Charlotte Hornets

Hornets mailbag: Are Dwight Howard, Malik Monk threats to terrific team chemistry?

Charlotte Hornets Marvin Williams (left) and Kemba Walker (right) have helped create excellent team chemistry the past two seasons.
Charlotte Hornets Marvin Williams (left) and Kemba Walker (right) have helped create excellent team chemistry the past two seasons.

The Charlotte Hornets have had terrific chemistry the past two seasons.

I’ve covered the NBA since 1988. I’ve seen locker rooms full of players who cared for each other, and others with a toxic mix of personalities. This Hornets group has been terrific in being vested in each other’s success.

I believe that’s a reflection of leadership, particularly from Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Will that hold up in the 2017-18 season? That’s one of the questions Hornets fans asked in this week’s mailbag.

Q. Any thoughts on how or if (chemistry) could change this season with new player and coaches?

A. Veteran point guard Jannero Pargo once told me there is nothing more fragile in major league sports than chemistry, and that even if you bring back the exact same roster, a new season always creates new challenges to a team’s unity and focus.

Center Dwight Howard is a big personality who will be playing for his third team in as many seasons. Howard has talked a lot about restoring his strong presence as an NBA big man. Hopefully, that works in favor of team goals.

The Hornets also have to integrate talented rookie Malik Monk into the mix. Monk is cocky, and that’s a good thing, so long as he understands he has a lot to learn about NBA-level basketball.

Q. Pretend Monk becomes a player. What do you think the starting lineup looks like in a year?

A. Monk has exciting potential as a scorer. However, he’s 6-3, a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and he wasn’t much of a defender in his one season at Kentucky. It will be a challenge fitting him together with Kemba Walker, who isn’t big for an NBA point guard at 6-1.

Coach Steve Clifford isn’t comfortable starting games with a unit that is defensively deficient. Monk will have to prove this coming season he can guard to work his way into the starting lineup down the road.

Q. Will Monk have any training-camp limitations with his ankle?

A. As far as I know, he was fully cleared medically after missing summer league in Orlando with an ankle sprain. The Hornets would still like to experiment with Monk playing some point guard. Now, that will have to be in training camp practices and preseason exhibitions.

Q. What are your thoughts on Jeremy Lamb this season?

A. Small forward-shooting guard Lamb has this season and next season on his current contract, at $7 million each season. I think this is a big season, as far as Lamb establishing himself for another big contract in Charlotte or somewhere else.

The Hornets used both draft picks on wing players in Monk and Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, who showed promise at summer league. Clifford has a lot of options at Lamb’s positions, and will be expected to develop those rookies when possible.

Lamb’s issues in the past were focus and consistency. He didn’t handle extended playing time well two seasons ago, but improved last season. The Hornets have made huge financial commitments to Nic Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Monk and Bacon will play on relatively cheap rookie contracts. Lamb could eventually end up the odd man out.

Q. What are the chances of Kidd-Gilchrist coming off the bench?

A. Kidd-Gilchrist’s offensive limitations are obviously an issue. Clifford worked with him one-on-one this summer on his moves in the lane.

Kidd-Gilchrist calls himself the Hornets’ middle linebacker, and he needs to return to his defensive excellence from before two shoulder surgeries. Having said that, Clifford’s philosophy is to start his best defensive unit, then finish games with the best offensive group he can live with defensively.

Bottom line, I’d be surprised if Kidd-Gilchrist would be a better fit as sixth man than he would be as a starter.

Q. How big of an impact can Howard have on this team?

A. If he’s as motivated as he says, via Twitter and other media, then he could make a big difference. One of the Hornets’ major weaknesses last season was no real rim protection. Howard isn’t the shot-blocker he once was, but he can certainly still change opposing scorer’s shots around the rim.

Howard has never failed to finish a season averaging a double-double. He says Clifford – who worked with him with the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers – can draw the best from him. The Hornets have made a big financial bet – nearly $24 million each of the next two seasons – that will be the case.

Q. When does the salary cap lighten up some, and do you see the Hornets making a run for a big name?

A. The Hornets are close to the luxury-tax line of about $119 million this season, and will also have big financial commitments next summer. The summer of 2019, after Howard’s contract expires, would be an opportunity for the Hornets to jump into the free-agent market.

However, keep in mind that is also when Walker would hit unrestricted free-agency. He’s a huge bargain right now at $12 million per season, and would likely be due a major raise in that next contract.

The Hornets have had some success in free-agency, notably Al Jefferson in the summer of 2013. However, their best avenue for acquiring talent has been trades, which mean you don’t get in a bidding war for a player’s services.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell