There is no Charlotte Hornets question I’m asked more than this:
“Why not play Malik Monk? It can’t make things any worse.”
That view, and the underlying frustration over the Hornets’ 12-22 record entering the West Coast trip, is understandable. The chances of the Hornets qualifying for the NBA playoffs, much less competing in a first-round series, are remote. So what would be the harm in diverting minutes toward guard Monk, after the Hornets used the 11th overall pick to draft him in June?
Except it is more complicated than just that. If Monk and fellow rookie Dwayne Bacon play ahead of more veteran players, who are clearly better right now (Treveon Graham, for instance), what sort of message are you sending to this team about earning your minutes? On the other hand, if the second half of the season is without tangible stakes, why not invest playing time in development of the young and talented?
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Wednesday, I solicited your Hornets questions on Twitter. Here are my answers:
Q. What is the reasoning behind limiting minutes for both Monk and Bacon? The team played much better at the start of the season with them in the lineup.
A. Obviously, a 5-3 start was better than the recent 2-6 span. Early on, Bacon was a fill-in starter (for an injured Nic Batum) and Monk was playing about 17 minutes per game. Now, neither is consistently in the rotation.
Were the Hornets better then for the rookies playing, or was that coincidental? I applaud how Bacon handled playing right away, and Monk had the occasional eye-catching game (25 points against the Milwaukee Bucks). However, I don’t think either’s performance demands they play more.
This is more about the situation than the rookies: Backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams is awful offensively; he seems to have a case of the yips when finishing at the rim. Also, unless the results turn around fast, the Hornets will be out of the NBA playoff race in all but mathematical terms.
At some point, sure, turn the rookies loose. But minutes won’t necessarily fix Monk’s flaws; he’s a bad defender with questionable shot selection. Ideally, he would improve to earn more minutes, rather than get more minutes in the hope he improves.
Q. Do the Hornets move Batum or MCW before the trade deadline?
A. Batum and Carter-Williams are the Hornets drawing the most negative attention from fans. Their contract situations are two extremes. Batum got the largest deal in Charlotte major-league history: $120 million over five years. Carter-Williams is playing on a one-season contract, paying $2.7 million.
If Carter-Williams doesn’t play better the second half of this season, he may not be in the NBA next season. If he were in a trade, it would probably just be throwing his salary into a multiplayer deal to balance the money.
Batum has value, particularly to a contender. However, it’s difficult to make a midseason trade of a player with such a high cap number. Also, any team accepting Batum would want to send the Hornets a bad contract or two in return.
Q. Any thoughts that (Michael Jordan) would entertain selling the Hornets?
A. Everything in this world is for sale at some price, so never say never. But I have no reason to think Jordan has grown tired of owning the Hornets, despite the current struggles.
There are only 30 of these NBA franchises. While the basketball operation isn’t getting the intended results, the Hornets are well run as a business (kudos to Fred Whitfield and Pete Guelli). There has been progress relative to the mess Jordan inherited when he bought majority control from Bob Johnson.
Also, consider Jordan’s competitiveness. If he sold any time soon, it would be equivalent to admitting failure. Who would hate that more than Jordan’s personality type?
Q. Are there any updates on Coach (Steve) Clifford? I respect his privacy, but am concerned about him.
A. Clifford has been out since Dec. 4, with an undisclosed medical condition. When or if he’ll return this season is anyone’s guess.
Stephen Silas has been solid filling in for Clifford, but the circumstances are detrimental. Clifford is terrific at holding players accountable without being so negative or shrill that players tune him out. It’s hard for any substitute coach to replicate that.
Q. Why hasn’t (general manager Rich) Cho been fired?
A. Firing a GM at midseason wouldn’t serve much purpose other than offering a sacrifice to an angry fan base. Whether you believe Cho has done a good or bad job, making a change right now would probably make the franchise less stable in the short run, without improving anything in the long run.
If Cho isn’t retained, the two logical windows to make a change would be after the season or after the draft (before free-agency begins). Typically, GM contracts run through the draft in late June, so it’s unlikely you’d have the best pool of candidates now.