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Charlotte Hornets get ninth pick in NBA lottery

FILE
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Getting the No. 9 pick in the NBA Draft will open possibilities for the Charlotte Hornets. From left, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Duke guard-forward Rodney Hood, and power forward Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

At approximately 8:30 Tuesday night, President of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins sent the following text message to his staff:

“Hell of a first day for the 2014 Hornets.”

Indeed. Hours after the Charlotte Bobcats officially rebranded to the Hornets, they rode the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coattails to the ninth overall pick. When Cleveland jumped into the No. 1 spot (for the third time in four Junes), the resulting drop from eighth to ninth by the Detroit Pistons meant the Hornets get that ninth pick on June 26.

The then-Bobcats made a trade with the Pistons two years ago that was essentially Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon, plus a minimally protected first-round pick. The Pistons would have retained that pick in 2014 had they stayed eighth or higher in the draft order. Instead, the Hornets jumped into the draft lottery.

They will now pick ninth, 24th (completing a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers) and 45th (in the second round). Their own pick (16th overall) goes to the Chicago Bulls, completing the Tyrus Thomas trade.

This is the first time in franchise history the Bobcats/Hornets have benefited from the lottery process. Higgins sounded ecstatic in an interview with the Observer.

“So much positive energy!” he said about a day that started with the franchise officially turning over the nickname after a year of planning. “That’s three (rookies) that will possibly be on the roster. And when you move up to the early parts of the (first) round, there are so many possibilities.”

Higgins made it clear that the Hornets are open for business on the trade front. They have draft picks and salary-cap room (at least $17 million come July) that could get them into discussions they might not have had before Tuesday.

“We have options, possibilities, scenarios,” he said.

For instance, while Higgins is barred from discussing other teams’ players, it’s no longer preposterous to imagine them inquiring what it might take to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love, a star who has yet to make a playoff appearance.

Love has reportedly told the Timberwolves he will not sign a contract extension, which could force the Wolves to explore trade options.

The then-Bobcats had a breakthrough season, going 43-39 and reaching the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s first 10 seasons. They’ve made strides, hiring a sharp, young coach in Steve Clifford and signing a game-changing center in free agent Al Jefferson.

But there are still several holes to fill, as Higgins noted:

“We need a backup point guard. We probably need a backup wing. And we can always use an extra big” guy.

Asked about the depth of the 2014 draft – which has long been lauded as one of the best in recent memory – Higgins said, “We’re going to get a guy who helps our team, no question.”

Players who could hypothetically be available at No. 9 who could fit the Bobcats’ needs: Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Creighton forward Doug McDermott, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and Duke guard-forward Rodney Hood.

This development will make work for the basketball operations staff, but in a good way: With three picks sprinkled throughout the 60 overall selections, the Hornets figure to audition a slew of players between now and late June. Higgins plans to start that process shortly after Memorial Day.

“Our schedule is ever-evolving,” he said. “Nobody knew we would have the ninth pick. This changes which players would work out for us.”

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