I have never witnessed the Charlotte Hornets’ fan base this annoyed.
Even when the original Hornets left for New Orleans, the mood was more resignation than anger. Now, with Kemba Walker’s departure, following three consecutive losing seasons, it feels like this franchise has lost all benefit of the doubt from its audience.
That should trouble owner Michael Jordan. Jordan is right that paying luxury tax for a roster not even a lock to make the playoffs is bad business. But that isn’t soothing to the fan base, who watched All-NBA point guard Walker and second-leading scorer Jeremy Lamb leave without compensation.
It didn’t help that general manager Mitch Kupchak’s media session Saturday night left so many questions unresolved. Kupchak said it’s too soon to say whether this team is in rebuild mode, and when asked for the plan he replied with aspirations, not details.
As the Hornets wrap up summer league in Las Vegas, I asked fans for questions. You had plenty, leading with trades.
Q. Will Marvin Williams be traded before the start of the season?
A. I believe the player most likely to be traded between now and training camp is Williams. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but it’s the logical move because of the three veterans on expiring contracts — Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — Williams would be the most attractive to other teams. He has a reasonable salary at $14 million for a player who, when healthy, would be in any rotation in the NBA.
I heard multiple times during summer league that the Hornets have definitely made Williams available. That makes sense, in that coach James Borrego has said he’s considering starting Miles Bridges at power forward. Also, the Hornets’ first-round pick, Kentucky’s PJ Washington, would be a power forward at least initially. He might also play some center eventually.
I wouldn’t expect a team would give up more than a second-round pick for Williams. As context, remember the Hornets got Courtney Lee and Lamb for second-rounders.
Q. With Washington missing summer league (with a foot injury that lingered from last season), what should be the fans’ expectations for him next season? Do you see him on the floor for the Hornets, or mostly with the Swarm?
A. I think how much Washington plays is at least partially contingent on whether Williams is here next season. The Hornets have said they don’t anticipate Washington needing surgery. Missing summer league isn’t a big deal, but it would be detrimental to his rookie season if Washington is limited in on-court work the rest of the summer. All that is up in the air.
Kupchak said on draft night that Washington could spend time with the G-League Greensboro Swarm. Some fans bristled at that, saying if a player needs time in the G-League, he shouldn’t have been the 12th pick. I disagree conceptually. I thought, for instance, former lottery pick Malik Monk would have benefited from some playing time with the Swarm the past two seasons.
Q. Is there any player on the roster you feel the Hornets would absolutely balk at including in a trade?
A. Nope. No one on this roster should be surprised if he is traded. Having said that, it’d be pretty odd if the Hornets recruited Terry Rozier to be their replacement for Walker, and then immediately dealt him. But I don’t see that happening.
Q. What’s your over-under on Hornets victories next season?
A. Kupchak is still looking to improve the roster. The Hornets have a mid-level exception that would allow them to sign one or more players totaling up to $9.2 million on next season’s payroll.
But if the roster stays as it is right now, I’d say 25 wins as the over-under.
Q. Who is going to be the secondary playmaker for this team? Rozier isn’t known as a great distributor and neither Monk nor Dwayne Bacon is known for that.
A. The obvious answer is Nic Batum. He has always been a ball-mover. I think Tony Parker’s presence last season limited some of Batum’s opportunity to make decisions with the ball. By default, with Walker and Parker gone, Batum will have more chances to make plays for teammates next season.
Q. Could the Hornets sign their second-round picks (Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels) to two-way contracts, rather than regular ones, since they’d probably spend a lot of time with the Swarm next season?
A. Yes, teams can choose to offer two-way contracts to second-round picks. Those players can turn them down and seek to play outside the NBA. The same would apply to Arnoldas Kulboka, the 2018 second-round pick who’s been playing in Europe.
Q. What are your expectations for Devonte Graham?
A. I’m very high on Graham as this team’s backup to Rozier. He’s smart, he’s mature and he has the ball-distribution skills to play 10 years in the NBA. He’s got to improve his 3-point consistency. Part of that is confidence. His teammates tell him he passes up too many open shots.
Q. Do you think Monk will be given the chance to be starting shooting guard next season?
A. I do, but the key word in that sentence is “chance.” Borrego will make him earn a starter’s role.
Bacon, Batum and Monk will combine for most of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Whether Monk is a starter or sixth man is up to him; with Lamb gone the opportunity is obvious. He needs to prove to them he’s ready, and that’s about applying himself at both ends of the floor. He can’t be such a liability defensively if he wants to be an NBA starter.