How the Offseason Can Shape the Hornet’s Path to NBA Relevance

Keith Allison via Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons License

It was another trying season for the Charlotte Hornets. Things got so bad that the team were not even invited to the NBA’s restart in Orlando, as they were so far down in the standings at 23-42. This means the Hornets are in the midst of an extended offseason — one that they can use to soul-search, and eventually build something that will excite fans moving forward.

The good news is that the groundwork back to being contenders has already been laid: Head coach James Borrego has emerged as one of the game’s bright young tacticians, while Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington, and Miles Bridges have formed a young, talented nucleus. In other words, the Hornets need not go on a full-on rebuild just like The Process in Philadelphia. That said, it is imperative that the Charlotte front office get things right this offseason, so they can set themselves up for success sooner rather than later.

To be clear, the Hornets will not be contenders overnight. But they can start building a strong team this offseason by reloading the roster through the draft and via free agency. The goal must be to build a good enough team that can entice a superstar to come to Charlotte. Fortunately, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak knows the value of getting a superstar on board, telling the Charlotte Observer how he is actively looking for alpha-level talent.

The 2021 free agent class has plenty of such talent, as it will include Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, and potentially, Paul George, Blake Griffin, and Kawhi Leonard. Incidentally, Leonard joining the Toronto Raptors last season shows just how valuable it is to have a superstar alpha, as he all but transformed the Raptors into champions.

This season has been no different, with Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers and bringing along another superstar in Paul George. Unsurprisingly, the Clippers are number 1 in the NBA Championship odds listed on Bwin, ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. While nabbing Leonard is probably a long shot, Antetokounmpo, Davis, or Griffin could all be an option.

That said, the Hornets have a good building block to work with in the 2020 NBA Draft, as they own the 3rd pick overall. Now, they won’t be able to add the kind of superstar talent they need with that pick, but they can use it to stock their roster further. Depending on what the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors do with their picks, the Hornets could land Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, or Lamelo Ball — all of whom look ready to contribute to a winning basketball team. Packaging that pick, along with a young asset or future picks, is an option, too, though the Hornets will need to make sure that they get a player of commensurate value — like a young veteran who can protect the paint as Borrego desires, or a talented wing who can at least be the number 2 guy for a championship-caliber team.

Equally important, the Hornets will have to exercise both restraint and prudence in free agency. Terry Rozier’s $57 million deal last offseason turned out okay, even though it was a risk to say the least. Moving forward, the team can ill afford to take such risks and lavish big contracts to players who are middle of the pack at best (e.g., Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Danilo Galinari). If they can be signed to reasonable contracts, then great; if not, it might be wise to pass up on them and just roll with the young guns.

Thankfully, Kupchak seems to get it, and is taking the long-view approach. “Get to a point where we can not only sustain a team that can make the playoffs, but can advance in the playoffs,” Kupchak said when asked about his plans. How things play out for the Hornets in this extended offseason can either push those plans forward, or set them back.