On the opening day of the season, there were a lot of positives to take from the game as the team lost narrowly to the eventual #1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. Kemba Walker had a big 41 point showing, Coach Borrego was experimenting with some fascinating line-ups and young guard Malik Monk had an impressive game finishing 2nd on the team in scoring. The Hornets even had a chance to win the game with what would have been a buzzer beating shot that fell to the guy who could’ve used this good start to boost his favourability amongst Hornets fans and hopefully kick-start a successful season.
Instead, Nic Batum missed – Not only the basket, but the rim completely as the ball clanked off the backboard to end the game. Kemba sat on the court with his head in his hands, I’m sure many fans reacted similarly too, and from that very low bar things still did not get much better for the French Forward.
Ending the season with averages of 9 Points, 5 Rebounds and 3 Assists, Batum once again asserted himself as one of the biggest under performers in the league when it comes to how much they get paid – and that contract isn’t going anywhere for a while. He is due $52 million over the next two season’s and at his age has likely hit the ceiling of his talents. Now that his signing is well established as an abject failure, the Hornets have another question to answer as to how he is dealt with going forward.
I currently see 3 possible options for the Hornets.
1. Continue to force minutes on him in a starting role. Essentially what the Hornets were doing the past season. It’s likely they would carry on doing this next season, but they won’t be fooling anybody… Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon have both proven they are much better players than Batum at this point and towards the back end of last season that became very clear. If he continues to take minutes away from them, it is very easy to see fans become very frustrated as it would almost confirm the thought that Batum starting is a decision forced upon coaching by the higher ups at the organisation.
2. Part with assets to be able to trade him. This would be a drastic move, but is something that has definitely been thought about by fans when it’s come to trade deadline moves and general thoughts when you’re spending multiple hours on the ESPN Trade Machine. This is an option I would be dead against at this point, with the Hornets looking like they won’t be contending for a long, long time (which would only be enhanced by Kemba potentially leaving) the team could be parting with a very high pick just to clear cap room when not many big free agents would be opting to come here.
3. Keep him in Charlotte on heavily reduced minutes. If I were running things at the Charlotte Hornets, this is how I would play things out. With the young group of players the team has currently and the general situation the team finds itself in, this is no time to give players minutes based on their salary. If we are to build any sort of culture under this new regime, it has to start with playing the players that deserve to play. I understand this may be wishful thinking on my part as the general politics of the NBA are well understood, but I think the franchise needs to make an example of Batum if they want to progress and be successful.
In the simplest terms, perhaps the most damning thing you can say about Nic Batum’s season is that it summed the franchise up in a nutshell, and if the team wants to change that image. He must be erased from it as well.