Charlotte Hornets

Analysis: Charlotte Hornets needed shooting help, but got even worse

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford (right) says guard P.J. Hairston (19) isn’t a “deadeye” shooter, but teams can’t afford to leave him alone outside the 3-point arc.
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford (right) says guard P.J. Hairston (19) isn’t a “deadeye” shooter, but teams can’t afford to leave him alone outside the 3-point arc.

Last summer the Charlotte Hornets set out to fix a shooting problem. They were coming off a playoff season in which they were 25th among 30 teams in field-goal percentage and 23rd in 3-point percentage.

They traded for rookie P.J. Hairston on draft night and signed free agents Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts.

And a bad situation offensively grew worse. They finished this season 29th in field-goal percentage and 30th in 3-point percentage.

So that’s where you start in any attempt at fixing a Hornets team that went 33-49 and is headed back to the draft lottery.

The problem, if you’re Hornets management, is there will be limited resources this offseason. Assuming center Al Jefferson and shooting guard Gerald Henderson don’t exercise opt-out clauses in their contracts (Jefferson has already said that’s not his intent) the team has about $65 million in player-salary obligations, which is close to next season’s projected cap.

So the most the Hornets could spend on a free agent this summer is the mid-level exception, which projects to be around $5.5 million in a first-season salary.

“We’re not in a position to get a max-level player,” coach Steve Clifford acknowledged Thursday. “Nor do we need to.”

Translated to the free-agent list this summer, that means there’s no reason to think the Hornets could bid for a shooting guard like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. And it might be unlikely they could sign Arron Afflalo, who can opt out of his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Clifford said Thursday any solutions will come both internally and externally. The Hornets acquired a 3-point threat on draft night in Hairston, but he shot just 30 percent from outside the arc his rookie season.

Clifford said Thursday Hairston is no “deadeye” shooter, but he’s enough of a threat that teams can’t afford to leave him along the perimeter. That helps create some room for center Al Jefferson to operate in the post.

There are two other potential internal options. Clifford is pushing power forward Cody Zeller to take more corner 3s next season. Zeller was touted as a long-range shooter when the Hornets drafted him two Junes ago. But he has attempted just two 3s in his NBA career.

The other internal possibility is shooting guard Troy Daniels, who was acquired along with Mo Williams in a February trade. Daniels didn’t play much until the Hornets were out of playoff contention, but he made 17 of 36 3-point attempts with Charlotte.

The other route is the June 25 draft. The Hornets have their first- and second-round picks. They have a small chance at one of the top three picks (1.7 percent for No. 1 and 6.1 percent at 1, 2 or 3 in the weighted lottery) and will more likely pick between ninth and 12th.

In all likelihood a player like Duke freshman Justise Winslow will be gone before the ninth pick. But there are three shooters who might be available in that span – Croatian pro Mario Hezonja, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Kentucky’s Devin Booker.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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