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Charlotte Hornets 2015-16 Preview

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Can Big Al Jefferson and the Hornets put themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture in 2016?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
33-49
4th in Southeast Division
11th in Eastern Conference

To put it lightly, the 2014-15 season did not quite go as well as the Hornets planned in their first season branded as the "Charlotte Hornets" since 2001-02. The franchise was just coming off of a playoff berth as the Bobcats in 2013-14, their first postseason appearance in four years, and the school of thought was that the young squad would continue to progress and be even more dangerous with Lance Stephenson in the mix.
Needless to say, that didn't work out so well.

In fact, the Stephenson experiment was miserable for all involved as he had a difficult time seeing eye to eye with head coach Steve Clifford while he simply didn't fit very well on a team with no shooting around him and Kemba Walker as a ball-dominant guard. Stephenson was looking like a budding All-Star the year prior with Indiana, but only held on to his starting job for 25 games in his first and only season with Charlotte, where he shot 37.6% from the field and produced just eight points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

Not only was the Stephenson move a bad fit, but Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts and Marvin Williams were the only three players on the roster to appear in 70 or more games. Team centerpiece Al Jefferson missed 17 games with a groin injury, Kemba Walker missed 20 games as he was sidelined with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist appeared in just 55 games all season due to foot and ankle issues and lottery pick Noah Vonleh was only active for 25 games as he began his NBA career recovering from a sports hernia.

Perhaps the biggest spark of Charlotte's season came in February when the Hornets acquired veteran guard Mo Williams just before the league's trade deadline, and the 32-year-old performed in vintage form to close out the season with his new team. Suiting up for 27 games for the Hornets, Williams put up 17.2 points and six assists per game as he proved that he still has some good basketball left in the tank.

Williams' best moment of the season came before the move to Charlotte, however, as he absolutely came out of nowhere to light the Pacers up for a 52-point performance as a member of the Timberwolves on January 13. I mean, hey, Tony Delk did it so why not?

Charlotte went just 33-49 in the 2014-15 season, winning 10 less games than the year before and falling five games short of a chance to compete in the postseason. A lot of things had to go well for the Hornets to remain somewhat relevant to the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and luck was simply not on their side whatsoever all season.

Growing pains are a brother trucker.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Hawes
Key Losses - Mo Williams, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, Noah Vonleh

The number one priority of the summer for Charlotte was Al Jefferson, who exercised his $13.5 million player option to remain with the club for one more year before hitting the open market as a free agent in 2016. Jefferson was not quite as productive last season as he was in his first year with Charlotte in 2013-14, where he put up a career high 21.8 points per game to go along with 10.8 rebounds, but he is still a dynamic low-post threat that has a good chance of returning to form if he can stay healthy in 2015-16.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was also retained on a four-year contract worth up to $52 million, a hefty price tag but let's be real, what free agent didn't sign for a ridiculous amount of money this summer? At any rate, MKG is coming off of his best year as a pro where he put up just under 11 points and eight rebounds per game while maintaining his niche as a high-level defensive competitor. If he can add to his offensive game and become a more reliable jump shooter, that contract may not look so bad in a couple of years.

The Lance Stephenson experiment in Charlotte was a train wreck, and everybody knew it was time for both parties to move on this summer. Stephenson's high talent level comes with a lot of baggage, and there may not have been many better people to try to get through to him than Doc Rivers. In mid-June, Doc and the Clippers decided to take a risk on Stephenson in exchange for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes, who Charlotte flipped to Memphis for Luke Ridnour 10 days later.

On the same day, Ridnour was shipped to Oklahoma City along with a second round pick for Jeremy Lamb, a young athletic body that still has a chance to develop into a quality rotation wing. Ridnour has since been traded two more times, waived and announced that he is taking the year off. After being traded six times in two years, I don't blame him. Lamb, however, could be a low-risk, high-reward replacement for Gerald Henderson, who was traded to Portland in June after six years in Charlotte.

Henderson was shipped to the Trail Blazers along with 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh, giving Charlotte a new playmaker on the wing in Nicolas Batum. He's no superstar, but he does everything well and when engaged, he can really change the game on both ends of the floor.

