With the NBA regular season officially done and the playoffs beginning on Saturday, time to take a look back at the season it was for the Charlotte Hornets and it is disappointing. They finished 36-46 for the 2nd straight season, but oh what could have been says head coach Steve Clifford who thinks this was his most talented team in his 5 years with the Hornets.
"If we could have made the playoffs, if playing as well as we could, we would be a factor in the playoffs," said Clifford. "That's what's disappointing."
That's a lot of "ifs" and the reality is, they didn't have a winning record or didn't make the playoffs, but why?
Here are 3 areas that sent this team into the NBA Draft Lottery instead of the postseason.
In the tenure of head coach Steve Clifford, defense has always been a staple of this team. With the addition of center Dwight Howard, this team was set up to be top 5 in the eyes of many, but that was simply not the case.
The Hornets finished the season ranked 18th in the NBA in defense-- a far cry from where anyone thought they would be.
"We're not nearly the defensive team that we could have been or should have been and that was our down fall," said Clifford.
Even from the start of summer league play, the Hornets were bit by the injury bug.
They drafted Malik Monk in the first round of the NBA Draft last June with the knowledge that he had a sprained ankle that he injured during the draft workout process.
Monk would miss summer league play and that started the process of a slow transition into the NBA.
The low point of the season came when he was sent down to the G-League where he played for the Greensboro Swarm.
"You got to have some kind of pride," said the rookie. "You gotta have some kind of fight to get thru that little situation."
To Monk's credit, he didn't pout. He learned and got better. Monk would appear in 63 NBA games this season and finished the year strong as he averaged 16 points per game in the final 9 contest.
Monk will play in the summer league in July and is looking forward to it.
"I need it," said Monk. "It's going to be a good summer for me."
Then there's Nic Batum. He injured his elbow in a preseason game back in October. He would miss the majority of training camp and the first 12 games of the season. When he did come back, he just wasn't the same.
"That bothered me a lot thru the first 40 or 50 games," said Batum. "Maybe I came back too early. I think I came back 3 weeks too early. I wanted to come back so bad."
Batum would average 11 points per game this season after his return, but never really hit his stride.
Then there is Cody Zeller who only played a career low 33 games.
Even though Cody is not a starter, he is a key player on this team due to his play in the pick and roll and his energy off the bench.
"I worked so hard for all of last summer to get healthy," said Zeller. "To be playing at the top of my game, one play and one injury kind of throws it all for a loop is disappointing."
Only 6 of the 13 Hornets on the roster played at least 70 games and that lack of playing time together killed the chemistry of this team.
Not to mention the fact that coach Clifford missed 21 games due to extreme headaches that led to a lack of sleep. In a nutshell, this team was never really at full strength or ever became a cohesive unit.
Injuries are one thing but the captain Kemba Walker says it's more than that.
"With guys like MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and Marvin (Williams), we're players who play with a lot of passion and excitement and I don't know if we did that consistently for our team this year," said the two time All-Star. "I thought we could have been better with that for sure."
"We failed each other," said MKG. "There's nothing wrong with that because it's stuff I can learn from and we can learn from as a team. As an organization we can learn from this. We just got to make sure it doesn't happen again."
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
There were a few highs as Kemba Walker became the franchise all time leading score and had a game where he drained a franchise record 10 three pointers. Oh by the way, Kemba is also the Hornets all time leader in three pointers made.
In his first year with the Charlotte Hornets, Dwight Howard made an instant impact as he averaged a double double-- 16.6 points per game & 12.5 rebounds per game. He also had a 30/30 game against Brooklyn where he had 32 points and 30 rebounds.
The emergence of Monk as well as 2nd round draft pick Dwayne Bacon gives this franchise 2 young pieces to build around.
Jeremy Lamb set a career high in points, steals, assists, and minutes per game all coming off the bench.
Marvin Williams shot a career high 41% from the 3 point land.
Frank Kaminsky shot a career high 38% from the 3 point land, but thinks he can be even better.
"This is a big summer for me," said Kaminsky. "This is the summer where I'm going to decide where the next step in my career is going go as a player in this league."
Quite a few Hornets probably feel the same way.
After a couple of days talking with the players, new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak will have a talk with coach Clifford and after that we will know the direction of the Charlotte Hornets.
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