As we enter the final stretch of the year there is uncertainty –to the shock of no one– looming over the Hornets franchise. Going by the numbers, Charlotte have the second hardest schedule until the end of the season, and they are barely clinging onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as is. Also, the face of the organization is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The question remains up in the air. What the hell should the Charlotte Hornets do? This is seemingly a coin-flip decision whether or not the team should tank the rest of the year and subsequently tank the next handful of years, or compete for the playoffs despite more than likely losing in the first round. Let’s examine each hypothetical and try to determine which route the Hornets should take.
It is no secret that this draft class is top heavy and significantly dies down towards the middle of the first round. If the Hornets tank the rest of the season they could receive a pick that is just outside of the top ten where there is still quality talent available. Tankaton projects draft prospects such as DeAndre Hunter (Virginia), Nassir Little (UNC), and Keldon Johnson (Kentucky) to be available around that draft range. All three of these players could come in and contribute immediately for Charlotte.
If Kemba Walker does depart from the city in free agency, tanking this year would help them be proactive about the direction of the organization. Tanking now would give them a one-year head start about the rebuilding process which could prove to be very beneficial.
It’s no secret how terrible both the contracts of Nic Batum and Bismack Biyambo are. Should the organization tank, it would be the equivalent to taking on bad contracts and wasting them to shed salary cap space in the future. The only difference is that they already have the contracts on payroll and would not be able to acquire draft capital by taking them on, a common trend in front offices. Tanking with these players on the roster should result in the perfect delta between the tank process and the end of their contracts. The Hornets, in theory, would have the cap space to sign or trade for players, a-la Philadelphia with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
The hiring of Mitch Kupchak as General Manager and James Borrego as Head Coach signifies a strong attempt to change the culture in Charlotte. Winning consistently is part of that culture change. With the future in the hands of Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, among other young players why would it make sense to plague them with losing? If you are a competitor or competitive person (I consider myself to be hyper-competitive) the thought of losing on purpose should make you sick.
I’ve seen people say “we should tank like the Sixers!” To which I say, really? “The Process” didn’t work. From 2013-2017 Philadelphia won 19 games, 18 games, and 10 games. During that stretch at the top of the draft, they selected: Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz (they also traded for Nerlens Noel on draft night 2014). Would you like to know how many of those top players are currently on the team? Two. Jimmy Butler was traded for one player selected during The Process (Dario Saric), and Tobias Harris was acquired via no Process pieces. So congrats to Philadelphia who tanked for multiple seasons, only hit on two draft picks, had to trade for stars, and is going to end up as the fourth seed in the East! /endrant
The organization has said publicly that they intend to bring back Kemba Walker this offseason. However, that decision is not up to them, it is completely up to Walker. I’ve written about this before, how important it is to keep a player and person like Kemba Walker in an organization like Charlotte. Continuing to win now will show the Captain that the club intends to build a better organization than in the past. There is so much value in having a star player in the NBA, even if it is just one. Plus, he and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers are the most underrated cross-sport duos in the country. A growing sports city like Charlotte needs to hold onto that at all costs.
Winning matters. Playoff appearances matter. The Eastern Conference playoffs are attainable for this team for the next handful of seasons. This fan base has been through so much. The struggle that was the Bobcats, the mediocrity of recent years, missing on draft picks (another reason not to tank), plus others that I don’t know about due to my newer fandom. Yes, the ultimate goal of sports is to win a championship, but you can’t do that without taking the necessary steps and gaining the experience and the taste of the postseason. Especially when three playoff seeds in the East open for the taking.
The Charlotte Hornets are at a crossroads with their star player facing free agency as they are barely clinging onto an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The front office needs to make a decision that will impact the franchise for years to come. Regardless of what route they take we can only hope that they have a plan.