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June 30, 2014

Is Luol Deng more 'free' than Hornets' other free-agent options?

SIrjm.St.138If there’s a lesson in the successful recruitment of center Al Jefferson last summer, it might be this;

It’s seldom a top 50-type NBA player hits free agency and is truly “free” – and by free I mean the team he last played for isn’t intent on retaining him.

Jefferson played well in three seasons for the Utah Jazz and had plenty left to offer. But the Jazz, having acquired young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, chose to start over. They let Jefferson and power forward Paul Millsap hit the open market, signing with the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks, respectively.

I bring that up because the now-Charlotte Hornets might want to build on the Jefferson signing by pursuing small forward Luol Deng. Like Jefferson then, former Duke star Deng appears truly “free.”

He was traded last season from the Chicago Bulls to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His productivity dropped a little in points, rebounds and assists in 40 games with the Cavs. Since then the Cavs used the No. 1 overall pick on Andrew Wiggins at Deng’s small-forward position.

It seems unlikely the Cavs will be intent on bringing back Deng to Cleveland. So when free-agency begins at midnight, doesn’t it make sense for Hornets management to inquire about the 29-year-old, 6-foot-8 Deng?

A disclaimer: This is an educated guess, not inside information. Hornets general manager Rich Cho is pretty circumspect about his strategies.

But the Hornets, armed with about $15 million in space under the salary-cap, might have a more realistic chance at signing Deng than restricted free agents such as Houston’s Chandler Parsons or Utah’s Gordon Hayward.

Deng averaged 16 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season. He wouldn’t help the Hornets’ 3-point shooting (30 percent last season), but he’s effective both offensively and defensively. He’s a two-time All-Star. And he’s the sort of good guy/grownup that would enhance an already-strong Hornets locker room atmosphere.

Certainly the Hornets would have competition for Deng regardless of whether the Cavs want him back. The Atlanta Hawks reportedly have a strong interest and cap room comparable to that of the Hornets.

Deng would probably cost about $10 million a season. The Hornets can afford that. And he’s truly available; last summer illustrated that should be appealing to the Hornets.   

Photo: Nov. 2013 file photo, Getty Images

Posted by Observer Sports on June 30, 2014 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

June 27, 2014

What the Charlotte Hornets did in the 2014 NBA draft

At the end of a long night that included three trades, Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho emerged from the NBA draft with the following:

            -- Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh.

-- Former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston.

-- Additional space under the salary cap once center Brendan Haywood ends up with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July.

-- Cash considerations in the trades with the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.

            Sounds like a good day’s work.

The night started with Vonleh, a 6-foot-10 freshman, slipping to the Hornets’ No. 9 pick. Most mock drafts had Vonleh going anywhere from the fourth pick to the seventh. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and ballhandling and shooting skills uncommon for his height.

            The Hornets, who had not worked out Vonleh, grabbed him. This was the second year in a row this franchise used a lottery pick on the Hoosiers’ top big man. A year ago they used the No. 4 overall pick on Cody Zeller.

            Now Vonleh could end up Zeller’s backup and/or competition.

“We had Noah rated a lot higher. We were ecstatic when he was there,” Cho said at a past-midnight media briefing. “He’s a very skilled big man who can play inside or play outside.”

Vonleh serves two purposes: He adds size (one of the things coach Steve Clifford has lobbied for) and he’s insurance should starter Josh McRoberts sign elsewhere. McRoberts opted out of his contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent in July.

Then the Hornets turned their attention to the No. 24 pick, which they had acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers (ironically, when Cho was Blazers GM). This became the first of three trades.

The Hornets acquired Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier to ship him to the Miami Heat. In return the Hornets received the 26th pick, the 55th pick, Miami’s 2019 second-round pick and cash.

The Hornets wanted Hairston to address the team’s relatively poor outside shooting. Cho said he was confident, based on the team’s intel, that he’d be available at 26, just as he was at 24.

“He really fills a need for us,” Cho said of Hairston, who played in the NBA’s Development League (Texas Legends) after the NCAA permanently stripped him of eligibility.

