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In this 25th year of Charlotte hoops, this could best the best team assembled since ’96-’97, when they went 54-28 with first year coach Dave Cowens. That team featured Glen Rice (26.8ppg), Vlade Divac (from Lakers for Kobe Bryant rights), Anthony Mason (off a NBA 6th Man season with the Knicks), 7’ Matt Geiger coming into his own defensively/boards, and Tony Delk, a shooter from NCAA champion Kentucky.

While current GM Rich Cho is well-regarded, the Charlotte front office is ranked a dismal 25th in the league. Owner-NBA Legend Michael Jordan spent $4MM to get Hornets name and a definite measure of pride back; that didn’t equal playoffs, but it was a major plus.

Carolina fans will definitely see a better level of b-ball though. 

Coach Steve Clilfford deserves some regard despite a 33-49 record last year. Two years ago he installed a (top 5 by end of year) defensive mentality that earned a 43-39 record and playoff trip. The Hornets managed only 28 total wins the two previous years, including a league worst 7-59 in 2011-2012. Clifford has the credibility, now he has some real personnel.

The Hornets were 7th in scoring defense (97.3 allowed) last year, but a dismal 28th in scoring themselves. They were also a league worst 31.8% from 3-pt. range, led by the departed Lance Stephenson’s worst *ever* league mark 17.1%. 

THE CHANGES and PROJECTIONS

That biggest thing that changeover '96-'97 team did was lower its PPG allowed from 103.4 to 97, but as a team they shot 42.8% from 3-pt. range. At 6’8”, Glen Rice was a scoring terror (47.7%/47% from 3), an eagle-eyed shooter who made 87% from the line when he swooped into the lane.

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If newly acquired 6’8” Nicholas Batum becomes the offensive mixer expected, the Hornets will make strides. Just how impressive that Rice shooting percentage is should be apparent though, and Batum making almost $12MM will be brought up plenty during the year.

National Player of the Year, Frank Kaminsky (of Wisconsin), is 7-ft., versatile, and (almost) universally expected to become a major asset with the 3-pt. shooting skills he showed during NCAA tournament; if he’s drawing someone outside at power forward, workhorse Al Jefferson (16.6ppg, 8.4rpg) should gain extra space to operate down low. Seven-footer Cody Zeller (7.6ppg, 5.8rpg) isn’t regarded as a defensive threat, but good coaching and another year of pro experience might help change.

WHAT'S REALLY NEEDED is solid production from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG was the overall #2 pick coming into the league, and while he's put in the work on what's still a funky shot, he has the markings of a defensive ace. UConn stud Jeremy Lamb has been a bench player with OKC, but at 6'5" and only 23 y/old, could be a steal at backup guard.

Jeremy Lin got a three yr.- $25MM offer with Houston off his 2012 ‘Linsanity’ year with Knicks. He is still an 11.7ppg career scorer at 26, and could be a bargain at $2.1MM. Spencer Hawes, traded from the Clippers for Stephenson, has three years left on a 4 yr./$23MM contract, but at 7’1” he is less physical than Kaminsky and likes the same outside shots, and that probably won’t earn him playing time.

PROJECTION – A playoff berth is a lock in the weak-sister East, but improvement to 50-win level is very possible. Keeping the defensive edge, increasing PPG by five points, getting average 3-pt. shooting—mid-point of ’96-‘97’s 42.8% and last year’s 31.8%-- would make all the difference.