Mo Williams was terrific for Charlotte last season, but decided to return to Cleveland this summer, leaving the Hornets with a hole in the backcourt. In order fill it, they jumped on the Linsanity train and signed Jeremy Lin to a two-year, $4.3 million deal to come into a role you would assume would be as the first guard off the bench.

Spencer Hawes will be a welcome addition as a seven-foot veteran that adds depth at the five-spot, and could potentially see minutes alongside Al Jefferson as well due to Hawes' ability to space the floor, and they got even deeper up front in the draft. We are all well aware that the Celtics worked tirelessly to get Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Hornets management to budge on a deal that sent the ninth overall pick to Boston in exchange for up to six future picks, but they decided to stand pat and go with Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky.

Charlotte has now drafted a big man with each of their last three lottery picks, but Kaminsky may be the first one that has a chance to make a quality impact right away in his rookie year. Standing at 7'1" with long arms, the four-year scholar is equipped with a diverse arsenal of offensive weapons both on the block and in face-up situations, as his crafty back-to-the-basket game is complemented by a respectable jumper and a great feel for the game. Kaminsky is likely to see time at both the four and the five, as he has the ability to play with Jefferson, Hawes, Zeller and Marvin Williams up front depending on matchups and situations.

The Hornets were busy reconstructing their roster this summer, and they've added some floor spacers and frontcourt depth along with a couple of perimeter shot creators that they desperately needed.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Al Jefferson / Spencer Hawes
PF - Cody Zeller / Frank Kaminsky / Tyler Hansbrough
SF - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Marvin Williams / P.J. Hairston
SG - Nicolas Batum / Jeremy Lamb / Troy Daniels
PG - Kemba Walker / Jeremy Lin / Aaron Harrison / Brian Roberts

X-FACTOR - Nicolas Batum
Nicolas Batum is coming off of a tough year in Portland where he shot a career low 40% from the field and scored under 10 points per game for the first time since his 2008-09 rookie season. However, he is the kind of guy that impacts the game in multiple areas and he may just turn out to be that "glue guy" that can help Charlotte win some more games.

Two of the biggest problems the Hornets have had offensively over the last couple of years is lack of shooting and not having enough creators with the ball. Batum sports an all-around skill-set, plays team ball, defends, is an excellent passer and has shot above 36% from beyond the arc throughout his seven-year NBA career. The Hornets will need him to be a little bit more aggressive offensively than Portland asked of him last year, but he absolutely has the ability to make a big impact on both ends of the floor.

If Batum embraces his new surroundings and can return to the consistent level he performed at from 2012-2014, he can help any team win.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
This year's Hornets roster makes a little bit more sense than last season's in terms of fit. The front line is more balanced with low-block threats and bigs that can shoot the ball, and Batum may turn out to make the kind of impact that everybody had hoped Lance Stephenson would a year ago. In terms of talent, their roster isn't drastically improved but if the team can stay healthy, buy in and have a couple of youngsters make a leap, they will have a chance to get better and improve on last year's 33-49 mark.

With that said, it's not going to be easy for them to get back into the playoff picture, even in the Eastern Conference. They've got a lot of competition with a lot of teams in similar situations within that projected seven to 12 seeding range.

If I had to put money on Charlotte making the 2016 NBA playoffs, well, I wouldn't. At the very least, they should be more enjoyable to watch and there is a chance they could be in the mix if all goes well.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
4th in Southeast Division
11th in Eastern Conference

Additional Hornets Previews:

Charlotte Hornets 2015-2016 SB Nation preview: Playoffs is the goal - At The Hive

Clifford's job is safe as long as Rich Cho is in charge of what's going on upstairs. That said, team owner Michael Jordan is notoriously impatient and nobody is really sure what Rich Cho's standing with him is right now. The team hasn't drafted well, and failed expectations could cause Jordan to choose a different direction.

The Hornets yearn to be average - SBNation.com

So, yeah. The Charlotte Hornets. Might be decent, might not, probably won't be as good as people want them to be when it's all said and done. ZILLER: That's an apt description not just for the 2015-16 Hornets, but the entirety of the Charlotte franchise since re-institution. Poor Charlotte.