Charlotte Hornets

‘Totally unacceptable.’ Hornets are off the tracks; major changes must happen.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford called his team’s last two games “totally unacceptable.” Is a major shakeup inevitable?
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford called his team’s last two games “totally unacceptable.” Is a major shakeup inevitable? AP

Blowing up this Charlotte Hornets roster will be costly and painful, and could take years to reassemble into a viable team on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

But an implosion of some sort has to happen. These parts don’t fit together, and the last two games suggest they never will.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford called Thursday’s 125-111 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets, on the heels of a blowout Tuesday at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, “totally unacceptable.”

“We owe it to each other, to the organization, to (owner) Michael (Jordan), and to our fans that we don’t play like that,” Clifford said postgame.

Every game won’t be as bad as the last two, but if the Hornets come back next season with roughly the roster they currently have, they are simply running themselves into a wall that will not budge. That will only result in bruises, not progress.

That’s not just my opinion. The sense I got from some veteran players postgame sounded like more than frustration. It was worry this thing might not get back on course.

“We’re not in a good situation right now. It won’t be easy. I can’t say impossible, but won’t be easy,” said shooting guard Nic Batum.

The 2015-16 season, after Batum arrived from Portland, this team won 48 games. It overachieved in the regular season, and pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. It was the giddiest time since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.

Since then, this franchise has been in slow decline.

Batum
“When I got here that first year, we played for each other,” shooting guard Nic Batum said after Thursday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. “... Tonight? I don’t know what happened tonight! I have no idea.” Chuck Burton AP

“When I got here that first year, we played for each other,” Batum said. “Marvin (Williams) and I have been trying to move the ball, to show how we can play together.

“Tonight? I don’t know what happened tonight! I have no idea.”

That 48-win team had an exceptional sense of “us.” They defended with passion, and found ways to squeeze out victories, winning seven of the last 10.

Nothing like the past two games.

“(With) the talent in this room, starting with us, everyone expected something more,” Batum said.

“People ask why Nic Batum got that big contract. It’s because I’ve always played for that guy on my left, that guy on my right. Never just for myself.”

Batum wasn’t the only veteran sounding alarmed. Williams, in his 13th NBA season, knows when a team isn’t playing up to the assembled talent of its parts.

“It’s been difficult. It hasn’t ever been this way here,” Williams said, when asked about the Hornets’ collective effort the past two games. “I remember, even going back to my first year here (the 33-48 season in 2014-15), we weren’t very good, but we still competed, we still defended.

“We weren’t the most talented, but we played hard. We didn’t just play for ourselves, we played for each other and for coach. Right now, we’re just not giving the effort we need to give.”

Howard
Dwight Howard has posted strong numbers, but the Charlotte Hornets still haven’t been better in the bottom line. Chuck Burton AP

It made sense last summer to trade for center Dwight Howard., hoping the rebounding and rim protection he’d provide could help the Hornets contend for a top-four finish in the East (and home court in the first round of the playoffs). Howard has posted strong numbers, but the Hornets still haven’t been better in the bottom line.

“At the end of the day, we are professional basketball players,” Williams said. “We have to go out there with a sense of pride.”

Williams said it’s so frustrating that the very things the coaches are emphasizing in pregame shootarounds are the things the players aren’t executing with any precision.

This thing just isn’t working anymore. I don’t know if that means a major trade (if one is even available). I don’t know if it means a coaching shakeup. It’s already meant a search for a new general manager.

The GM job won’t be the only change. It can’t be the only change.

This thing, in its current configuration, has fallen off the tracks.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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