Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he believes his team can be as good as, if not better than, the version last season that won 48 games and was in a four-way tie for the Eastern Conference’s third-best record.
But for all the carry-over players, Clifford sees this as a different team with different challenges.
"We probably don’t have as many points in our lineup," Clifford said at a media luncheon Tuesday. "We lost a lot of offense, but I think we’ll figure that out. We have potential to be better defensively. We get Mike (Kidd-Gilchrist) back and he’s an elite perimeter defender.
"In studying Roy (Hibbert), it’s just a question of helping him get back to the level he once played at. He’s a basket-protector, but he can also play offense. If he gets anywhere near what he was at Indiana, he gives us a dimension we haven’t had."
Clifford said he knew, entering free agency in July, that it would be impossible to re-sign all five rotation players whose contracts expired. The Hornets retained small forward Nic Batum and power forward Marvin Williams. Jeremy Lin moved to the Brooklyn Nets. Al Jefferson signed with the Indiana Pacers and Courtney Lee signed with the New York Knicks.
Clifford indicated Lin would be the toughest to replace because of his versatility to defend both point guards and shooting guards.
"We were ninth in offense and ninth in defense. We knew we had better offensive personnel. We were one of only four teams to be top-10 in both," Clifford said. "The thing that stood out more than anything was depth.
"When we had two (healthy) rotation players at every position, that’s when we were really good in terms of efficiency of play."
Clifford said general manager Rich Cho and assistant general manager Chad Buchanan did a good job of re-assembling the roster:
"I feel getting Ramon (Sessions) and Roy with the money we had, we did really well."
Other points Clifford discussed Tuesday:
On acquiring veteran Marco Belinelli
"Trading the 22nd pick for Belinelli set up the whole thing in my mind. He’s a legitimate rotation player who can play right now," Clifford said. "You’re just not going to get (a rookie) at 22 who can do that. I know people love the draft, but it’s not going to happen."
On the competition in the East
"The East is a lot better than it was. There are about nine teams saying, ‘We’re good enough to (finish) fourth.’ There’s not a lot of difference between a bunch of us."
On rehabilitating Hibbert’s career
"He’s a natural worker and team-first. He needs a very defined plan: ‘This is what we’ll do with you on offense and this is what we’ll do with you on defense.’ " Clifford said. "One thing I didn’t realize is he’s very good offensive player. He’s not going to be Al, but he can really pass and make good decisions."
On Lin’s departure
"The one thing we’ll lose without Jeremy is a lot of penetration. That’s why he was a good fit for us."
On power forward Frank Kaminsky
"He’s really working at his defensive technique, and that will ultimately determine how good he is. He can score in a lot of different ways. But there are very few guys who are such good scorers that they can play no defense and still become a star.
"Frank, like Marvin, is self-motivated and likes to work. Being good is important to him, and he wants our team to be good, too.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell