It's Kemba's time to shine
The Charlotte Hornets arguably made some of the worst offseason moves out of all the NBA teams this year. They traded their draft pick for an aging Marco Belinelli, when they had the opportunity to draft a younger player with more potential. They then threw all their money at Nicolas Batum giving him a 5 year, 120-million dollar deal. They then let go three critical assets of their team in Al Jefferson (24.5% usage rate), sixth man Jeremy Lin (22% usage rate), and Courtney Lee (15% usage rate). They then downgraded all those players with Center Roy Hibbert, guard Marco Belinelli, and guards Ramon Sessions/Brian Roberts. Once a promising team with some potentially serious playoff potential, the Hornets have gone in almost a downward spiral within a year. Unfortunately, this is something that some Hornets fans have become accustomed too over the years under the ownership of Michael Jordan. Some questionable moves under Jordan’s ownership include drafting Frank Kaminsky over Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, and Devin Booker; Signing Lance Stephenson (traded him within a year); and even drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over players like Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond. Jordan has definitely made some head-scracthing moves in the offseason, and I think some of the moves he made this past offseason tops some past moves he’s made.
The core players remaining in this mess are now without question Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and Cody Zeller/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The one that stands out to me in Walker. He has so many intangibles that make guards in this league successful today. He’s got the handle, the shot-making ability, the toughness, and the finishing touch. He’s also coming off a career year where he averaged 21 ppg, 5.2 apg, and 4.4 rpg, while also upping his FG% from 38.5% to 42.7%. He had a career year with players like Nicolas Batum, Courtney Lee, Al Jefferson, and Jeremy Lin as main stays in the rotation/starting lineup. With three out of those four players gone, seeing more “Kemba Time” is almost inevitable next season. I can see maybe not a Kevin Durant type of “eff you” season averaging 32 ppg, but maybe a Chris Paul 2008-09 season where he maintains his high level of play from the previous season (not at Paul’s level but his level) and certifies his status as one of the budding all stars/stars of the league. Kemba needs to build off his fantastic season and take it to the next level.
The Hornets next season will be a team in the shadows, under everyone’s radar but known. Walker is known for stepping up to the challenge; just look at his performance during the NCAA tournament when he was at UCONN. He’s one of these players in this league that have a chip on their shoulder. During the past season, news reports came out about a team meeting between owner Michael Jordan and the team. Kemba came out of the meeting following the moniker, play with enthusiasm-and a chip on your shoulder. Walker then decided the next week to drop 34.8 ppg, 6 rpg, and 6 apg. This little tidbit shows the character Walker possesses. He not only steps up to a challenge, but then goes out and owns the challenge. He’s a tough guard who can step up when needed. He has been proving everyone wrong since day one. Growing up in the Bronx he was told daily he was too small and had no ability on the basketball court. As featured in a Bleacher Report exclusive about his 11-game run with UConn, he decided to say “Why can’t I?”, to prove the doubters wrong once and for all. This has carried over to high school where his AAU team finished #1 in the nation, college basketball where he led the unranked UConn Huskies to the national championship victory, and now potentially the NBA where his Hornets will be written off as teams like the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and New York Knicks have all made improvements and are in contention, while Walker’s teammates have faltered in just one year. With that uncanny chip on his shoulder, Walker will surely shine and embrace being written off just like he has his whole life.