Somewhere in the smoke that is being created by LeBron James, James’ entourage, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pat Riley, the letter Dan Gilbert wrote after LeBron left, Chris Bosh, the Houston Rockets, Carmelo Anthony, Phil Jackson, the Buss family, Kobe, Donald Sterling, Channing Frye and Ben Gordon getting ridiculous contracts by the Orlando Magic and KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) going bananas in the Summer League, the Charlotte Hornets offered the first max contract of the free agency period.
As we wait for the LeBron domino to fall and potentially reshape the entire landscape of the NBA, the Hornets have reached agreement with Gordon Hayward on a four-year/$63 million offer sheet.
I know it’s hard to remember what happened yesterday in the NBA with all of the free agent “news” that’s been circulating every day, but if you remember the Cavaliers were flirting with the idea of offering Hayward similar deal, which the front office ultimately decided to pass on. The Cavs decision to hold off on sending an offer sheet to Hayward (along with the reported idea of bringing in the Ray Allen, Mike Miller and James Jones Big 3) was of the many signs that proves Cleveland’s front office really believes they could hit the jackpot in the LeBron sweepstakes. They’ve also missed out on Chandler Parsons, but that’s a different story.
The Cavs decision to pass on making an effort to sign Hayward, gave the Hornets the ability to make a max offer for his services. The number does sound high for a forward that was the number one option on one of the worst offensive teams in the league last season. So when you put the number 63 before the word million and then write a dollar sign next to the 63, it feels like it doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Hayward.
I don’t want to seem like I’m ripping the Hornets for making the decision to offer Hayward this deal. If there is a time to strike in the Eastern Conference, it’s right now. If the Raptors could be the three seed in the East last season, it’s totally conceivable for Charlotte to win home court advantage in the first round with Hayward. The Walker-Hayward-Jefferson trio is pretty formidable in the Eastern Conference.
Losing Josh McRoberts hurts for sure. He has the ability to not only stretch the floor with his shooting, but with his passing ability. If you look at Charlotte’s roster, it’s hard to think of someone who has the ability to fit into that role. Cody Zeller is the logical replacement at the four, but the Hornets’ offense is going to look extremely different with Zeller at the four.
Kemba Walker has shown the ability (mostly in college, but still) to score in crunch time. Zeller is intriguing, but the potential key to the Hornets’ immediate future, if the Jazz do indeed follow through with their reported plans and match the offer sheet, could easily be someone who is already on their roster.
If you watched most Bobcats’ games last year you may have seen a flash where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looks like he has the potential to become an elite defender. So much is made about his struggles on offense that his advanced skills on defense often get overlooked. He certainly has his issues on offense. MKG has to overcome a brutal hitch in his shot. When your shooting form looks better during the period when you were recovering from a broken hand, it’s worth noting. When you revert to old habits once the cast comes off, it’s a massive red flag.
If you think about the 10,000 Hours theory and apply it to Kidd-Gilchrist, he’s trained his muscles to think this way and it’s going to an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome. He could ultimately correct it and become a really good two way player, but the odds of it don’t seem likely based off his first two seasons in the league.
While MKG needs to get better on offense, his potential to play elite level defense isn’t properly discussed. He’s long, has a good understanding of where to be on defense and has shown some awesome displays of athleticism. He had a transition block and a pin block in a half-court set against the Celtics that were incredible to see live. His seven-foot wingspan gives him the ability to stay in front of much bigger players.
The reason he is the potential key to this team is thanks to the real possibility that the Hornets front office may just wait until next year to spend their money.
What I’m about to say is total speculation, but you can bet if I’m smart enough to come up with it, Charlotte’s front office has as well. The Jazz are probably going to match the Hayward offer sheet. If LeBron stays in Miami, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are going to head back to South Beach, which would erase the idea of the Hornets overpaying for an aging Wade.
Unless of course Bosh decides to sign with Houston, which would then allow Dallas to land Chandler Parsons for three-years/$46 million. Parsons 3/46 >>>>>> Hayward 4/63. Then LeBron could go back to Miami and team up with Carmelo “I had a change of heart” Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Or LeBron goes back, forces Wade out of Miami and the James, Anthony, Bosh trio lives. Free agency everyone!
If Utah brings Hayward back, who are the Hornets going to throw money at? Lance Stephenson might be the correct answer in terms of projecting what might actually happen, but it does not seem like the right basketball move for the team. Stephenson can create his own shot, which is something the Hornets desperately need, especially when Jefferson and Walker are on the bench. But the question marks surrounding Stephenson’s ability to play outside of the Larry Bird cocoon in Indiana and not interrupt the Walker-Jefferson dynamic are big ones.
Charlotte’s front office could run the risk of not shelling out any giant deals, pick up a couple of one year deals with team options for the second, or a couple of cheap two-year deals and then attempt to capitalize on the 2015 free agent class headlined by Klay Thompson (restricted), LaMarcus Aldridge (unlikely), Kevin Love (who knows) and the more realistic option, Wesley Matthews. Those are three big names, but all three are long-shots to sign in Charlotte unless they have a best case scenario season take place.
The time for the Hornets to make a splash in the Charlotte area is now. Al Jefferson’s third season is a player option. He could opt out and become a free agent, which makes this year that much more important. The Hornets can’t afford to take a step back this season in the win-loss column and their willingness to throw 63 million dollars at Hayward proves they believe this incarnation of the franchise has the core to be seriously frisky in the second round.
Like the Timberwolves offer to Nicolas Batum a few years ago, we’ll most likely look back at the Hornets offer to Hayward as an alternative scenario. It’s an extremely fun thought, but the Jazz are smart to match and keep Hayward. They now need to turn their attention to collecting the most ping-pong balls in the Jahlil Okafor marathon.
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