Philly Front Office - Sixers

Evaluating the East – Charlotte Hornets

The 2018 offseason has brought changes to the Eastern Conference. LeBron James moved out west, Kawhi Leonard joined the Raptors, and although it isn’t a change per se, the Celtics will get two All-Stars back in their lineup this upcoming season.

Meanwhile, the Sixers revamped their bench and re-signed some important pieces, but other teams in the East will be looking to improve and move up in the standings.

Over the next few weeks here at Sixers Front Office, we’ll be putting together an Evaluating the East series that dives into the teams that are projected to be in the playoff picture this season. Each column will touch on the team’s key additions and losses, their outlook for 2018-19, and their threat level to the Sixers based on the colors of the US threat level system. The key is below…


There are a number of teams the Sixers will have to battle in the regular season battle of attrition to claim a top playoff seeding.

Today’s subject… is not one of them.

Today: the Charlotte Hornets.

2017-18 Record, Result: 36-46, #10 seed, #11 pick

Notable Offseason Additions:

  • New Head Coach: Steve Clifford has moved on to Wingspan City in Orlando to replace Frank Vogel. In his place, James Borrego is leading the Hornets in the upcoming season. Borrego is a question mark – he’s only taken the reins for 30 games as the interim HC for Orlando in 2015, going 10-20 (the team went 25-57 overall). He comes from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree and is only 40 years old, so the Hornets are hoping he can stick around long-term and mature as a coach with them. When it works, that plan can be optimal for the future, but it usually doesn’t start with a massive improvement in Year 1. He’s known as a very intelligent and creative coach, but it takes a long time to get a system underway. The outgoing offensive troublemakers in MCW and Dwight should make things easier, but when it comes down to it, being an NBA HC is tough. Expect Orlando to take a while to find a new style.
  • New General Manager: I won’t say too much since it’s unclear how much control the GM has in Charlotte with Michael Jordan around, but Rich Cho was fired in February and replaced with Mitch Kupchak. Kupchak seemed to get along well with the Buss family in charge of the Lakers, so he may be a better fit in terms of appeasing MJ. In terms of the 2017-18 season, Kupchak won’t have much of an impact on their results post-Dwight and MCW. (Although the test of luring free agents without the bright lights of LA behind him will reveal how much of his GM ability relied on it)
  • Tony Parker: Most of us probably thought this day would never come. Tony Parker finished a 17-year run with the San Antonio Spurs to depart for Charlotte. He’s going to be coming off the bench on a 2yr, $10m contract he signed in July. There are two factors that make this a positive addition: Borrego will benefit from having a longtime player to back him up in the locker room, and the former Finals MVP is going to be able to run offensive sets with the second unit. That added structure could see results in the development of Charlotte’s youth. He’s not going to be an All-Star, but he’ll have as much of a positive impact on the hardwood as a 36-year-old can.
  • Bismack Biyombo: Kendrick Lamar called it: “Sit Down. Biyombo.” The Hornets acquired BB in a three-way trade that moved Timofey Mozgov and Dwight Howard, seemingly out of the boredom of a few GMs. They got back a fan favorite in Biyombo, but a successful team doesn’t make a jump by playing him heavy minutes. It’s not that Biyombo is a terrible player, as much as he’s not a particularly good player – his hands are made of concrete, and he’s not terrific on the switch. He can bring high-energy play and capable screening, but not much more than that. (He will get called for a moving screen every game. That’s what he does.) If he’s the third choice? Charlotte will live. If Biyombo plays heavy minutes? It’ll hurt.
  • Miles Bridges: Philly fans may be more familiar with Mikal, but Miles was highly touted before the draft as well. However, he was a streaky spot-up shooter in college, poor at shooting off the dribble, and his shot selection doesn’t sweeten the pot. He’s got a high ceiling, but he’s not a player who will be at that point from the start. I’m expecting Miles to become a solid NBA player, but this year isn’t his time. Offensively, expect Miles to use his athleticism to get to the rack and finish strong. He needs to work on taking off with one foot if he wants to beat the league’s better rim protectors like Embiid, but he has the tools to do so. Miles will come around, but he’s not going to contribute significantly to a renaissance from the Hornets this particular season.

Notable Offseason Losses:

  • Dwight Howard: It’s hard to decide what Dwight leaving is going to mean for Charlotte. On one hand, Dwight is more talented than any of the centers that will be on the Hornets’ roster as of now. On about 15 other hands, we’ve seen the Dwightmare rage for years. Dwight’s diva act taking its talents elsewhere frees up Cody Zeller to prove he can stay healthy and start. Dwight was as toxic as ever, reportedly refusing to run the plays being called late in games. He’s also never met a post up he didn’t like and didn’t do his job in the pick and roll nearly enough. Taking out some of those turnovers and sloppy post-ups could clean up the offense, but I don’t see this year’s big men replicating his finishing. Charlotte is going to have to rely on good cuts and passing to find the easy buckets and power putbacks.
  • Michael Carter-Williams: I’m not sure there’s much to say about MCW to Philly fans anymore. He’s not a very good NBA player. He’s on the Rockets with Carmelo Anthony now because…I don’t really know why. Morey is either a genius or too busy producing musicals to pay attention. (No, actually. He made a musical about the NBA/Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels. Shea Serrano wrote about it here.)

2018-19 Outlook

The Hornets seemingly are on what’s called the Treadmill of Mediocrity – too good to get elite draft picks, but not contending for anything anytime soon.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Usually, the Treadmill involves making the playoffs. The Hornets have made the playoffs three times since 2002, losing to the Heat twice and the Magic once, getting swept twice along the way. They’ve never made the Conference Finals, as the Bobcats or the Hornets. Something’s got to give – but it’s not happening this year. Here’s the projected starting lineup:

PG: Kemba Walker

SG: Jeremy Lamb

SF: Nic Batum

PF: Marvin Williams

C: Cody Zeller

Tony Parker, Frank Kaminsky, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will likely play significant roles off the bench.

That’s not an elite team. The bench isn’t dominating anybody, with no elite offensive threats. Bridges isn’t a quick fix either. The Hornets don’t have the firepower to win shootout games and are below average on the other side of the court, preventing them from grinding out the tough defensive games.

The Vegas line for 2018-19 is 35.5 wins, and that makes a lot of sense. They started to move on by dropping some weight, but they’re not making any real progress this year. The Hornets are very close to the middling team they were in 2017-18.

Threat to the Sixers: I’m just going to go ahead and chalk this one up as a Green Threat Level. They’re not the worst team in the East, but the Sixers are going to win far more games than the Hornets. No disrespect to Charlotte, but barring catastrophe, there’s no shot they finish above the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings.

Be sure not to miss the rest of our Evaluating the East series every Monday and Thursday throughout August:

Aug. 6: Milwaukee Bucks Aug. 16: Washington Wizards Aug. 27: Indiana Pacers
Aug. 9: Toronto Raptors Aug. 20: Boston Celtics Aug. 30: Detroit Pistons
Aug. 13: Charlotte Hornets Aug. 23: Miami Heat Sep. 3: Cleveland Cavaliers

Benjamin Dunst

@Bpdunst on your local Twitter feed. I miss you, Dario.

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