Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets in search of offense with makeover

Drafting Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky adds a skilled offensive big man for the Charlotte Hornets, but no one expects him to be an above-average defender.
Drafting Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky adds a skilled offensive big man for the Charlotte Hornets, but no one expects him to be an above-average defender. AP

In the span of a month the Charlotte Hornets made five trades, drafted Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky and signed free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin.

At the end of all that dealing, the Hornets have five new players, which qualifies as a makeover. And general manager Rich Cho says they aren’t necessarily done exploring free-agency options.

But obviously most of the off-season work is complete. Where do they now stand? Five thoughts on what has already been an eventful summer:

What was the theme?

When you add up all these moves – from trading Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers to signing Lin – the consistent message was “find more offense,” even if that somewhat sacrifices defense.

The Hornets chose not to make a qualifying offer to backup center Bismack Biyombo, which means they’ll likely enter next season with no real rim protector. Drafting Kaminsky adds a skilled offensive big man, but no one expects him to be an above-average defender.

The Hornets ended last season as one of the NBA’s better defensive teams for the second season in a row, but they were at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive statistic. Coach Steve Clifford talks about the importance of balance, that you can’t be great on one end of the court and terrible at the other end, and expect to succeed.

The Hornets averaged about 94 points per game last season. It’s tough to have a winning record in the NBA knowing you have to hold the other team to 93 on a consistent basis. So they found some scorers and passers and they’re counting on Clifford to come up with a defensive scheme that gets them by.

How good can Kaminsky be?

I’m reluctant to draw grand conclusions based on summer-league games, but what I saw in Orlando Summer League impressed me.

Kaminsky is very skilled. I knew about his shooting range, but did not anticipate what a good ball-handler and passer he is. He makes good decisions with the ball and has a feel for pick-and-roll offense that could make a difference.

I’m not getting into the whole “Why didn’t they draft Justise Winslow?” debate. What’s done is done. But I do think we’re all conditioned to believe if a player stays in college four seasons, he is somehow tainted as an NBA prospect.

In Kaminsky I see a highly skilled player who is 7 feet tall. That’s a good start. He belongs in the Hornets’ rotation from Day 1.

What was the most important transaction?

Undoubtedly, acquiring Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers. If he doesn’t play well, it could throw off all the other moves.

Last season the Hornets were simultaneously small and offensively deficient. Adding Batum means their starting shooting guard is 6-foot-8 and skilled as both a shooter and ball-handler.

Clifford plans to run a lot of offense through Batum, similar to how the Orlando Magic did with forward Hedo Turkoglu when Clifford was an assistant there. Batum is delighted about the trade and the expanded role. Now it’s on him to live up to the expectations.

How does Lin fit in Charlotte?

When Kemba Walker had knee surgery, Brian Roberts was thrust into a role at point guard he didn’t handle well. So the Hornets acquired Mo Williams in an attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive.

That worked out, but Williams was worn out physically by the time Walker returned to action. This time around the Hornets will enter training camp with three alternatives at the point.

Lin is a solid pick-and-roll point guard with 3-point range. He’ll penetrate into the lane and find open shooters. But there’s a reason he ended up a backup in both Houston and Los Angeles. He’s limited defensively.

What becomes of Aaron Harrison?

The Hornets signing Lin doesn’t preclude them from bringing undrafted rookie Harrison to training camp, but I’d think it’s less of a priority now.

The Hornets have 13 guaranteed contracts for a maximum 15 roster spots, and Cho is still shopping the free-agent market. So it’s possible they’ll run out of room to experiment with Harrison beyond summer league.

He’s been a fun surprise: He never really played point guard before summer league, but he clearly has a knack for pick-and-roll basketball. He gets to the rim consistently and is a better passer than you would have guessed from his time at Kentucky.

Harrison belongs in some team’s training camp. I still don’t know whether that will be in Charlotte or not.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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