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Blogcat’s Take, 2016 Free Agency

There are several ways to look at the Charlotte Hornets’ free agency period, and the one I choose is, “It could have been so much worse.” If you include the draft as part of the overall free agent/offseason gestalt, then “it could have been so much worse” definitely applies. I won’t lie; despite the relatively measured tone in my last column, I was panicking after the draft, concerned that Charlotte’s offseason had begun with a dumpster fire that was about to set off several nearby bags of highly flammable feces. Now that their free agency period is (probably) just about wrapped up, however, I’m hopeful that the decision to trade the 22nd draft pick for Marco Belinelli was a mere blemish that I originally mistook for herpes.

First, using win-shares (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com) as the overall evaluation metric, here are last season’s numbers for the Hornets’ key free agents entering the offseason:

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If you can only keep two of those guys, at least the Hornets picked the right two—Marvin and Nic. Second, they kept both Williams and Batum at slightly less than the highest possible cost. Just considering next year’s salary alone, Williams will cost $12.3M, and knowing that at least Brooklyn was in hot pursuit with $15M for Invisible Marv suggests we got a hometown discount. That same conclusion is even more applicable to Batum, who will cost us $20.9M next year and $120M over five years. That kind of money may register a 10 on the Gnarls Barkley Crazy Scale for a career 11.7 PPG scorer with injury concerns, and yet the Mavericks, Lakers, Knicks, and Wizards (and probably others) were all peacocking for him with max money—which in Batum’s case, was $150M. Plus, there would have been no way to replace a player as dynamic as Batum. By retaining Marv (and also only committing 4 years to him) and Batum, the Hornets prioritized correctly without overpaying.

While it certainly hurts to see the other three walk, because they all had multiple heroic moments for us, it was nearly unavoidable. Even if we didn’t have the draft night Belinelli trade-gedy, the chances of keeping all or even any of them were about the same as Iggy Izalea keeping Nic Young. Let’s say we kept the 22nd pick and drafted a rookie: that still only would have netted us an extra $4.1 M for our three other free agents (Belinelli’s $6.3M salary – 22nd pick’s $1.2M). Meanwhile, Lin will be making $11.5M next year, Lee will get $11.8M, and Big Al will be taking home $9.6M. Now look at the guys we picked up in free agency and what they’re going to make: Roy Hibbert ($5M), Ramon Sessions ($6M), and Brian Roberts ($1M). You could take that $4M, add it to what Hibbert will cost, and you could maybe get Big Al to stay instead. You could have done the same with Sessions’ cost, and you could’ve maybe gotten Lin to stay. And you could’ve done the same exercise with Belinelli and maybe have gotten Lee to stay. Those are all “maybes,” because they’d require each of our outgoing guys to take a hometown discount, and regardless, the other two were still walking. It’s also not even accounting for the fact that Hibbert is just on a one-year deal, while Indiana is now locked into 3 years of watching Big Al pivot in the low post and praying that at any moment he doesn’t fall on a bloody stump, having left one of his legs spinning by itself like a coin. The bottom-line is, I can’t fault the Hornets too much for letting Lin, Lee, and Jefferson depart for (much) greener pastures.

On the other hand, I can’t give them Charlotte too high a grade, either. That’s because the real opportunity cost of the Belinelli move manifests itself in whom we might have picked up instead of Hibbert and Sessions (not so much Brian Roberts, though; I think we could have gotten Roberts for some Cosby sweaters and a free 1-year pass to Bojangles). For instance, Festus Ezeli eventually signed with Portland for $7.6M next season. While I know it’s difficult to un-see his spectacular meltdown in the NBA Finals, he’s just 26 and put up a 17.7 PER and 2.7 win-shares last season. I would be much more excited to have him over the 29-year-old Hibbert’s 11.2 PER and 2.2 WS. Ditto for Cole Aldrich, who’s two years younger than Hibbert, very quietly put up a 21.3 PER and 3.5 WS with the Clippers, and signed with Philly for $22M over three years. As for Sessions, a little extra cash might have gotten us Sergio Rodriguez, who’s not any younger but has many more dimensions to his game than Sessions (who basically has one, which is that he gets to the foul line…unless you count his negative dimension, which is that he can’t defend anything, and I mean anything; the man couldn’t successfully defend a llama from an onrushing 4-year-old in a petting zoo). If Rodriguez isn’t your thing, the much younger and also much more versatile Matthew Dellavadova signed with Milwaukee for $9.6M a season for the next 4 years. I don’t know that any of these options would have been better, but they would have been more interesting, and they definitely would have had more potential upside. In general, I would have liked to see how a non-Belinelli Hornets team would have looked—for many reasons…

…One of those reasons is that thinking about that backcourt of Sessions and Belinelli playing defense at the same time is like thinking about the Federal Reserve Bank of NY building being made out of Twinkies and Ho Hos. Their protection capability is non-existent, and here’s where Hibbert’s performance will swing our ultimate judgment of this Hornets offseason. Hibbert’s stint last season with the Lakers was a career misstep of Lance Stephensonian proportions, and the majority of attention was focused on Hibbert’s offensive skills, which—never a huge strength in the first place—fell to a level well below what somebody ought to name the Biyombo Line. Less noticed was that Hibbert’s defense—which used to be objectively phenomenal—plummeted nearly as far. ESPN.com’s defensive real plus-minus had him as only the 47th ranked center last year, right below Josh Smith, who I didn’t even know was a center. The Lakers gave up a horrific 112.6 points per 100 possessions when Hibbert was on the court, only to improve by 6.4 points without him. Of course, when your two most frequent pairings are with Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, you’re not exactly being set up for success. I also understand that it’s a “changing NBA,” that sleeker and smaller 5’s have expanded their striking range, rendering lumbering wooly mammoths like Hibbert on a path to extinction. But even that doesn’t explain why Hibbert went from allowing a 42.7 FG% when defending the rim in 2014-2015 to 50.6% last year. As well-documented as Hibbert’s failures were in LA, I’m still not sure that they’ve been adequately explained. Even if mediocre teammates led to an overall loss in Hibbert’s motivation, the fact that he’s now running in the second unit for a mid-tier small-market team—flanked by the overwhelmingly blow-by-able Sessions and Belinelli—makes me feel 0% better.

I guess Coach Clifford boosts my feel-better ratings a couple of percentage points. After all, we just saw him turn the previously defensively indifferent Jeremy Lin into a passable replica of a defender. And Coach has overseen some late-career renaissances in general that—if he didn’t cause—he certainly didn’t hurt. If anyone can cohere the 270-lb Hibbert’s mind and muscles back into an adequately functioning basketball-playing vehicle again, it’s Coach. If not, GM Rich Cho has a knack for making sneakily successful personnel moves at any time other than the draft. Overall, I’m leaning towards a “C” grade for this offseason, but I’ve got it written in pencil.

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    Realistically if we don't add another legit scoring option were pretenders, enter: Brook Lopez

    Realistically if we don't add another legit scoring option were pretenders, enter: Brook Lopez

    Lol, realistically we are in the SE...wizards are going twin tower 80s style gort and mah...and lost offense and shooters sessions, Dudley, nene, temple replaced with Burke Nicholson, Jason smith. Atlanta downgrade replacing all star pg and horford with Howard and last years back up pg. miami lost a lot on offense. Orlando lost or traded away scoring which already worst in div for limited skilled offensive players