It is time for Charlotte Hornets management to contemplate a new path, because the 2017-18 season is in a crater.
The Hornets are 11-20, about six games out of even qualifying to be road kill for the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. It isn’t just the record, it’s the lethargy. This was supposed to be the best last chance for this team to find itself: Six of seven at home before a West Coast trip.
They have already lost three of those four home games. This is not how salvation looks.
How do you like their chances in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks? How do you like their chances next Wednesday against the East-leading Celtics?
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They lost to the Raptors 129-111 Wednesday. That 18-point margin doesn’t convey how bad this was. I covered the then-Bobcats’ 7-59 season, and this one had that wretched feel.
The Raptors outscored the Hornets 41-21 in the second quarter. Toronto, a team not known for 3-point shooting, made six of nine from the arc in those 12 minutes. Had Jeremy Lamb not scored 14 of his career-high 32 points in that quarter, the Hornets would have trailed at halftime by 40.
No one but Lamb played particularly well for the home team Wednesday, but Nic Batum stuck out in the opposite direction. In 26 minutes, Batum scored zero points. He took one shot.
I generally don’t indict players for how much money they make because if they’re overpaid, that’s the team’s mistake. But Batum is playing on a $120 million, 5-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect him not to vanish.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I wish I had an answer for you,” acting Hornets coach Stephen Silas said when I asked about Batum’s night.
The Hornets are 10 games away from the season’s midpoint. Unless something totally unforeseeable happens, February, March and April will feel like ground zero at Spectrum Center.
Head coach Steve Clifford, who missed his 10th consecutive game with an undisclosed medical issue, said before training camp this was the most talented of six rosters since he arrived in Charlotte. Maybe so, but these parts haven’t fit together.
The worst place in the NBA isn’t necessarily a 25-victory season, if that season advances a greater good.
Right now, the Hornets are mediocre, expensive and rather old. Dwight Howard has played 13 NBA seasons and Marvin Williams has logged 12. Batum has nine.
None of those three players is over the hill. However, these are players you employ to win something now, not three seasons from now. Howard and Batum each makes more than $22 million this season, and Williams makes more than $13 million. All three are signed beyond the current season.
Unwinding the roster decisions the Hornets have made could be very difficult. This team is always active at the February trade deadline, but usually in a surgical “find a complementary piece” way. This February, they maybe should look to unload payroll obligation and gather extra draft picks.
I dislike the notion of tanking because it’s corrosive to a winning culture and unreliable as a rebuilding plan. I also question whether force-feeding minutes to rookies actually helps.
However, it’s time to consider hard choices. Status quo isn’t working.