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How long should it take for the Hornets to be a truly competitive franchise?

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Charlotte has a solid foundation to build on, but how long should fans have to wait for a winner?

New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The goal of the Charlotte Hornets ongoing rebuild is to ultimately become a long-term competitive franchise. But what does “competitive” mean to you, and how long do you think it should take for the Hornets to get there?

Without a destination in mind it’s hard to measure progress. As for me, I define a “competitive” NBA team as one that consistently makes the playoffs and has a legitimate shot at winning their first round matchup. This often excludes the No. 7 and No. 8 playoff seeds who usually get crushed by the top two seeds. While it’s rare for the No. 6 seed to upset the No. 3 seed, it’s not altogether shocking. Therefore, I’m using the Hornets building a roster that can consistently be among the top six teams in the Eastern Conference as my definition of “competitive.” Your definition might differ, and that’s fine, but I needed to frame up the end goal somehow.

So, how long from now do you think it should take for the Charlotte Hornets to consistently be among the six best teams in the East?

As far as history goes, the Hornets were the No. 6 seed in 2015-16, No. 7 in 2013-14, and No. 7 in 2009-10. The 2010 playoff appearance was the first time Charlotte had made the postseason since 2002, so there’s no recent history showing the Hornets can consistently be among the top six teams in the East, but you already knew that. Getting this franchise to the point of being consistently competitive means breaking a stretch of nearly two decades in which they haven’t been.

But when I look at the current roster, I have hope. The core of Devonte Graham’, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington is solid and should only improve from here. The front office will have golden opportunities to add talent and depth to the roster next year with the No. 3 overall pick and significant cap space. This upcoming offseason the team will shed Bismack Biyombo’s $17 million salary and the dead cap figures for Marvin Williams ($14 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($12 million), according to Spotrac.

The key for the 2020 offseason is to nail the No. 3 pick and land at least one young-ish free agent who makes sense for the current roster. I’d prefer they bring in a solid big man who won’t take minutes away from the Core Four. Based on this list of current free agents, there aren’t many great players who will truly be on the market, but perhaps Charlotte could land someone like Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Favors, or Tristan Thompson. There has been some buzz around these parts about signing Christian Wood. None of these players will transform the team overnight, but adding a player of that caliber along with the No. 3 pick should make next year’s team better than this year’s version.

Then the following year, leading up to the 2021-22 season, additional cap space will be opened up with the departures of Nicolas Batum ($27 million) and Cody Zeller ($14 million). This is when Mitch Kupchak needs to make his money. In addition to likely having a mid-first round pick in 2021 (I’m guessing between No. 10 and No. 15), the team should have ample cap space to lure a top free agent. Could Mitch overpay a bit and land a young stud coming off a rookie contract, or work out a sign-and-trade? Can he land an All-Star caliber player in the twilight of his prime? Only time will tell but Charlotte’s front office will have options.

Assuming Kupchak can make all of this work, here’s what the eight-man rotation looks like going into the 2021-22 season:

Guards - Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier

Forwards - Miles Bridges, PJ Washington

Bigs - 2020 “good” free agent signing (Harrell, Favors, Thompson, Wood, etc.)

TBD - 2020 No. 3 overall pick (entering his second year)

TBD - 2021 “difference-making” free agent signing

TBD - 2021 mid-first rounder (rookie)

That’s a pretty solid lineup, but it’s still pretty young with little experience in knowing what it takes to be a consistent winner over an 82-game season. And making the playoffs won’t be easy. While we never know what’s going to happen in the future, the Nets should only get better with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Perhaps the Bulls or Wizards bolster their rosters, or maybe the Magic make an “all in” move. Who knows?

What I do know is the Hornets are well positioned to improve rather quickly between their young core, available cap space, and the No. 3 overall pick. Throw in a good coach in James Borrego and I could see Charlotte making some noise sooner rather than later. Here are my expectations in light of all of this:

2020-21 - Fringe playoff contender

2021-22 - Make the playoffs as a low seed (No. 7 or No. 8 seed)

2022-23 - “Competitive” playoff team (i.e. No. 6 seed or better) that can win a playoff series

The next couple of years could be a fun ride if everything falls into place. The foundation is there, now the players and front office just need to take the next steps. That’s what my rebuild looks like for the Charlotte Hornets. Go ahead and put your timeline in the comments below to see what the rest of the ATH community expects.