Charlotte Hornets: Steps to Contention

The Charlotte Hornets 2019-20 season was full of ups and downs. Players like Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington shined, the defense showed promise down the stretch, and Terry Rozier didn’t underplay his contract like many expected. With all that being said, they were out of the running for the playoffs quite early, marking another disappointing season. The tools are there to build up to playoff contention sooner rather than later, however.

Steps for the Charlotte Hornets to Make the Playoffs

Step One: Shop Terry Rozier

Rozier had a solid season averaging about 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game on above-average shooting splits. Rozier was given a three-year, $58 million deal last summer.

Graham, however, is the Hornets’ future at point guard. He can score and shoot as well as Rozier but is a better facilitator. The Rozier-Graham backcourt can put up numbers, but they’re not the perfect formula together. The Hornets are better suited pairing up Graham with a true shooting guard.

Charlotte needs to be wise about a trade, and not take on an expensive multiyear contract in exchange for Rozier unless that player is a true difference-maker. The New York Knicks are desperate for a point guard, so the Hornets should look into that. A deal that would send Wayne Ellington and Dennis Smith to the Hornets is one worth considering. Ellington’s contract only has a year left, and he’s a decent shooter to have on the team. Smith can become a fantastic back-up to Graham if he finds his footing back in his home state. The Hornets would then have even more cap space to extend Graham and chase free agents.

Step 2: Do Not Impede PJ Washington’s Growth

The Hornets cannot rush the process of trying to make the playoffs. Signing any power forward, unless one of All-Star caliber, to start would impede Washington’s growth as a player. He already looks like a late-lottery steal, and Charlotte needs to allow him to continue to improve.

Washington showed the ability to do a little bit of everything as a rookie averaging about 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block per game. He can spread the floor and shoot from distance as well.

It’s too early to say that Washington has All-Star potential. With his tough defense and ability to shoot, it’s safe to say he can grow into becoming at least a great third-option for a team.

The Hornets have not had much luck coming from the draft recently, but Washington can certainly change that. The organization has to highlight him as an important piece going forward because he has all the tools to become an excellent NBA player. He’s no Larry Johnson, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a better Jae Crowder.

Step Three: Don’t Force Anything in the Draft or Free Agency

The Hornets moved up in the 2020 NBA Draft lottery and were able to steal the third overall pick. There’s going to be true difference-makers available when they make their pick. Assuming Anthony Edwards is the first overall pick, intriguing options for the Hornets are LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, and Onyeka Okongwu.

Charlotte doesn’t need a point guard, so drafting Ball would only happen if the organization is sold on his potential. One of Wiseman or Okongwu would be the best fit for this team. The Hornets currently start Cody Zeller at the five, and although a good player, he’s better suited as a back-up. Both Wiseman and Okongwu are immediate starters with franchise-changing potential.

The team will also have plenty of cap space to use this summer. They’ll have more if Nicolas Batum declines his player option, but that’s very unlikely to happen. With a weak free-agent class, the Hornets would be wise to seek value deals over extensive spending unless they can somehow land Anthony Davis or Brandon Ingram. That’s also unlikely, so they should continue to save up for what should be an exciting 2021 offseason. As of right now, that free-agent class may contain the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy GobertVictor Oladipo, and so many more stars. Charlotte may not be the ideal destination in terms of contending for now, but money talks and the Hornets will have plenty of that.

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