The Charlotte Hornets have made significant off-season changes: Trading for center Dwight Howard, drafting Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk and signing backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
However, coach Steve Clifford said following a 36-46 season that much of the improvement must come internally, with core players upping their games in the off-season.
The starting wing positions last season were filled by shooting guard Nic Batum and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Neither had a stellar season. A Hornets fan asked how well, or not, those two fit together.
Answers to your summer Hornets questions:
Q. Do you think Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum on the court at the same time hurt the Hornets?
A. No, I don’t, in the sense that the Hornets’ failing last season was more on defense than offense. They averaged 104.9 points per game, which is sufficient to reach the playoffs. The problem was allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range. You reduce or shift MKG’s role by much, and that defensive predicament only gets worse.
Kidd-Gilchrist is never going to be a big scorer. Batum’s ability to create high-quality shots for others should help MKG score enough that teams can’t just leave him defensively. Having said that, I’d think lottery-pick rookie Malik Monk will get minutes once he’s at least competent defensively at the NBA level. When Monk comes in, that should shift Batum to small forward.
Clifford generally likes to start a game with his best defensive group and finish a close game with the best offensive group he can, without just surrendering defensively. That sometimes puts MKG on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Q. With the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic completely awful, and the Washington Wizards losing key bench players, do the Hornets have a legit chance to take the Southeast Division?
A. A chance? Yes. A “legit” chance? That might be a reach. I think a Wizards roster with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter is still better than what the Hornets will field. Maybe not dramatically better, but better.
Also, the Miami Heat is still talented, and Erik Spoelstra is a terrific coach. They are coming off a red-hot second half of last season.
Remember that division titles don’t count for much in the NBA these days, the way they once did. A division winner is no longer guaranteed a top-four seed (and, thus, homecourt advantage in the first round).
Q. Is there a point to being the 4-through-8 playoff seed in a perpetually lesser Eastern Conference? I don’t want to tank, but we can’t compete for a title: Am I wrong?
A. I totally appreciate your frustration. However, I covered the misery of that 7-59 Bobcats team in 2011-12. The lottery that spring didn’t go in their favor and Anthony Davis went to New Orleans.
By the way, Davis illustrates drafting a superstar isn’t an automatic road to success. That franchise has made one playoff appearance since he arrived, and were swept that post-season 4-0 by the Golden State Warriors.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said the intermediate goal is getting home-court advantage in the first round. I agree that’s logical progress. If the East is as shallow as you imply, then the Hornets would have a puncher’s chance of advancing to the second round. Playoff basketball in mid-May would get this town pumped.
Q. Because of the earlier start of the regular season in 2017-18, when will Hornets’ training camp begin?
A. The NBA regular season will start in mid-October, about a week to 10 days earlier than previously.
I checked with the Hornets on this, and NBA training camps will start in late September, approximately the same as last season. The league is cutting back on exhibitions (the maximum eight per team in the past always seemed excessive).
I asked Clifford and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy last season how they’d ideally remake the NBA preseason. They both said they’d happily play fewer exhibitions, but that it was important to retain the practice days of past preseasons. That, Van Gundy said, is essential to the quality of the product, and avoiding additional injuries, at the start of the regular season.
Q. Will Briante Weber be Charlotte’s third point guard or will they explore other options? I love his hustle and grind, but his summer-league performance was a little shaky.
A. They are definitely exploring other options; general manager Rich Cho said as much during a press conference to introduce backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
There are things to like about Weber, particularly his persistent defense. But in Orlando summer league he reminded me of Raymond Felton as an NBA rookie, in that he dribbles a lot without necessarily creating scoring advantages for teammates.
Weber indicated last month that if he’s still on the roster in early August, his contract calls for a significant salary guarantee. So, if he’s not waived by then, he looks like the Hornets’ third point next season.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell