Exploring the sports world, starting with seven pieces of my totally unsolicited advice for the Charlotte Hornets:
1. Get Nic Batum back. I believe the Hornets would have won their first-round playoff series against Miami with a totally healthy Batum. While Batum doesn’t score in bunches, he’s worth a “max” contract because when he is in the game, he makes everyone on his team better.
The Hornets say this is their No. 1 priority, as it should be.
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2. Make the “Big Al” decision. Unless Al Jefferson is really ready to take an enormous pay cut on his next contract, it’s time to part ways with him. Jefferson has been a warrior for the Hornets for a long time and remains a valuable player offensively. But the Hornets slow down a lot when “Big Al” is in the game and have proven they can get along without him just fine.
Unless Jefferson wants to do what Charles Johnson did for the Panthers and take a lot less to stay in Charlotte, this union has run its course.
3. Find a rim protector. Who would have thought the Hornets would miss Bismack Biyombo so much? Biyombo is a poor man’s Hassan Whiteside, and Whiteside dominated long stretches of the Miami-Charlotte series.
Charlotte has no one who strikes fear into anybody dribbling into the paint, which is part of the reason the Hornets were outscored 58-22 in the paint in the deciding Game 7. Cody Zeller is athletic and runs the floor well, but he needs to split time at center with a defensive-minded seven-footer who can alter shots.
4. Explore Whiteside’s hometown loyalty. This is related to No. 3. It’s probably a pipe dream, but is there any way Whiteside – who grew up mostly in Gastonia and used to dream of playing for Charlotte – would give the Hornets a hometown discount and sign as a free agent?
Miami will likely be able to pay him more and is the leader in the clubhouse to get the NBA’s best shot-blocker back for the 2016-17 season. But a few phone calls to Whiteside’s agent certainly couldn’t hurt.
5. Get more physical. You can bet head coach Steve Clifford will harp on this in his own meetings with the front office. The Hornets got pushed around too often in the Miami series. Charlotte simply needs to get tougher. The return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will help, but the Hornets need more strength at several positions.
6. Maintain continuity. The Hornets have a good thing going. Jeremy Lin would be worth re-signing at a decent price because he helps take some of the pressure off Kemba Walker offensively. Courtney Lee, another free agent, helps defensively but could be expendable.
Marvin Williams had a bad playoff series shooting the ball but his regular season was superb – he and Walker were the Hornets’ two most consistent players in the 48-win regular season.
If only able to choose two of those three to return, I’d keep Lin and Williams.
7. Admit the Jeremy Lamb mistake and move on. Hornets general manager Rich Cho made a flurry of fine moves to improve the roster in the past year. Trading for Lamb in 2015 and then signing him to a three-year, $21 million extension after two regular-season games was not one of them.
Clifford obviously doesn’t trust Lamb in big moments, and I don’t blame him. If the Hornets can get anything at all for Lamb, they should trade him.
May Madness: Although the Panthers and Hornets are not in season, May has turned into a very busy month on Charlotte’s sports calendar. This May we are about to finish up another fine pro golf tournament at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Still to come later in May: Two weeks worth of big-time racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a host of Olympians coming to the annual swim meet in uptown Charlotte and the NFL owners’ meetings.
Happy Mother’s Day: Hey, Sunday is Mother’s Day. If you are fortunate enough that your mother is still alive today, call her and tell her one nice thing you remember that she did for you when you were young. It will do her heart some good – and yours, too.