If you are a player under contract to the Charlotte Hornets, someone is advocating you play more.
That’s cool, that’s fun, that’s the fan experience. However, it really isn’t practical for any NBA coach to play all 14 guys under guaranteed contract.
First-season Hornets coach James Borrego has a different vibe than his predecessor, Steve Clifford, as far as being improvisational and experimental with lineups. Halfway through the regular season, every Hornet has played at least a couple of games of considerable, meaningful minutes. They’ve all had a fair chance to show what they can do in a game setting.
Who should play the second half of the season got a lot of attention in your questions for this week’s Hornets mailbag:
Q. Is Dwayne Bacon not a good fit in Borrego’s system? He seems to never play heavy minutes. Is he in the coach’s doghouse?
A. Bacon hasn’t played a lot lately, but that doesn’t mean he never plays heavy minutes. There was a span in November when he played 14 or more minutes in seven of eight games. He has certainly gotten a chance this season to show his wares.
I wrote several times between summer league and the start of the regular season that the way the Hornets roster is configured, some wing player good enough to be in the rotation wouldn’t play in the absence of injuries. Bacon has generally been that guy. I wouldn’t play Jeremy Lamb, Nic Batum or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist less to play Bacon more. If Borrego plays Malik Monk or Miles Bridges less to play Bacon more, it creates a whole new round of complaints about developing young talent.
If every player with rotation talent on a given NBA roster is playing, then one of two things is true: Either that roster isn’t deep enough or the coach isn’t making the tough decisions. You don’t want either of those things to be true.
I don’t think Bacon is in a “doghouse.” I don’t think Borrego has a “doghouse.” If anything, you could argue Borrego has tried to excess to make sure every player has had a chance to play.
Q. Why can’t Frank Kaminsky even get garbage minutes? It seems as though he is on the trading block.
A. Again, if every player under contract is playing all the time, then it’s a sign of an indecisive coach. Borrego has gone with Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez to fill in at center while Cody Zeller recovers from a broken hand. Considering the Hornets’ limitations have been more defensive than offensive, I don’t have a problem with that roster leaning.
Q. When will the Hornets find a suitable trade partner to find additional scoring help?
A. Any NBA team would welcome more scoring, but I don’t agree that the Hornets’ urgent need is offense. I thought Tony Parker was spot-on after the win in San Antonio when he said scoring enough points isn’t the problem, it’s delivering consistent energy and defense.
Q. How do you feel about Borrego so far with half the season gone? I haven’t seen much development over the course of the season and the the defense isn’t good.
A Two questions in one: First, I think we have seen development, with the rookies being the best examples. Note how quickly second-rounder Devonte Graham has been a factor, even while playing point guard behind All-Star Kemba Walker and future Hall-of-Famer Parker. Also, Miles Bridges has had a bit of a breakthrough lately both in how best to attack offensively and recognizing defensive situations more quickly.
Fans ask me about Malik Monk’s up-and-down minutes. Is that a reflection of how Borrego uses him or a reflection of Monk’s up-and-down performance? Sometimes coaches get excessive criticism for individual player performance. For instance, I disagree with the popular narrative that Clifford held Monk back last season; Monk wasn’t ready for a prime role as a rookie on a team chasing the playoffs.
As to your second question, the defense hasn’t been good, but it has picked up since that awful performance in Portland. I think Borrego made some compromises defensively to get more scoring into the rotation. It felt inevitable that would be more an issue on the road, as the long West Coast trip generally confirmed.
Q. The Hornets have already played half their home games. Do you think they can still make the playoffs, despite them not being great on the road?
A. Yes, in part because the bar for making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference isn’t all that high. Six teams — Brooklyn, Miami, Charlotte, Detroit, Washington and Orlando — are vying for the last three playoff seeds. The Hornets have a combined 7-0 record against the Heat, Pistons and Magic, so it’s fair to say their potential tiebreaker situations against peers are favorable.
The bad road record is no small thing, but Borrego and Parker make the argument that playing so many guys early will have benefit the second half of thee schedule, both in raising the collective experience of the bench and taking some minutes off the starters’ bodies. That might be more a hope than a promise, but I think there’s some merit in the theory.
Q. Is it realistic to think the Hornets will ever play in the NBA Finals?
A. I understand the incentive for this question: Thirty years of the NBA in Charlotte without advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs. However, “ever” is a very long time. I’m sure there are New Orleans Saints fans who thought that franchise was so cursed that the city might host 30 Super Bowls but never have a Super Bowl champion. Then the Saints won it all in February of 2010.
I think the Hornets are well run on the business side and working through past issues on the basketball side. I think they had horrible luck not getting the No. 1 overall pick (and Anthony Davis) after a 7-59 season. That doesn’t mean they are permanently doomed to bad luck. It’s harder for small-market teams. But as the Spurs have demonstrated, it’s not impossible.
Q. Would the Hornets put everything on the table for Zion Williamson?
A. Everything? I should think not. Duke freshman Williamson is so entertaining in a SportsCenter highlights way that we’re approaching the point of irrational exuberance. He has potential to be an NBA prospect of major impact, but I don’t yet see him as a no-brainer future superstar the way Davis or LeBron James was.
A long time ago the Minnesota Vikings agreed to one of those “everything” trades with the Dallas Cowboys to acquire running back Herschel Walker. It was a horrible decision by the Vikings that helped make the Cowboys great at the time. Cautionary tale.