Tom Sorensen

How long must fans wait before Charlotte Hornets escape NBA’s lower middle class?

It will take more than one good player for the Charlotte Hornets to become a top four team in the NBA East. Above, Nicolas Batum and Philadelphia 76ers’ JJ Redick, front, chase a loose ball.
It will take more than one good player for the Charlotte Hornets to become a top four team in the NBA East. Above, Nicolas Batum and Philadelphia 76ers’ JJ Redick, front, chase a loose ball. AP

The Charlotte Hornets laid down the last week. I’ve disagreed with readers that contend the season has been a testament to a lack of hustle. The Hornets played hard until their chance at the playoffs disappeared. They haven’t played smart. The defensive rotations weren’t there. They didn’t play the defense for which head coach Steve Clifford has become known in his four seasons in Charlotte.

Should Clifford return next season? I say he should. The team’s talent is insufficient. Take away Kemba Walker and what do you have? What has Clifford had?

Guard Nic Batum has played better as the season has gone on. He is a complimentary player, pretty good at everything, excellent at nothing. Dwight Howard is to the NBA what a fullback is to the NFL. Their positions have been shoved aside and even eliminated. But Howard continues to play his old school post-up game, and he has played it very well.

The Hornets are not good enough to make the playoffs, but too good to join the bottom feeders and tank. They are handcuffed by guaranteed contracts. If they hang onto the players with those contracts, it’s tough to see them contending for anything more than the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoffs next season.

They’ll have an opportunity to pick up a good player in the draft. Candidates include the Bridges, Miles from Michigan State and Mikal from Villanova. They’re both 6-7 and both wings. Miles more powerful and Mikal more fluid.

Another candidate is Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox. He’s 6-9, and a talent. Meek he is not.

The Hornets are in a tough place. By NBA standards, they are lower middle class. They’re not one good player away from being a top four team in the East. They’re several good players or one great player away from making a move.

Until the Hornets acquire such a player, or players, fans again will be asked to wait.

They’re accustomed to it.

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

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