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RECONSTRUCTED: A Preview of the 2020-21 Charlotte Hornets

It seems Michael Jordan is placing all his bets on LaMelo Ball, Devonte' Graham, and Gordon Hayward to create a buzz in Charlotte not seen or heard since the days of Kendall Gill, Glen Rice, and that Curry kid's daddy.

Michael Jordan has always been a bit of a gambler. 

With the third pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, not only has Jordan and the Hornets gone all in on LaMelo Ball, but they’ve added Gordon Hayward as well.

As much of a risk taker and competitor as Jordan is, time will tell if this short off-season was a productive one for His Airness, or if he should fold, and hit the golf courses full-time instead.

HEAD COACHJames Borrego
2019-20 RECORD23-42  (.338)
4th in the Southeast Division
10th in the Eastern Conference
DRAFT PICKSLaMelo Ball (3) – Vernon Carey, Jr. (32) – Nick Richards (42)(via trade) – Grant Riller (56)
FREE AGENCY GAINSGordon Hayward

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM 2019-20: One of the constant knocks on the Charlotte Hornets is that Michael Jordan has no business running a team, as was proven when he was President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards before Abe Pollin fired him in 2003. But people that seem to love to bag on Jordan seem to forget he is the owner, while legendary General Manager Mitch Kupchak is at the helm of managing the team and helping put together what is hoped to be a winning roster. Last year’s wasn’t and it’s been since 2015-16 when the team last had a winning record, under then-head coach Steve Clifford.

GRADING THE COACH:  James Borrego, of Gregg Popovich coaching lineage, is 62-85 through two seasons with the Hornets. A rough first year was to be expected, as is typically the case with all rookie coaches. But to lose Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics and play patchwork lineup at the point with off-and-on Terry Rozier and budding talent like Devonte’ Graham, consistency was not one of Borrego’s or Charlotte’s friends whatsoever in the COVID-shortened season. With more talent in the lineup, we’ll see if Borrego has retained and is able to use what he learned from Pop.

GRADING THE DRAFT:  Obviously getting the third pick in the draft was a boon for the Hornets. And being able to select LaMelo Ball was an early Christmas gift. Ball may be the best of the three Ball brothers, even though Lonzo Ball went No. 2 and will always (and only?) have that as family bragging rights. The young talent was a star in the making at Chino Hills in the L.A. area, but humility wasn’t exactly his forte. With his brief stint with Prienei in Lithuania, and then the move to play professionally in Australia with the Illawara Hawks, Ball seems to have grown into the place he stands today, as an NBA rookie. He won Rookie of the Year honors with Illawara and shot .377, grabbed 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists while averaging 17 points per game. Smallish center (6’10”) Vernon Carey, Jr. played one year at Duke (17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds), while the slightly taller (6’11”) Nick Richards (14.0 ppg his junior year) hails from Jamaica by way of the University of Kentucky, coming over in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Hornets used the 56th pick to add Grant Riller (.519 and 18.7 ppg) from the College of Charleston.

GRADING FREE AGENCY:  Gordon Hayward. Part of me wants to ask, “That’s the best you can do – fill an EEOC requirement so that Cody Zeller isn’t the only white guy on the team? A huge part of me thinks that Hayward truly belongs in Indiana, and should have been an Indiana Pacer, not a Charlotte Hornet. As it stands, Hayward and Zeller are two Indiana guys born and bred trying to bring better things to Charlotte basketball. However, he does bring 45.1 percent shooting and a career 15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg stat line with him. Trouble is, by the time he recuperated from a horrific injury in Boston, the team had gelled around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and former Hornet point guard Kemba Walker. In Boston, Hayward had become the odd man out. The silver lining – or teal as it were – in Charlotte, is that this is nobody’s team just yet. It’s bound to be Ball’s, but Hayward has a chance to get his name in the hat night in and night out.

STRENGTHS:  The upside. When you’re where Charlotte has been for the better part of the last 20 years, there’s nowhere to go but up. This team hasn’t been exciting since the days of Kendal Gill, Bobby Phills, David Wesley, Glen Rice, and that Curry kid’s daddy. Ball, Graham, and Hayward have a chance to get that buzz back in Charlotte

OPPORTUNITIES:  It will all rest on Ball’s shoulders to see if he has matured in the last two years or if he is still the cocky little kid we saw in videos from his high school years. I’m thinking some of the swagger will help self-motivate, but the onus of leadership is a tough one to carry when one is so young. I think the Hornets need to add another strong veteran – too bad they missed out on Rajon Rondo

PREDICTED FINISH (DIVISION/CONFERENCE):  They have the opportunity to be in play for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference if they can come together and form a solid team identity and culture. Kupchak knows what that culture is and what it feels like. We’ll see what he, too, has left in the tank if is able to create a winning environment in the Queen City

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Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in 

  • Orlando
  • Boise (G League) 
  • San Antonio
  • Phoenix
  • Denver
  • Oklahoma City
  • Atlanta 

A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia 

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