October 23, 2014

Two ESPN rankings suggest Charlotte Hornets on the upswing

            The Charlotte Hornets made out pretty well – both individually and collectively – in two of ESPN’s recent rankings.

            First off, the franchise was ranked the 29th-best overall among the 122 franchises in the four major sports in ESPN, the Magazine. That’s a big jump from a year earlier when the magazine ranked the then-Bobcats 104th.

            Coaching apparently played a big part in the improved perception. Bobcats coaching was ranked last of all the franchises in 2013. Based on Steve Clifford’s first season, the now-Hornets’ coaching rank jumped to 41st.

            Secondly, espn.com has been ranking the top 500 players in the NBA. That ranking placed three Hornets in the top 100: Al Jefferson 22nd, Lance Stephenson 51st and Kemba Walker 61st.

            The rest of the Hornets by that ranking: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (131), Gerald Henderson (172), Cody Zeller (203), Marvin Williams (212), Noah Vonleh (250), Gary Neal (267), Bismack Biyombo (298), P.J. Hairston (320), Jeff Taylor (325), Brian Roberts (332) and Jannero Pargo (400).

            The only ranking I’d quibble with is Neal’s, but I base that in part by how well he’s performed this preseason, which wouldn’t have factored into ESPN’s methodology.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 23, 2014 at 06:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Add Kemba Walker to Charlotte Hornets' injury issues

            Add point guard Kemba Walker to the Charlotte Hornets’ ever-growing injury list.

            Walker left shootaround Thursday morning after complaining of foot soreness. So his availability is questionable tonight when the Hornets play the Indiana Pacers in the last of eight preseason exhibitions.

             The Hornets have been plagued with injury this preseason. Lance Stephenson (groin strain), Gerald Henderson (hamstring strain) and Noah Vonleh (ankle sprain) won’t play tonight. Cody Zeller (bruised wrist) and Marvin Williams (elbow contusion) both will try to play according to coach Steve Clifford, but there’s little benefit to pushing the issue in a preseason exhibition.

            “I don’t want them getting bumped up again,” Clifford said. “As long as they don’t get hit, I think they’ll be OK.”

            Clifford said Walker started shootaround, then told staff “My foot is killing me,” and went to the trainer’s room.

            The Hornets will have five days after tonight’s exhibition to get players well and back on their games before Wednesday’s season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

            “This time of year is tough because they’re trying to get their individual rhythm. They need practice and they need to be on the floor to play well. But obviously it doesn’t matter if your body is not right,” Clifford said.

            “We’ll have a couple of key guys who won’t be where we’d like to have them to start the season. That’s how it’s worked out and we’ll just have to do the best we can.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 23, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

October 10, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Lance Stephenson out tonight with a toe injury

GREENVILLE, S.C. – What was once a glut at shooting guard for the Charlotte Hornets is suddenly a lack of options.

            Lance Stephenson will miss Friday’s exhibition against the Washington Wizards after suffering a deep cut to one of his small toes. Gerald Henderson is already out a week or more with a right hamstring strain.

            That meant Hornets coach Steve Clifford planned to start Gary Neal and expand minutes for rookie P.J. Hairston versus the Wizards. Clifford said he might use third point guard Jannero Pargo some at shooting guard.

            Clifford hopes to have Stephenson back before Monday’s home exhibition against the Orlando Magic.

“Hopefully (Stephenson is) ready to practice Sunday,” Clifford said. “They’re concerned that it’s deep enough that it could get infected. And he’s sore – I don’t think he could run on it anyway.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 10, 2014 at 06:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (105)

October 07, 2014

Hornets shooting guard Gerald Henderson out 1-2 weeks with hamstring strain

Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Gerald Henderson is expected to miss one to two weeks of the preseason after a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Tuesday confirmed a right hamstring strain.

            Henderson missed practice Tuesday and Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Henderson “tweaked” the hamstring and was sent for an MRI. Based on Clifford’s comments last week, Henderson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are competing for the last of five starting spots, with newcomer Lance Stephenson starting at  either shooting guard or small forward.

            Henderson is the first Hornets injury of the preseason. Rookie Noah Vonleh had surgery before the preseason for a sports hernia and is still limited in his participation at practice. Henderson played in 77 of 82 regular-season games last season, missing five in March with a right calf strain.

            Henderson spoke about the importance of the preseason Monday in reference to center Al Jefferson missing six preseason exhibitions a year ago.

            “When you’re healthy and everything is going like it usually does, you don’t think about the steps you’re taking,” Henderson said. “You work out, you have the preseason and then you have games. It’s a process. You can’t skip steps.”

            A two-week absence could cause Henderson to miss five or six of the eight exhibitions this preseason. The Hornets begin their exhibition schedule Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia against the 76ers.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 7, 2014 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

October 05, 2014

What the new TV deal should mean to the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets

News item: The NBA is reportedly set to announce a new television deal Monday with ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports that would nearly triple revenue from $930 million to $2.66 billion annually.

