This isn’t how how 2014-2015 was supposed to go for the Charlotte Hornets. Coming off one of the most successful campaigns in franchise history and riding high after signing Lance Stephenson and bringing the buzz back to North Carolina, Michael Jordan’s squad was a trendy preseason pick to gain homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the 4-14 Hornets have been the biggest disappointment of the season’s first few weeks. And according to a new report, they’re already looking to shake things up via the trade market.
From the always excellent Zach Lowe of Grantland:
The Hornets have been aggressive making trade calls, according to sources across the league.
The Hornets are searching for upgrades on the wing and at power forward, per those sources, and they are willing to talk turkey on basically anyone other than Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Free agents signed this past offseason can’t be traded until December 15, and few would be surprised if the Hornets make and take calls on Lance Stephenson ahead of that trigger date.
Lowe later clarified that Charlotte is unlikely to deal injured wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in addition to Walker and Jefferson:
This makes sense. The Hornets have been extremely poor on both ends of the floor thus far and are losers of nine straights games, the most recent of which was an embarrassing 30-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The near-elite defense that spurred Charlotte to a playoff birth last season is ranked 25th in efficiency, and an offense that was supposed to be jump-started by the addition of Stephenson’s playmaking is the third-worst non-Sixers mark in basketball. Nothing is working for Steve Clifford’s team right now.
But does that mean it’s time to rock the boat? In most every case, doing so at this point in the season would be foolish. The Hornets are only 18 games into 2014-2015, after all, and are integrating a pair of new starters while dealing with player injuries (Kidd-Gilchrist and rookie Noah Vonleh) and absences (the suspended Jeffrey Taylor). It’s not too late for the Hornets to right the ship and contend for a postseason spot in the woebegone East, basically.
Charlotte has been so surprisingly inept, however, that it seems possible this roster simply won’t ever mesh. Neither Walker nor Stephenson is a reliable long-range shooter, and both players have struggled enough from there in the season’s early going that space for Jefferson to operate down low has been compromised. Stephenson, in particular, has become afraid of his jumper – he routinely passes up open shots to pound the ball on the deck before whipping passes to teammates. That won’t get it done considering this team’s lack of ancillary floor-spacers elsewhere.
The Hornets are shooting just 37.1 percent in catch-and-shoot situations, and aren’t combating that inaccuracy with successful forays to the rim. They make only 37.9 percent of shots via drive, the worst mark in the NBA.
The defensive struggles are far more surprising, even accounting for Kidd-Gilchrist – a truly awesome and versatile defender – missing 12 games and counting. Charlotte’s conservative scheme is the same, but the players aren’t executing it with such discipline and consistency. Its opponents feast at the rim despite rarely getting there, and are shooting above 44 percent from both short corners. Help defense is shoddy, good on-ball defense fleeting, and Jefferson seems to be lumbering more than ever.
Again, some of those labors will be mitigated by health and more time to gel. But Charlotte will always be limited on defense by Jefferson’s heavy feet, the stature of Walker and Marvin Williams, and a general lack of a true stopper beside Kidd-Gilchrist. Perhaps the league just wised to Clifford’s schemes and is adjusting accordingly, too.
So, would we break up the Hornets? Not the way Lowe’s report suggests they’re considering. It’s too early to give up on a player of Stephenson’s rare talent, especially considering that he’s adjusting to new life as something close to primary playmaker. Young guys get better through trials and tribulations; that’s the silver lining of his current offensive nadir.
Small deals make more sense. Finding a taker for Williams; upgrading wings coming off the bench; getting a shooter in the frontcourt and backcourt. But those trades are hard to come by without sacrificing worthy pieces, and Stephenson is still Charlotte’s most intriguing player.
It’s a tough call, and the Hornets show prudence by being proactive so early. Before potentially mortgaging the future for short-term payoff, though, they should let the season reach February. Any major move involving this team’s core – Stephenson, basically – before then would be knee-jerk.
What do you think?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.