Hairston, who grew up in Greensboro, has issues in his recent past that would raise questions about his judgment. He was accused of receiving free use of a rental car, violating NCAA rules, while at North Carolina. And he was arrested in a traffic stop that involved marijuana and a hand gun. The charge was later dropped.

Cho said the team investigated the issues in Hairston’s past, and felt confident about using a first-round pick to acquire him.

Hairston figures to offer starter Gerald Henderson competition. He has more shooting range than Henderson has demonstrated.

That left the Hornets with two second-round picks: Nos. 45 and 55. By the end of the draft, they’d have neither.

The Hornets selected Stanford power forward Dwight Powell 45th to move him to the Cavaliers. They selected Semaj Christon 55th to move him to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Hornets can’t talk about the deal with the Cavs because it can’t be consummated until the new salary-cap year begins July 1. But NBA sources say Powell and veteran center Brendan Haywood will head to Cleveland and the Hornets get the unguaranteed contract of Alonzo Gee.

The net effect? The Hornets get the $2 million they owe Haywood (from the secondary waiver-claim after the Dallas Mavericks cut Haywood under the amnesty rule) off their books. That adds to the at least $13 million in cap space the Hornets had entering free-agency.

Haywood missed all last season with a stress fracture in his left foot and had a cloudy future with the Hornets.

The last maneuver of the night was effectively selling the 55th pick, acquired from Miami, to the Thunder, who wanted Christon.

The net effect? The Hornets will send Vonleh, Zeller and Hairston to summer league in Las Vegas and will have plentiful cap room to attack free-agency.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 27, 2014 at 03:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (82)

June 26, 2014

Charlotte Hornets select Noah Vonleh with the ninth pick

The Hornets passed over their need for shooting with the ninth pick of the NBA draft Thursday, going instead with Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh.

    In doing so, the Hornets passed on Creighton small forward Doug McDermott, who shot 45 percent from the college 3-point line.

    This is the second consecutive draft where the Bobcats/Hornets used a lottery pick on an Indiana big man. Last June they chose Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick. The Hornets are in danger of losing their incumbent starter at power forward, with Josh McRoberts opting out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

Vonleh, 18, is 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds and turned pro after his freshman season. He averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds for the Hoosiers. He shot 53 percent overall and 49 percent from 3-point range.



Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2014 at 08:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

June 20, 2014

Joel Embiid posts pre-surgery selfie

Center Joel Embiid, who played for Kansas and was once the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was scheduled for foot surgery Friday. Before the operation, he took a selfie and posted it on Instagram.

Embiid has a stress fracture in his right foot, his agent, Arn Tellem, said Thursday.


Posted by Observer staff on June 20, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (64)

June 18, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Josh McRoberts opts out of contract, will be a free agent in July

The player Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan calls his “connect-the-dots” guy has chosen to hit free-agency next month.

            Power forward Josh McRoberts exercised his option to void the remaining season on the contract he signed last July. He’ll hit the open market after a strong seventh season in the NBA. He played in 78 of 82 games, all of them starts. He averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds he also shot 36 percent from 3-point range.

            Those numbers somewhat understate his contribution. Coach Steve Clifford constantly praised McRoberts for his decision-making and ball-movement, along with his defense.

At a pre-draft press conference Wednesday afternoon, Hornets general manager Rich Cho made it clear they will pursue McRoberts aggressively: "Josh is a big part of our team. We definitely want to re-sign him."

            McRoberts was scheduled to make just under $2.8 million next season. It’s possible via free-agency he could roughly double that salary. The Hornets are expected to make a run at re-signing McRoberts once free-agency begins. But if McRoberts goes elsewhere, the Hornets have an alternative in Cody Zeller, who they drafted fourth overall last June.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 18, 2014 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (49)

June 13, 2014

Charlotte Hornets part with Rod Higgins two weeks before NBA draft

Rod Higgins is out as head of the Charlotte Hornets basketball operations.