Ten observations:

-- Michael Jordan made a heck of a business deal, buying out Bob Johnson’s controlling interest in the then-Charlotte Bobcats. He exploited Johnson’s short-term losses and bought something for far less than it will end up being worth.

-- Audacious as that new number sounds, it reflects a harsh reality in the television business: It’s no longer a given most network programming is actually watched at the time it is broadcast. Live sporting events get a reliable audience that even the best entertainment programming can no longer guarantee, and advertisers respond to that.

-- The perception nobody watches the NBA is just lame.

-- Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is situated to make a lot of money. He might end up the Hornets’ fourth-best player on a team that would contend for an Eastern Conference title. But he plays point guard, a position challenging to fill, and based on the deal Eric Bledsoe got from the Phoenix Suns the inflation rate on a good player at that position has to be $10 million a year or more.

-- If Lance Stephenson behaves and performs, he’s going to look incredibly underpaid by the time his three-year, $27.4 million contract expires three seasons from now. Stephenson did that to himself with his antics, but that’s how the market works.

-- The new money technically starts after the 2015-16 season. Does that mean center Al Jefferson does or doesn’t opt out of his contract with the Hornets following 2014-15?

-- You win in the NBA more with stars than depth (important contrast to the NFL). I mention that because I’m not sure this salary-inflation does much to change the situation of Gerald Henderson, who might be smart to not opt out of a $6 million salary in 2015-16.

-- Jordan absolutely did the right thing by exercising amnesty on Tyrus Thomas in the summer of 2013. You can now say that was an obvious decision, based on how Thomas played and how Jefferson changed this franchise’s course, but Jordan had to accept paying someone tens of millions not to play. Easy to spend other people’s money.

-- Retired NBA Commissioner David Stern said he wanted a system that allows well-managed teams in any market to have a fair chance to compete and be profitable. Hopefully the distribution of all this new-found wealth works for that agenda, not against it.

-- New commissioner Adam Silver is a smart, creative, collaborative guy. i sure hope he figures out a way to avoid lockouts, because there is enough money for owners and players to both be fabulously rich.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 5, 2014 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

September 27, 2014

What are the Charlotte Hornets' options now behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward?

The Charlotte Hornets announced Friday that small forward Jeff Taylor won’t be with the team, following his arrest Thursday in Michigan, while the NBA investigates Taylor's conduct.

            How might the Hornets adjust if Taylor misses some or all of the upcoming season? He was expected to back up Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, if not challenge him for the starting spot. Taylor missed most of last season while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon he suffered in December.

            The Hornets are relatively deep at the wing spots (small forward and shooting guard). Coach Steve Clifford has said shooting guard Lance Stephenson can defend most small forwards, so he could slide over when Kidd-Gilchrist is out of the game. The same is true, to some extent, with Gerald Henderson.

            The Hornets have abundant shooting guards beyond Stephenson and Henderson. Gary Neal (who drew praise from general manager Rich Cho for losing 25 pounds) is available as is rookie P.J. Hairston.

            The other option at small forward would be Marvin Williams, signed as a free agent over the summer. Williams is expected to primarily play power forward for the Hornets, but he has played small forward plenty over his nine NBA seasons.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2014 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (70)

September 25, 2014

Three headlines from Hornets general manager Rich Cho's media availability

            Three headlines from Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho’s pre-training camp media availability Thursday:

            1. The Hornets are signing NBA veteran big man Jason Maxiell to a non-guaranteed contract Friday.

            The upshot: The Hornets are shorthanded for big men, particularly with rookie power forward Noah Vonleh to miss much of the preseason following surgery to repair a sports hernia.

            Maxiell, 31, has abundant experience after playing nine NBA seasons in Detroit and Orlando. But don’t have unrealistic expectations; Maxiell is undersized at 6-7 and there’s always a reason a veteran is willing to take an unguaranteed contract just before training camp.

            Bottom line, the Hornets bring that needed extra big body to Asheville without locking up the 15th and last roster spot.

            2. Cho says he’s had some preliminary discussions with point guard Kemba Walker’s agent about a possible contract extension.

            The upshot: The Hornets have until the end of October to sign Walker to an extension, or he’ll go on to restricted free-agency next July. It’s worth at least exploring if they could lock him up now at a price the Hornets can accept.

            Walker needs to be a better long-range shooter, but he’s a leader on this team at a key position. The Hornets haven’t typically re-signed a player on his rookie-scale contract before that player at least reaches restricted free-agency. But what’s the harm in exploring that option?

            With Eric Bledsoe getting $14 million a season from the Phoenix Suns Wednesday, re-signing a point guard has become an expensive exercise for sure.

            3. Reserve shooting guard Gary Neal has lost about 22 pounds this off-season, according to Cho.

            The upshot: There’s a crowd at shooting guard for the Hornets this preseason and veteran Neal – entering the final season on his contract – seems to be doing whatever he can not to become the forgotten man in the rotation.

