Is there any harm in the Charlotte Hornets not having hired a general manager yet?
That was an excellent question for this week’s Hornets mailbag, because while the immediate answer is no, the topic is thought-provoking.
I thought it was best for both Rich Cho and the Hornets that they parted ways once Cho was told he wouldn’t get a new contract to continue as GM. Cho can look for his next job and the Hornets can start looking for his replacement.
So, on to your questions:
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Q. What effect will Cho leaving have on the team short term?
A. If by short term, you mean the next few weeks, I’d say little or none. It starts getting more complicated if Cho’s replacement isn’t hired once the Hornets’ season is complete.
There isn’t much for an NBA front office to do between the trade deadline and the end of the season, other than scout draft prospects in college or overseas. It’s not too difficult to identify those players. Most of that organizational work would have been done before Cho’s departure last month, and assistant general manager Buzz Peterson can certainly coordinate that plan.
Once the season is over, it signals annual evaluation of Steve Clifford and his coaching staff. Also, the next general manager has to get a quick sense of the roster. It’s all but inevitable one or more rotation players will have to be traded in the off-season, with the Hornets already so close to next season’s luxury-tax threshold, to create some room to improve the roster depth.
There will likely be attractive candidates for the GM job who won’t be available to interview until after their teams are eliminated from the playoffs. Owner Michael Jordan and vice chairman Curtis Polk will have to make a judgment call on whether it’s worth waiting for those candidates to be available, or to go ahead and make a hire.
Q. Will there be any major restructuring in the foreseeable future?
A. The next GM will undoubtedly be open to change, particularly since none of the current players are here on the new GM’s resume.
It’s harder to predict who will be available over the summer who can improve the Hornets beyond the draft. The Hornets go into the off-season with six players making $12 million or more guaranteed in the 2018-19 season, which makes it harder to make major changes.
There could be as few as six or seven of 30 NBA teams entering the new fiscal year under the salary cap. So making a trade, even if it’s just to dump a salary, will be difficult. Example: Center Dwight Howard has posted terrific numbers this season, but how many teams would be receptive to, and capable of, taking his salary of nearly $24 million without sending back a bunch of bad contracts?
The Hornets might have to do something painful, like trading Jeremy Lamb and his expiring contract (a salary of about $7.5 million) for little over the summer just to start a reset process.
Q: Are rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon capable of being key players on a championship team, or would they be the 14th and 15th players?
A. Despite neither rookie playing a lot of late, I get no indication the coaching staff is down on either’s potential value. The ankle sprain that cost Monk the summer before his first NBA season really set him back. Bacon’s boxer-like body will serve him well at the NBA level, but there’s a reason he was a mid-second round pick; he needs time to develop.
I think both will have bigger roles next season, if simply because the options will be limited by the Hornets’ payroll problems. Those two, plus recently-acquired center Willy Hernangomez, should use Lamb’s summer of 2017 as a model for how much a great off-season can change a player’s status.
Q. What would it take for Charlotte to become a free-agent destination in the NBA?
A. Well, 20-somethings are never going to see Charlotte as appealing as, for instance, Los Angeles or Miami, but smaller markets can attract talent, as when LaMarcus Aldridge chose San Antonio.
An NBA team in a smaller market has to demonstrate a great team culture and a consistent record of winning. Unfortunately, that’s a rich-get-richer dynamic, not a means to get the Hornets out of their current mediocrity.
Q. Will Marcus Paige get called up (from the G-League Greensboro Swarm)?
A. If that were to happen, it would only be in reaction to multiple injuries or after the Hornets’ playoff pursuit is exhausted.
Paige, the former North Carolina guard, was signed to one of the NBA’s new two-way contracts with the intent of him being in Greensboro all season. If he has a future with the Hornets, it’s as a long-term project, not a replacement player now.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell