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ESPN projects Charlotte Hornets as seventh seed in Eastern Conference

ESPN’s panel of experts predicted how the Eastern Conference would play out in the 2016-17 season, and it doesn’t look great for the Hornets.

Miami Heat v Charlotte Hornets - Game Six Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s that time of year, folks.

Now that the NBA’s free agency is mostly over, ESPN released some of its predictions for the upcoming 2016-17 season. The network’s panel of experts concluded that the Charlotte Hornets will finish with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and a record of 43-39.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Hawks are predicted to have better records than the Hornets.

While I’d rather not get into semantics regarding who the Hornets are and aren’t better than, that’s a five-win drop from last year’s record of 48-34.

ESPN overstated Al Jefferson’s impact on the Hornets last season, and the need for a player like Courtney Lee is gone with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning from injury and sliding back into the starting lineup. The only real loss was Jeremy Lin, whose replacement, Ramon Sessions, plays a similar game at a lesser level.

In fact, Roy Hibbert might be an upgrade over last season’s Jefferson — and I love Big Al.

When you factor in that the Hornets are a young and growth should come from within and not outside the team, it’s difficult to see them taking a big step back. Then again, this is just a glimpse into ESPN’s thinking. They’re expected to release team-specific predictions in the coming weeks.

Oh, and ESPN: There is no stat for MKG.