I get daily Tweets and emails from Charlotte Hornets fans, advocating that this team do a radical makeover: Scrap the veteran roster, get whatever you can for All-Star Kemba Walker and, “trust the process,” Philadelphia 76ers-style.
In other words, tank.
This is a very understandable reaction to the mess the Hornets have put themselves in. Wednesday night’s 115-111 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks was an indictment of the roster as currently constructed: The Hornets had four consecutive days off, following Friday’s road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavs got in about 3 a.m. in Charlotte, following a home game against the Orlando Magic. That the Hornets would look like the jet-lagged team in this one is inexcusable.
But before I’d endorse such a dramatic attempt at fixing the current situation, I’d ask this: Is there anyone in this town who would/should renew their season tickets if Walker is not still on this roster?
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Walker scored 41 points Wednesday, making 16-of-28 from the field. He was brilliant and fearless, just as we’ve come to expect over the six-plus seasons Walker has been here.
Kemba told me following practice Wednesday that he believes the team figured it out during a 3-1 West Coast trip; that they now have more trust in each other on defensive rotations and better ball movement. That might be the only thing he flubbed up the past 48 hours. The team I saw Wednesday was a crashing disappointment. Starters Nic Batum and Marvin Williams — two highly expensive re-signings in the summer of 2015 – had little impact.
Walker singlehandedly willed the Hornets (15-24) to stay in this game. He scored 13 fourth-quarter points, including a late-game shooting foul drawn on Dallas’ Maxi Kleber that demonstrated how creative Walker has become, playing at different tempos and not just putting his head down and hoping to draw contact in the lane.
Walker is a gem. He is less than a thousand points away from passing Dell Curry as the Hornets’ all-time scoring leader. The only things that could keep that from happening are a major injury or a trade. My friend Tim Bontemps, who covers the NBA for the Washington Post, recently wrote a column advocating the Hornets deal Walker while they can still acquire significant assets for a rebuild, before Walker becomes an unrestricted free agent following next season.
Tim’s column was a savvy look from the macro view of the NBA; that if the Hornets are failing in the current configuration, then it’s wise to consider moving Walker too soon, rather than too late.
But here’s the micro view back in Charlotte: You take Walker off this roster, replacing him with young players or draft picks, and you are stretching a fan base’s patience that has already been tested beyond reasonable limits.
I think the “trust the process” narrative is a sexy sports-talk topic. I do not think it is a model for NBA salvation. The Sixers spent multiple seasons in purgatory gathering high draft picks, then started churning. That has resulted in a .500 record this season. To pronounce the Sixers’ experiment a success at this point is absurdly premature.
More importantly, the NBA has already set about changing the draft-lottery rules, to make it harder for teams considering a lose-to-win strategy from tanking. Does the fan base really want to wrap up all its hopes in this front office’s drafting? Also, do you remember the disappointment, following a 7-59 season, when the chance to draft Anthony Davis never reached Charlotte?
On Wednesday, Kemba looked like the only reason anyone would pay cash to walk into Spectrum Center.
Whoever has final say over how long Walker is here better think long and hard before stepping off that ledge.