After beginning the season on a surprising note, the Charlotte Hornets have started to dip into what many expected from the team entering the season. The team now stands at 16-35, good for 12th place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite being in the middle of a four-game losing streak, and losing nine of their last 10 games, the Hornets did not make a move at the 2020 trade deadline that passed on Feb. 6.
While the Hornets did not sell off their expiring contracts that amounted to about $45 million at the trade deadline, they did buy out two of the players on those contracts. First up, forward Marvin Williams was bought out, having been with the team since 2014, and being a crucial part of the team that went 48-34 in 2016. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the second player that was bought out after the deadline, having been the longest tenured player on the team after being selected second overall in the 2012 NBA draft by the then-Bobcats.
Williams then signed with the Milwaukee Bucks, to join a contending team, the best in the league. Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to receive interest from the Dallas Mavericks, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. These moves clear up two roster spots from the Hornets, which could convert one or both of their two-way contract players, or could add young talent from elsewhere. One intriguing prospect could be Dragan Bender, who was waived by the Bucks to make room for Williams. Bender was the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, but is still only 22 years old, which would make sense for the Hornets and their youth movement.
The team also waived two-way contract player Robert Franks, and in his place signed forward Ray Spalding, who has spent time with the Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Hawks and Houston Rockets already by his second year in the league.
Another internal move has been the uptick in minutes for former NC State guard/forward Cody Martin, who made his first career start against the Rockets in the team’s last game. Martin put up 12 points and five rebounds in the game, and is averaging nine points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game and is shooting 56% from the floor and 46% from deep.
Fortunately for the Hornets and the team’s fans, there are plenty of signs of life for the youth movement as a whole. Cody Martin’s development has been nice, as has the stellar play of Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels and Kobi Simmons in the G League, but the most exciting of all for the Hornets is the representation the team is getting in the All-Star Weekend from Feb. 14-16.
Guard Devonte’ Graham, forward P.J. Washington and forward Miles Bridges were all selected to be a part of the Rising Stars Challenge, the first time the Hornets have had three players on the roster. The only other times the Hornets have had more than one player selected for the game were in 2013, when Kemba Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist were named to the team, and in 2007, when Adam Morrison and Raymond Felton were named to the team.
That is not where the festivities end for the Hornets, as Graham will be taking part in the 3-point contest on All-Star Saturday Night. Graham is shooting 38% from deep on over nine attempts per game for the Hornets. Walker participated in the contest twice while representing the Hornets, once last season for the game in Charlotte, but never won the contest. Graham is set to try and be the first Hornets player to ever win the challenge.
All of this national recognition points to the fact that, despite the record, the Hornets are accelerating the rebuilding process thus far. On top of that, the investment in the young guard Terry Rozier, who was signed to a huge contract to replace Walker in a sign-and-trade with the Boston Celtics, has seemingly paid off thus far.
The Hornets will not be using cap space on big name free agents, as they are not a popular destination, and instead need to develop through the draft and trades. Rozier is a young player that has shown the potential to be a great player on a playoff contending team, and is averaging 18 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is also shooting 39% from 3, on nearly seven attempts per game. Even though the Hornets rank 30th in points per game, Rozier has been a positive on the offensive end of the floor.
The other big addition of the Hornets this offseason, Washington, has also been a pleasant surprise. Washington’s averages of 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 40% shooting from deep and 48% from the floor are what earned him a position in the Rising Stars Challenge.
With the bad decisions of the 2016 offseason finally beginning to come off of the books, the team can focus on building through even more young talent, similar to the Memphis Grizzlies, which fully committed to a youth movement and are in the playoff picture of the Western Conference. Once the Hornets establish an identity, they can be a very exciting team, especially considering they will likely be picking near the top five of the 2020 NBA draft.
For now though, the Hornets should look to the present, as the next five games provide opportunity to make up ground in the standings. Despite their abysmal record, Charlotte is still just 5.5 games out of the playoffs, and gets to face a Luka Doncic-less Mavericks up next. In the same five-game stretch, the team will take on the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves, who are still in the midst of a 13-game losing streak, a Detroit Pistons team that just traded franchise center Andre Drummond, as well as the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, who are ahead of the Hornets in the standings.