30 Teams in 30 Days: Hornets eye better luck in the front yard after a quiet layoff

LaMelo Ball became an All-Star in 2021-22 for the Hornets and took a step forward in his development.

Charlotte Hornets

2021-22 record: 43-39

The main additions: Mark Williams (Draft 2022), coach Steve Clifford

Key subtraction operations: Montrezel Harrell (freelance), coach James Borrego

Last season: The Hornets were at times equal parts exciting, frustrating, errant and booming during the season and marked the end of their Play-In Championship season. LaMelo Ball followed up this year’s Kia Rookie debut in 2019-20 with a solid second season, leading to an All-Star berth and plenty of flash. There was also the emergence of another young talent, Miles Bridges, who led the club with 20.2 points per game and was a strong player (7.0 RPG) in a junior striker. However, striker Gordon Hayward was once again struggling with injury, playing in defense was a team-wide adventure (Charlotte was 22nd in the defensive rating), and there was no consistent production from any big man. These problems cost Borrego his job and the Hornets go abroad in search of a new size and direction.

Summer Summary: On the eve of free agency, with the team and Bridges preparing to sign a long-term deal expected to run into nine figures, leaving an alleged violent interaction with the mother of his two children, Bridges to answer three felony charges of domestic violence. Given the severity of the charges, the plan changed. The Hornets stopped all conversations, and the other would-be hijackers didn’t bother to extend the offer sheet. Although the future may be shaky, the Hornets have not withdrawn their qualifying bid, so the one-year option remains on the table.

It’s muddled right now, with training camp approaching and Bridges’ initial hearing — one felony charge of injuring a parent of a child and two felony counts of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause significant bodily injury or death — delayed until September 29. With its future in limbo, this eligible offer (which ends October 1, but can be extended until March 1) reserve the right to match or negotiate a deal of their own pending Monitor legal outcomes.

Focusing their efforts elsewhere on the roster, the Hornets entered the summer with great concerns about their big men, or the lack thereof. Neither Montrezl Harrell nor Mason Plumlee did much in terms of recoil, attack or rim protection. The free agent market didn’t offer many options either, and the Hornets seem more eager to get help with the draft, anyway.

When their turn came to picks at No. 13 and 15, the Hornets replaced Galen Doreen of Memphis (choice No. 13) for the first future protected player from New York and then snatched Williams for 15th. All along and expected that there would be.

While the 20-year-old has an offensive ruggedness, he also has other core skills in the NBA: defending and rebounding. The Hornets are confident they will thrive through the development of their players, but with Charlotte’s lack of competition at the center, he may be pressed into the service sooner rather than later.

Borrego’s expulsion was only a surprise because he signed an extension last summer. Let’s say the Hornets win a Play-In and go to the playoffs… Will Borrego be out of work? The Hornets searched for a defensive-minded coach and their journey led them to Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. He’s the former Brooklyn Nets coach and no-nonsense taskmaster. But after accepting the job, Atkinson got cold and returned to Golden State as Steve Kerr’s first assistant.

The Hornets then turned into a familiar face at Clifford, the second-best coach in franchise history behind Alan Bristow. Clifford is entering his second spell with the franchise and in his previous leg, the Hornets finished in the top 12 in defense in his previous five seasons with the club. He was dismissed after the 2017-18 season – second in a row to the 36-46 Hornets – but also led Charlotte to the playoffs twice (2014, 2016) and led them to 48 wins in 2015-16.

Clifford believes he can connect with Paul in the same way he previously did with points guard Kemba Walker, who was a three-time All-Star and enjoyed his best season in Charlotte.

The other good news about the summer is that it gave Hayward plenty of time to recover from a foot injury. When the Hornets signed him as a free agent in 2020, he was part of the club’s renewal project. At the age of 32, he is still unable to get rid of the infestation bug and is no longer the main option. It can be exchanged on the trade deadline.

next one: Washington Wizards | previously: Orlando Magic

> 30 teams in 30 days: full schedule

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Sean Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him Here, find his archive here and follow him Twitter.

The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball Association, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.

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