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In My Opinion

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Charlotte Hornets haven’t gotten better since free agency began

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/12/21/18/Fh5cx.Em.138.jpeg|436
    Rick Bowmer - AP
    Utah Jazz's Marvin Williams (2) goes to the basket against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/13/20/06/1s0kM8.Em.138.jpeg|210
    David Zalubowski - AP
    New Orleans Pelicans guard Brian Roberts looks on against the Denver Nuggets.

NBA free agency has made some thunderous headlines over its first five days, with some teams getting better and others getting worse.

And what about the Charlotte Hornets? Since free agency began last Thursday, have they gotten better?

In a word, no.

Maybe they eventually will. Maybe a big trade of some sort looms.

But so far in the first week of free agency, the Hornets have lost Josh McRoberts and acquired Marvin Williams in their two biggest moves. And that’s an overall loss.

McRoberts was the Hornets’ third-best player last season behind Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Everyone on the team loved to play with the unselfish forward. And Miami yanked McRoberts from the Hornets with a four-year contract averaging roughly $6 million a year.

The Hornets have since acquired forward Marvin Williams for $7 million a year – albeit for only two seasons.

But Williams for McRoberts? That’s not a good trade for Charlotte.

Williams might score a little more, but McRoberts is the superior passer and he’s simply better at making his teammates better.

The Hornets should not only have matched Miami’s offer, they should have exceeded it and not allowed McRoberts to get away under any circumstances. That way this team at worst could have returned all five starters from last year’s playoff squad, as well as adding two first-round draft picks.

Now of course Gordon Hayward was a part of all this. The Hornets tried to steal Hayward, a restricted free agent, from Utah for four years at an astonishing $63 million. That was a worthy gamble, but it was always going to be a longshot. Utah matched, as expected, and in the meantime the Hornets lost McRoberts.

The Hornets have signed a decent backup point guard in Brian Roberts, formerly of the New Orleans Pelicans. That will be an upgrade over Luke Ridnour, who backed up Walker at the end of last season and simply wasn’t very good anymore.

But the big splash that the 2014 offseason was supposed to bring to Charlotte? We haven’t seen it yet.

And it turned out Charlotte backed the wrong horse in terms of restricted free agents. Houston did not match RFA Chandler Parsons at very similar numbers to what Charlotte offered Hayward. He would have been a good catch for Charlotte. But Dallas yanked Parsons away from the Rockets while Utah kept its word and kept Hayward.

Now notice I didn’t say Charlotte is no better than it was at the end of the 2014 season, when the then-Bobcats made the playoffs and lost four straight games to Miami. Adding first-round draft picks Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston certainly will make some sort of positive difference, assuming Hairston doesn’t get in trouble again and stays on the court. That is not a sure bet, especially if he keeps trading cars with the likes of Josh Gordon and punching teenagers in pickup basketball games.

And the learning curve for both first-round picks remains pretty steep, judging from their 2-for-29 combined shooting in the first NBA summer league game. (They have at least played better since).

Hairston might start at shooting guard at some point. Williams could start at power forward right away in front of Cody Zeller. But to me, this offseason has generally been underwhelming so far for the Hornets.

As to where you would spend tens of millions of dollars now, I’m not sure there is a good place. I made the case against Indiana’s Lance Stephenson the other day in this space – his questionable on-court behavior makes him a bad fit. If the Hornets really want a big-time wing, they might need to offer a future first-round pick, Henderson and some other assets and trade for one.

If they don’t, maybe they are a little better than the Eastern Conference’s No.7 playoff seed next year because they improve from within.

But Charlotte won 43 games last season. If this is the team the Hornets are going to go into training camp with, I just don’t see them making a leap to a 50-win season in 2014-15.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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