*Due to unforeseen, (and as of this moment) unresolved technical difficulties, this episode will in fact, not be an episode at all, but a written internet sports article. Remember those?!
With the new year not far behind us, and the Hornets in a bit of skid, my therapist and I believe it’s important to zoom out and look at the big picture. It’s too easy to get caught up in the nitty and gritty of every day and every game, and therefore often a more whole view of what ails us can show that really, things aren’t all that bad. No matter if your significant other despises you for watching too much basketball OR if you’ve just dropped four straight on the road.
So in order to zoom out — and preferably as far away as possible from that Sixers loss — what can reasonably be labeled as the goals for this 2017 Hornets squad?
As far as I can tell, there are, or at least should be, two real goals:
- Internal Asset Development
A fancy and dehumanizing way of basically saying: the people we can use either through the quality of their on court play, or through the value that this play portrays to the rest of the league.
This goal is generally true for all teams in any sport ever. No one wants their players to halt or digress in development. Even the aforementioned tank-erific Sixers wanted their guys to improve. However it’s even more important for small/mid-market franchises with a young-ish core. And you know what? Thus far, this has been a bright spot for this Hornets team with Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller have been the biggest pleasant surprises. Most of the attention in the offseason was given to both Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Frank Kaminsky, with very little paid to players who were — or at least assumed to be — more known quantities.
Even in spite of MKG and Tank’s underwhelming jumps this season, Kemba and Cody meet this goal themselves. As far as the rest of the team is concerned (older players, and those that the Hornets have very little invested in monetarily speaking) seemingly everyone is playing at or above the level they did the previous year. This appears to be attributable to Steve Clifford, who, unless your last name rhymes with Shmeevenson, has been somewhat of a revelation when it comes to maxing out talent.
2. Standings Improvement
Inherently tied to the first — but still an important ends-centric and bottom-line goal — it’s difficult not to judge a season, particularly from a “win-now” team like the Hornets, through the clear-cut lens of wins and losses.
Up until just recently the Hornets sat comfortably among the Easts top pretenders (let’s face it, the Cavs are the only contenders here). Now they sit eighth. But considering the entire Eastern conference at the moment is separated by about a half game, this by no means is a doom or gloom scenario for Charlotte. In fact, much of the season the Hornets have been in the top half of the potential playoff standings — which would be a significant improvement given the team’s sixth place regular season finish last year. Having started strong, then dipped, then picked it up, then dipped again, the team is prime to start putting some wins together, not to mention the fact that the Hornets have generally been slow starters under Clifford. While not as clear as the first goal, mainly due to the season still being in full swing, we can reasonably say that a top 4 finish in the east would be a legitimate win for the Hornets this season. That, or potentially a lower seeding matched with a playoff series win. Anything less should be considered stagnation.
So while it’s easy to get panicked about the current state of Charlotte basketball, give yourself the gift of zooming out and setting realistic expectations. This is not the year the Hornets will win the championship. It should be the year where they get homecourt and Kemba comes within inches of an All-Star nod.
And in these areas, the team is well on their way.