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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:


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



            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)