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Charlotte Hornets: Getting Younger & Starting Fresh...Sort Of - OTBN 30-In-30

Today let's look at the Charlotte Hornets, a team that will be in the bottom of the standings but could be heading in the right direction

This week Kemba Walker retired from basketball. His retirement, despite not playing in the NBA since 2022, is a reminder of the current state of the Charlotte Hornets. Walker is one of the best players in franchise history, the franchise leader in points scored, second in assists, and first in three pointers made. It is also worth noting that the Hornets last got to the playoffs in 2016 when Walker was in his prime. Kemba now joins the staff of new head coach Charles Lee (who comes in from the Celtics organization), in an effort to turn this franchise around. 

Since 2017, the Hornets have been above 500 one time and are coming off of back to back seasons where they have not won more than thirty games. This past season, the team dealt with a season ending injury to their star point guard LaMelo Ball that saw him playing only 22 games. It was Ball’s fourth season with the team, and despite oozing tons of talent and ability, the former rookie of the year hasn’t been able to stay healthy and lead his team to the playoffs. This coming season he will be entering the first year of his rookie max extension, and yet there is a sense of uncertainty around his future in Charlotte especially if the injuries continue to mount up. 

The Hornets made it clear throughout the course of this past season that they are focused on a youth movement for the next few years. It is why they have hired a young first time head coach in Lee and moved on from veterans Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, and Seth Curry. And yet, they have decided not to move on from the PR nightmare that has been the Miles Bridges saga, a player that many feel should not even be in the NBA after the domestic violence charges that led to him being suspended by the NBA for 30 games. The Hornets in this sense feel like a team that wants to start fresh but is incapable of moving on from a player that is a part of their recent past. 

In the process of losing a lot of games last season, they discovered that he may have drafted a superstar in Brandon Miller with the second overall pick in last year’s draft. Miller finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren and showed the foundation of great skills that will continue to evolve. He proved himself to be a capable scorer averaging 17.3 points per game while shooting 38% from three on over six attempts per game. If the Hornets think that LaMelo might not be their true franchise cornerstone, then there is no doubt that Miller is their man. At the very least, the combination of the two players should be able to grow into a potent 1-2 punch in the Eastern Conference. 

Elsewhere, the team continues to prioritize youth with Josh Green (acquired as part of a three-way trade that sent Klay Thompson to Dallas), Mark Williams, and Tre Mann all likely a part of this team for the foreseeable future. This year in the draft they doubled down on future potential by selecting Frenchman Tidjane Salaun with the sixth pick in the Draft. Salaun is a rangy athletic power forward that is a bit of a prototype in the modern NBA: long arms, huge hands, and three point range. But with that in mind, he is also likely a long term development project that will need to refine more elements of his game before being a contributor to a playoff team. 

Luckily, it seems that the Hornets are willing to be patient and let their young players develop gradually as they build towards contention. The story in Charlotte this coming year will be centered around growth and maturity processes. This team is too young to be in the playoff or Play-In mix and will likely be in the Lottery again but they may not be in that situation for long, especially if Brandon Miller continues his upward trajectory toward superstardom. For the first time since Kemba Walker’s prime it seems that the Hornets finally have a plan. Time will tell if they see it through properly or fall into their noted cycle of impatience. That part remains uncertain as they have retained Bridges despite all indications that they are trying to start over. Perhaps we are in for another confusing season in Charlotte.   

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