I asked Charlotte Hornets acting coach Stephen Silas Wednesday if he thought Nic Batum looked passive in the home loss to the Boston Celtics.
Silas, filling in for Steve Clifford, said passive isn’t the word he’d use; that the Celtics defense is so physical, the sets that get Batum deep enough in the offensive zone to succeed weren’t working.
I feel for Silas, who is dealing with a mess not of his making. However, Batum, he of the $120 million contract, had no real impact: Seven points, three assists and three rebounds (and, granted, four steals). The Hornets needed more from him Wednesday, as they did from many others not named Kemba Walker.
That is why this team is 12-22 overall and 10-10 at Spectrum Center. The Hornets now head out on a West Coast trip that starts Friday against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
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Heaven help them.
We haven’t seen owner Michael Jordan at courtside lately. I can only imagine how grumpy he must be watching these day-to-day car crashes. The Hornets put a lot of energy into whittling a 20-point deficit down to two, only to be outscored 9-2 in the last three minutes.
The Hornets are Walker, Dwight Howard and a whole lot of role players. There isn’t enough shooting and there sure isn’t enough Batum.
I’m a fan of Batum’s versatility and basketball savvy. But if there is even a miniscule chance of saving this season, he has to be more the alpha male.
Sometimes the dynamic reminds me of when another cerebral Frenchman, Boris Diaw, played in Charlotte: Too much helper bee, not enough take charge. I would rather see Batum aggressively bad than how this looked.
Asked if the Celtics took away his aggressiveness, Batum said “I understand sometimes you have to go with the flow.”
Batum needs to be the flow, not just ride along.
Not that Batum’s aggressiveness is anything close to the singular problem. This team is flawed in its shooting. Extract Walker’s four 3s from the Hornets’ box score, and they were 3-of-13 outside the arc. That isn’t just a problem in a vacuum: If opponents don’t fear other Hornets beating them offensively, they can focus massive attention on Walker with impunity.
We all remember Clifford, who missed his 13th game with an undisclosed health issue, saying preseason this was the most talented of five Charlotte rosters he’s coached. I get why he said that; they acquired a future Hall-of-Famer over the summer, and Howard’s 17 rebounds and 12 points Wednesday demonstrate he still has plenty left.
However, this team’s parts don’t fit together. The Hornets just finished a span when six of seven games were at home. They lost four of those six home games. The 82-game season is seven away from its midpoint.
Right now, with the exception of Clifford, the only significant injury or illness is backup center Cody Zeller. The Hornets are essentially whole; they’re just not good enough.
To even qualify to be slaughtered by the Celtics, Toronto Raptors or Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round seems a remote possibility.
Someone – and Jordan is the obvious candidate – needs to take a stand on what comes next. Because the here-and-now looks bleak.