            Coach Steve Clifford already praised Neal for his off-season work habits. Neal has 3-point range, which the Hornets still desperately need to improve. So Neal’s sense of urgency can only be a big plus.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 25, 2014 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

My no-ball-has-bounced/written-in-pencil preseason NBA picks

It’s Thursday morning before the opening of NBA training camps next week. I’ve been thinking for a while about order of finish in each conference, considering player movement and off-season injuries (the big one obviously Paul George).

            I put some thoughts on paper, and since I did, I thought I’d share my first-glance lineup. This isn’t final; lots can happen between now and the start of the regular season in a month. But here’s how I’d line up the 16 playoff teams and who outside the top eight in each conference have the best chance of staying in the race:

            EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The talent – LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving – is undeniable. It will take some time to figure out roles, but James will undoubtedly make Love and Irving better.

            2. Chicago Bulls: Assuming no new injuries for Derrick Rose, this team is viable to win the East. Pau Gasol was a smart signing after they lost out on Carmelo Anthony.

            3. Washington Wizards: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat are an appealing big three. Signing Paul Pierce was a good fill-in for losing Trevor Ariza.

            4. Toronto Raptors: The best team in a bad division, the Raptors really benefited last season from the Rudy Gay trade. It created much better ball-movement.

            5. Miami Heat: They took the biggest hit of the off-season when James left, but Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts is good for fifth in the East.

            6. Charlotte Hornets: They lost McRoberts, but added Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams. Scoring and ball-movement are the questions for this team.

            7. Atlanta Hawks: Getting back Al Horford (and keeping him healthy) is crucial to this team making the playoffs. Jeff Teague has turned into a star at the point.

            8. Indiana Pacers: You lose Stephenson to Charlotte and George to injury. But Roy Hibbert, David West and experience should squeak them into the playoffs.

 

            Others in the race/spoilers: New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

            1. Oklahoma City Thunder: They have the second-best player in the NBA in Kevin Durant and plenty of help. But they’re still not the Spurs.

            2. San Antonio Spurs: This might be the best-run organization in sports. Pop has done a terrific job of holding open the Spurs’ championship window.

            3. Los Angeles Clippers:  Blake Griffin had a dynamic season and Chris Paul might still be the best point guard in the NBA.

            4. Houston Rockets: They chose not to match Dallas’s offer to Chandler Parsons, but Dwight Howard and James Harden are still formidable.

            5. Portland Trail Blazers: We don’t see LaMarcus Aldridge a lot in the East, but he’s a big piece.

            6. Golden State Warriors: It will be interesting to judge whether Steve Kerr at coach was an upgrade from Mark Jackson.

            7. Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe playing together are really hard to guard and Jeff Hornacek had a fine debut as coach.

            8. Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randoph is the Grizzlies’ Al Jefferson and Mike Conley is underrated at the point.

            Others in the race/spoilers: Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 25, 2014 at 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

September 22, 2014

Hornets could use another big man, but roster flexibility also a factor entering training camp in Asheville

Part of the intrigue of an NFL training camp is projecting who will earn those final five roster spots: The special-teamers, the potential third quarterback, the surprising rookie placekicker challenging the veteran field goal-by-field goal.

            NBA training camps tend to be different. Barring some unexpected trade, the Charlotte Hornets will show up at UNC-Asheville Sept. 30 knowing who will fill 14 of a potential 15 rosters spots. That’s not uncommon in the NBA and also not unreasonable.

            Fully guaranteed contracts are much more the norm in the NBA than in the NFL, so NBA teams need to make firm decisions when they sign players. Also, there isn’t something comparable in NBA basketball to long-snappers or gunners – specialists who compete a handful of plays per game, but are necessary.

            The closest analogy might be a 3-point specialist, but that’s not parallel because a gunner or long-snapper always has a role and a 3-point specialist might go a week without playing.

            My point is the three undrafted free agents the Hornets will bring to Asheville – guard Justin Cobbs, forward Dallas Lauderdale and center Brian Qvale – might not play a lot this preseason and it’s possible none of the three will fill that 15th roster spot. If one of them does make it to the regular season, he might not stick because roster flexibility is a Hornets concern.

            The health of rookie power forward Noah Vonleh is a factor in this. Vonleh will miss some or all of the preseason after having surgery to repair a sports hernia. That means the Hornets are down to four healthy big men – Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams. Coach Steve Clifford would like to know he has a fifth available big man, someone to be a practice player and insurance against further injury.

            But that doesn’t appear to be of sufficient concern that the Hornets would offer a guaranteed contract that would tie up that 15th roster spot long-term. At least not unless something else happens health-wise.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 22, 2014 at 09:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

September 02, 2014

Hornets rookie Noah Vonleh undergoes surgery

From Charlotte Hornets press release:

Charlotte Hornets forward Noah Vonleh underwent successful surgery today to repair a sports hernia suffered in a recent workout.  The surgery was performed in Charlotte by Dr. B. Todd Henneford.  Vonleh is expected to miss approximately 6-8 weeks.

The ninth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Vonleh was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Third Team All-Big Ten in 2013-14 at Indiana University after averaging 11.3 points, a Big Ten-high 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 26.5 minutes per game. 

Posted by Observer staff on September 2, 2014 at 05:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (119)

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