Much has been made about the departure of the All-NBA third team point guard Kemba Walker from the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets received a ton of criticism for letting Walker walk out of Charlotte with nothing in return. Reportedly, the Hornets were “blindsided” by Kemba’s all-NBA team accomplishments that made him eligible for the supermax contract extenision. The Hornets decided that they could not swing that and off went Kemba to Boston.
The current update on that scenario is right now, Kemba is leading a thriving Celtics organization to the best record in the Eastern Conference. As for the Charlotte Hornets, much remains the same since Kemba’s departure. The Hornets are buzzing at around .500. However, their current play should show enough promise to give their fans hope, but they are still missing pieces to compete in the East and will have to make adjustments to get themselves ahead of their current position.
Last year in team leader Kemba Walker’s very best season with him averaging 25.6 ppg (points per game) and 5.9 apg (assists per game), the Hornets finished 39-43 and just fell short of the playoffs finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference. They had the 19th best scoring offense and also finished 21st in the league in pace. Defensively, they struggled with a 22nd best defensive rating in the league with 112.5. Defensive Rating is points allowed per 100 possessions.
Letting go of Kemba was not the only reason they were in the news this past summer. They brought in former Celtics guard Terry Rozier, who backed up Kyrie Irving for the past two seasons up in Boston on a astonishing three-year $58 million deal. This contract has opened a lot of eyes and although Rozier does not provide nearly the level of offense Kemba provides, his potential, his energy, and defensive intensity is what drew the Hornets to Rozier. In his last 4 games, he gotten 9 steals and he is currently leading the team in steals per game averaging 1.3 a game. In Terry’s new role as the starting point guard, his game has taken major strides averaging a career-high 16.9 points per game.
The addition of Terry Rozier is far from the only story line in Charlotte. Devonte’ Graham’s sudden emergence as a leading candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player has been a significant reason why the Hornets are remaining competitive this season. The 24-year old former all-american from Kansas is in his second season and is absolutely shining. This season he has improved his points per game from 4.7 to 18.8 and his assists per game also drastically improved from 2.6 to 7.1. Graham is leading the team in both categories and is showing no signs of slowing down scoring 29 points in Saturday’s victory over the Knicks.
Also showing signs of success in Charlotte is their first-round pick PJ Washington. Washington has been making a case for himself for a All-Rookie team selection. He is averaging 13.1 points per game as well as 5.8 rebounds per game. He made a statement in his career debut scoring 27 points in a victory over the Bulls. Rozier, Graham, and Washington are spearheading a young franchise that is finding their identity and competing for a playoff spot as they are currently sitting 7th in the East.
What is still plaguing the Hornets are the poor contracts they are currently tied up in. Cody Zeller signed a 4-year $56 Million contract on Halloween of 2016 and is owed over $14 million this season and $15 million next season. Since he signed that extension, he has averaged 10.0 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game without ever averaging over a block per game and stands at 7’0″ tall. Also, he has not played a full season of games since his rookie season.
If Zeller’s contract sounds questionable, looking at Nicolas Batum’s contract and Bismack Biyombo’s will raise some eyebrows as well. The same season Zeller got his extension, Batum got his. Batum’s was significantly pricier signing a 5-year $120 million deal. He is owed over $25.5 million this season and over $27 million next season. Over the past two seasons, Batum has averaged just over 10.0 points a game and roughly 6.0 rebounds per game. Similar situation with Biyombo, where will be making $17 million this season and is averaging a pedestrian 6.0 points per game and a disappointing 2.3 rebounds per game. After doing a little math, the Charlotte Hornets will spend over a combined $57 million this season on three players who have not made significant contributions to the team, and are too expensive to generate interest from other organizations to trade.
On the bright side, all three of these players will be unrestricted free agents by the end of next season, Biyombo by the end of this season. With Rich Cho out as GM and Mitch Kupchak taking over the position combined with a solid young core of players who are constantly progressing, the Hornets can be making a buzz around the league sooner rather than later.