The Charlotte Hornets enter the 2020-21 season with a level of expectations. Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball are the team’s shiny new additions, providing hope to a franchise that has treaded water the past few seasons. The Hornets have several young players who show potential thus continued development is a must.
As a small market, Charlotte is battling for relevancy and will use the 2020-21 season to springboard itself into playoff conversations. Are these expectations too high? Owner Michael Jordan’s desire for postseason action is undeniable so one imagines he has high expectations for the upcoming season.
Charlotte Hornets Must Cut Ties with Mediocre Tag, Fight for Relevance
Reviewing the 2019-20 Season
The 2019-20 season saw the Hornets miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year with a record of 23-42. Charlotte was one of the whipping boys of the NBA last year but did uncover a hidden gem in Devonte’ Graham. The second-year guard had some exceptional performances but none more than his play against the Brooklyn Nets.
Graham exploded for 40 points on 12-of-21 shooting and 7-of-12 from three to help Charlotte overcome a 20-point deficit.
Devonte' Graham came up clutch 💪
He put up 40 points in the Hornets' 20-point comeback win over the Nets. pic.twitter.com/sa0Icwpgje
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 12, 2019
Graham would have several other breakout performances but this was as good as it got for the Hornets last season. Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and Malik Monk made nice developmental strides over the course of the season, but Graham was the clear standout.
Charlotte Hornets Make Curious Move in Offseason
The Charlotte Hornets shocked the NBA community when they signed Hayward to a four-year, $120 million deal. The Pelicans looked destined for a complete rebuild but instead are rebuilding on the go. Hayward looked more like himself in 2019-20 after struggling with injuries the past three years. The 30-year-old averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 50 percent shooting and 38.8 percent from three.
Hayward arrives in Charlotte with the promise of a larger role. With the Boston Celtics, the forward sacrificed his game to fit alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons, Hayward’s role diminished as Tatum and Brown ascended. Hayward brings star power to a franchise struggling for relevance and will be tasked with pulling them out of mediocrity. In Charlotte, he will be the guy.
The Hornets also made some nice moves on the fringes, signing Vernon Carey and Ball to rookie deals. The club also signed rookie guard Grant Riller to a two-way contract and brought back veteran Bismack Biyombo on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Charlotte made one mistake and that was waiving Nicolas Batum’s $27 million salary. The Hornets will have three-years, $9 million in Dead Money on its books that cannot be used or traded. It is the largest since the introductory of the Stretch Provision with teams avoiding dead money like the plague.
Fighting for Relevancy in the 2020-21 Season
Over the past few seasons, mediocrity has become synonymous with the Charlotte Hornets. Year after year, the Hornets have lived in the middle of the pack, consistently finishing between ninth and 12th place. This season appears no different with the ball club fighting for relevancy in the 2020-21 season.
Make the Play-In game
At the very least, Charlotte must make the play-in game. Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed the NBA will have its first playoff tournament between the 7-10 seeds or the final two spots. It behooves the Hornets to make sure they are competing for the final two playoff spots.
The Eastern Conference is stronger than previous years, especially now that Brooklyn is healthy and Russell Westbrook is with the Washington Wizards. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics, and the Nets are considered “certainties” for the postseason, leaving the Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Hornets, Orlando Magic, and Atlanta Hawks to fight for the 5-8 seeds. The Raptors and Heat are arguably the next best thing to “guarantees,” leaving five teams in the hunt for the final two spots.
It won’t be easy for Charlotte. Over the past 20 years, the Hornets have made the postseason just five times. At the very least, they need to make the play in-game for it to be considered a successful season.
Charlotte Hornets Must Develop Ball-Hayward Relationship
Developing the Ball-Hayward relationship must be the primary focus of the Charlotte Hornets’ 2020-21 season. Ball was drafted as the third pick and is widely considered to be the most talented of any prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old is the future of the franchise, thus pairing him with Hayward will do wonders for his development.
On the flipside, signing Hayward is also a win-now move. The All-Star will be Charlotte’s primary option on offense and he needs to lead the Hornets to the postseason. However, he cannot do it alone. Ball is an elite playmaker while Hayward is a do it all forward and the pair complement each other perfectly.
The strength of the duo’s relationship will directly correspond to the success of the team. The sooner they create chemistry, the quicker the franchise experiences success.
Make a Decision on Malik Monk
In 2017, the Charlotte Hornets selected Malik Monk with the 11th pick. Since his arrival to the NBA, his relationship with the Hornets has been tumultuous, to say the least. The 22-year-old was suspected indefinitely for drug violations in his rookie season, then fell completely out of favor when James Borrego arrived. Monk’s inconsistency and poor defensive rotations have nailed him to the Hornets bench.
However, the guard has shown some tremendous improvements on the defensive side of the ball.
In one of his best two-way plays of the year, Monk landed a triple before blocking Bucks’ forward Ersan Ilyasova. After Ilyasova slipped the screen, Monk came over to stop an easy layup.
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 24, 2020
Monk was not capable of such a play when he arrived in the NBA, so this shows that he has made progress on defense.
Now in his fourth season, it’s time for Charlotte to decide on the young guard. Monk’s minutes have increased from 13.6 during the 2017-18 season to 21.3 in 2019-20, but that small of an increase is unusual. If he’s a part of their future, play him 25 minutes and if not, cut him loose.
Is the 2020-21 NBA Season Going to be Different?
The Charlotte Hornets are in a weird spot. They haven’t committed to a rebuild after signing Hayward but haven’t committed to competing by signing quality free agents. Charlotte continues to flirt with mediocrity, so something has to give. If the Hornets are going to be relevant again, they must show progress in this season. Ball promises to be the face of the franchise in the near future but for now, Charlotte needs to rally behind Hayward.
A difficult season lies ahead in a loaded Eastern Conference and the success of the team will largely depend on the chemistry between Ball and Hayward.
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