trying.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Defense has been the name of the game for Charlotte ever since Steve Clifford came to town, and this season should be no different. The Hornets have been a top 10 defense the last two years, and this season they have the potential to be in the top five. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist anchors it all, being the second best perimeter defender in the NBA, and the addition of Batum makes it that much better. Throw in Kemba Walker's usually smart defending, with his ability to fly in for steals or blocks, and this team's perimeter is going to be one of the hardest to penetrate in the NBA.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Shooting, as always, is Charlotte's biggest question entering the season. They've tried to improve it with the addition of guys like Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Batum, and Spencer Hawes, but there still isn't any guarantees they'll be any better from behind the arc this season. If Charlotte once again can't hit the three ball then the Hornets offense is going to struggle just as much as it did last season.
4. What are the goals for this team?
This year's goal is to just get to the playoffs. With the rising cap, and changing NBA landscape, nobody is quite sure how Charlotte's overall future will pan out. The team looks like they have a plan of some sort for the long term, but this summer's moves of acquiring talent was a clear indication that it's playoffs or bust this season. They were a popular pick to make it last season, and two straight seasons missing out could cause more than just roster changes.
5. Is Steve Clifford on the hot seat?
It feels insane to have to answer this question, but no Clifford is not on the hot seat with this front office. He's only been around two years, and has made some serious progress for a franchise that couldn't get out of their own way in the previous decade. However, another year of failed expectations and his seat might begin to get a little warm. Especially...
6. Is the front office on the hot seat?
Clifford's job is safe as long as Rich Cho is in charge of what's going on upstairs. That said, team owner Michael Jordan is notoriously impatient and nobody is really sure what Rich Cho's standing with him is right now. The team hasn't drafted well, and failed expectations could cause Jordan to choose a different direction. That said, it wouldn't really be fair to remove the same front office that had to spend two years getting out all the garbage Larry Brown left them, and has really only had two actual offseasons to work with. Don't forget, the 2013 squad that made the playoffs was a surprise team, and that was the offseason that officially pushed the franchise towards a more playoff minded approach.
7. Is this the year Michael Kidd-Gilchrist breaks out?
Finally this question can start to be asked. It's felt like ever since the day MKG was drafted Charlotte fans have been waiting to move expectations away from "Can he be more than a role player?" to "Can he be the face of the franchise?". After last year's season where MKG proved just how important he is, we can actually begin to look at his ceiling as a player.
Really, what depends on if MKG has a breakout season this year, or any year for that matter, is his evolving offensive game. He's an incredible finisher at the rim, and has shown the ability to get there when he has space. The problem is that he's never been able to get around his defenders due to how they would lean off of him to force Kidd-Gilchrist to take jumpshots. Last year however, MKG showcased an improved jumper, and how consistent that jumper becomes will define him as a player. If Kidd-Gilchrist comes into this year willingly puling up for jumpshots, and forcing defenders to acclimate to it, then he completely changes how the Hornets play basketball. That said, his jumpshot still probably won't be consistent enough this season for him to do that. Maybe next year.
8. What's the deal with Kemba Walker?
Kemba Walker is playing arguably the most important season of his basketball career. His entire time in Charlotte so far has been spent with teams that relied on him to shoot the ball at a high volume. This year, with guys like Al Jefferson and Nicolas Batum, Walker shouldn't be relied on to shoot and create as much. Considering he has only once, in his entire career, shot over 40 percent from the field perhaps he should reduce the amount of shoots. Luckily, this is arguably the best team he's ever played with, and a drop in shot attempts should be expected. Walker needs to play well this season, and play more efficiently, or the Hornets might decide that he's not a part of their future plans.