Tom Sorensen

Hornets: On Batum’s promise, Kemba’s delivery, and a sentence I never thought I’d write

Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum guaranteed a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, but the team couldn’t deliver.
Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum guaranteed a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, but the team couldn’t deliver. TNS

The Charlotte Hornets played the Philadelphia 76ers Monday at Spectrum Center, their last home game until March 6.

Charlotte’s highest paid player, Nic Batum, had guaranteed a victory. Batum is a smart, quiet and reflective man who excels at no facet of the game but is good at all of them.

He’s from France. If he chose his favorite French restaurant in Charlotte and guaranteed that I’d have a good meal, I’d believe him. But to guarantee a victory in a nondescript game against a nondescript opponent on a nondescript evening felt unnecessary.

▪  The most painful moment in Charlotte’s 105-99 loss came when the scoreboard showed a dance team member who was selected to perform at the NBA All-Star Game. She was told, “Good luck in New Orleans.”

The All-Star Game, of course, originally was awarded to Charlotte. The NBA moved the all-star festivities to New Orleans because of North Carolina’s discriminatory House Bill 2. For three days the world capital of basketball will be New Orleans.

There were many painful moments Monday, foremost among them the realization that even without rookie sensation Joel Embiid, the 76ers are better than the Hornets. If they played again, on Charlotte’s court, the smart pick again would be the visitors.

The game did offer moments, many off the court: Talented Big Pat provided play-by-play, one fan wore a Muggsy Bogues jersey and another a T-shirt with the message “I’m the reason the beer’s always gone.”

▪  Kemba Walker, Charlotte’s all-star guard, provided most of the moments on the court.

There were times when Walker went one-on-one, one-on-two, one-on-Philadelphia, and one-on-world. He had no choice because Charlotte offered no other takers. Walker scored a game-high 29 points on 18 field goal attempts.

▪  Walker and head coach Steve Clifford are two of the three reasons the Hornets still have a chance to make the playoffs. The third is that they play in the Eastern Conference.

But the Hornets are in a total slump. On Jan. 4, they were four games above .500. That feels like a fantasy now.

They’ve lost 10 of their past 11 and are seven games below .500. Their next seven games are on the road.

▪  Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: The Hornets miss Cody Zeller. (Zeller is out with a quadriceps injury.) A washout as a power forward, Zeller emerged when he was moved to center. He’s a superior athlete, plays hard and offers a great pick and roll partner for Walker.

The Hornets traded for Miles Plumlee, whose role is to serve as Zeller Light. By acquiring his contract the Hornets are gambling that Plumlee can play.

▪  Speaking of former Duke big men (Plumlee played at Duke), would you like to see the Hornets add another center in Jahil Okafor? Okafor was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft and is No. 3 on Philadelphia’s depth chart at center.

The criticism of Okafor is that all he can do is score. But that’s a fine start. I’d love to see him in Charlotte. But whom do you expect the 76ers to accept for him? What combination of players can the Hornets offer?

▪  I’ve been a fan of Charlotte small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist since he arrived. But as hard as he works, his offense hasn’t evolved this season. On a good team, he doesn’t start. On a good team, he offers energy, enthusiasm, defense and rebounding when he supplants a starter.

Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t going to fetch Okafor. If the Hornets thought they could land Okafor, they wouldn’t have traded for Plumlee.

▪  If the playoffs began Wednesday, the Hornets would not be in them. Maybe Clifford invents a way to get them through their seven-game road trip and, eventually, to the eighth spot in the East. That’s as good as it will get this season.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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