 In an odd and ill-timed press release, the Hornets announced past midnight Friday that president of basketball operations Rod Higgins has “stepped down” two weeks before the Hornets make the ninth, 24th and 45th picks in the draft.

 Higgins has effectively run the Bobcats/Hornets basketball ops since June of 2011. He was a key figure in the decisions to sign free agents Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions.

 The Hornets noted in their press release that general manager Rich Cho will continue to report to Jordan and vice-chairman Curtis Polk.


Rod Higgins, seen here in a 2011 Observer file photo, is out as head of the Charlotte Hornets basketball operations. (Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com)

Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2014 at 01:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (91)

June 11, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Steve Clifford: No summer substitute for working out with the coaching staff

The Charlotte Hornets had nearly half the roster working out in mid-June at the team’s practice gym Wednesday.

It wasn’t just the kids, either. The group included center Al Jefferson, shooting guard Gary Neal, point guard Kemba Walker and small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor.

None of them were obligated to be there. But it’s become the norm since Steve Clifford became coach a year ago. Clifford has let the players know that’s his expectation.

“This is the way it has always been in the places I have been in. I don’t think it’s common throughout the league,” Clifford said after coaching Walker’s workout.

“To really get better, they should be here with us. They should be here because our coaches know them better; they know what they should be working on.”

Some players instead will leave town and hire personal trainers or outside coaches to tutor them in the summer. Clifford doesn’t see that as matching what the staff provides:

“A lot of guys will give them good workouts but (they’re) not going to be able to say to any of these guys all the time, ‘You’ve got to go a little harder. You need to do this, you need to do that.’

“I also think they need to take advantage of (strength and conditioning coach) Matt Friia, who is excellent. They can’t do that unless they’re here in Charlotte. They know that’s how I feel. I think it’s great they’re here and I also think it’s where they should be.”

Posted by Observer Sports on June 11, 2014 at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

June 10, 2014

Steve Clifford: Charlotte Hornets assistant Mark Price ready to be a head coach

Charlotte Hornets assistant coach Mark Price was in his usual routine Tuesday morning, working on small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot after another workout of draft candidates.

            Price’s routine gets shaken up after that. Coach Steve Clifford confirmed the Cleveland Cavaliers have asked permission to interview Price for their head-coaching opening.

            Price was one of the most popular players in Cavs history. He played there his first nine NBA seasons, making four All-Star appearances. The then-Bobcats hired him last summer, both to work on shooting technique and pick-and-roll decision-making.

“It’s great,” Clifford said of Price getting this interview. “Obviously we don’t want to lose him. He’s done a great job here. But he’s ready to be a head coach.

“The fact that they called and asked permission to speak with him shows how much they think of him as a coach. It would be great if it works out – bad for us, but good for him.”

            Clifford said Price is not the only Hornets assistant ready for this step. Associate head coach Patrick Ewing interviewed for the Bobcats job that Mike Dunlap got in 2012.

“I love my staff. (Price) is ready to be a head coach, Stephen (Silas) is ready to be a head coach and Patrick (Ewing) is ready to be a head coach,” Clifford said.

“Again, the commitment (owner) Michael (Jordan) made last summer and the work Rod (Higgins) and Rich (Cho) did: We spent a lot of time and a lot of money putting this staff together. We have a great staff and it makes things a lot easier on me.”

Posted by Observer Sports on June 10, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

June 04, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Al Jefferson named All-NBA

            Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson was named All-NBA third-team Wednesday, in a vote of media members who regularly cover the league.

Jefferson averaged 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and shot 51 percent from the field, leading the then-Bobcats to only the second playoff appearance in that franchise’s 10-year history.

            Jefferson signed as a free agent last July in what became a franchise-changing transaction. They had never before had a primary scorer with Jefferson’s impact.

            He started the season slowly, due to an ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. That was a factor in him not being selected by the NBA’s coaches as an All-Star reserve. But from January on, he was arguably one of the NBA’s 10 best players.

            Jefferson had never previously been named either All-NBA or an All-Star selection. Ex-Bobcat Gerald Wallace was named an All-Star reserve in the 2009-10 season.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 4, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (95)