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A Year of Disappointment

Apr 16, 2015 -- 6:51pm

The buzz was back, and now the buzz is gone. A season that started 6-19 had a few highs, but ultimately ended in disappointment in the form of 33-49 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

There won’t be any playoff games played inside of Time Warner Cable Arena this spring.

A step that was assumed to be forward turned out to be the complete opposite. Progression was absence, regression took its place.

As the team cleaned out their lockers Thursday afternoon they addressed the media along with head coach Steve Clifford.

Since the 2011-12 season the Charlotte franchise was on a upwards trend improving their win total from seven to 43 in a matter of two years. The 2014-15 season was suppose to be the year they competed for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. That did not happen.

“It’s not ok to not make playoffs,” said Clifford. “But I do think it was a good group that did a lot of good things.”

The only thing the Hornets did consistently was lose, I don’t see any good in that at all.

Disappointment, inconsistency and injuries sums up Charlote's 2014-15 NBA season.

Lance Stephenson, the team's  off-season signee, was a disappointment at the highest level.

Stephenson, who started 78 games in Indiana started 25 in Charlotte, never gelling when on the floor with the starters or reserves. People thought he would bring his 13.8 points per game average, instead that number dropped to a pathetic 8.2 ppg. He shot 49 percent from the field that dropped to 38 percent, and his 17 percent from behind the arch was the league's worst. That "next step" fans expected for him to take in Charlotte never occurred. Clifford struggled to find Stephenson minutes after the All-Star break, that was evident when Charlotte attempted to make a playoff push and he found himself at the end of the bench.

 "To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar," Clifford said following a 105-97 defeat to Portland back in November. "He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years."

That three-year $27 million contact Stephenson signed in July has yet to become justifiable.

 I’m not the one to say Stephenson should be moved ---partly because many aren’t willing to pick him up --- but Clifford has to be able to find a way to get him on the floor. If he’s going to collect DNP’s then he should be moved, $9 million a year on the bench does nothing for Charlotte.

The Hornets were the NBA’s roller coaster, they struggled to consistently string victories together. One week you’ll see them go on winning streaks of four and five games, then turn around and lose six-straight.

Clifford’s team rarely played a complete 48 minutes, they’d either play well one of the two halfs or find a way to blow it when the game was on the line. Charlotte isn’t a team that’s talented enough to take plays off, they’d fall asleep for a span in the second half look up at the scoreboard and they’re down double-digits often resulting in a loss.

“We have to know who we are, it’s got to be about winning.”

Were the words of Clifford following a 91-98 lost to Brooklyn, whenever you have to question whether your team knows what they’re playing for through 70 games, that’s a basketball team that’s not very good.

Too many times following a defeat Clifford had to question his team’s purpose and effort. This team never found their identity. The Hornets needed to defend, rebound and be the first to reach 95 points if they wanted to win, they also never did that consistently.

The injury bug wasn’t the sole reason why this team wasn’t any good, but it definitely played a role.

Charlotte’s opening night lineup of Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Marvin Williams and Stephenson started six games going two and four.

The Hornets’ started 17 different lineups, that was largely due to the injuries and some performance based decisions. Of Charlotte’s best lineups on the season neither of them featured the team’s collective trio of Jefferson, Walker and MKG. The trio only played together 483 minutes all season, they ranked 13th in minutes played together out of 20 combinations.

When your best players aren’t playing the majority of the season together your hopes of reaching the playoffs will more than likely not to happen.

Rich Cho and Michael Jordan went out with the goal of improving this roster after the 2013-14 season with the free-agency signing of Stephenson and forward Marvin Williams to replace Josh McRoberts. The combination of signing Stephenson and Williams did more harm than good, Stephenson never found his comfort zone and Williams wasn’t near the defender McRoberts was along with not living up to the bill as a “stretch four.”

The Hornets’ glaring need is for a wing that can put the ball in the basket, we all know Stephenson and Gerald Henderson aren’t the answer.

Mock drafts for the 2015 NBA Draft have Charlotte taking Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre or Mario Hezonja a forward from Croatia. The Hornets don’t need any of these young prospects, they need a guy who can step in and contribute right away. A guy that I think Cho has a shot at landing is Aaron Afflalo and that can only happen if he opts out of his contract in Portland.

Other notable upgrades for Cho could be J.R. Smith, Lou Williams Wesley Matthews or Danny Green. Afflalo and Smith have player options and Matthews, Williams and Green are unrestricted free agents.

If Cho can’t land either of the five I don’t see how this team will be drastically better in 2015-16. Sadly, Charlotte is up against the cap meaning singing any of these free-agent is highly unlikely unless Cho can put together some trades to free up some cap space.

Being top-10 in rebounds and defensive points allowed is a nice statistic to have, but if you can’t put the ball in the basket you can’t win games.  The Hornets’ lack of offensive scoring has them watching the playoffs this season.

“We never became as good a practice team this year as last year,” said Clifford.

You practice like you play in games, and obviously Charlotte didn’t do that well either. The city of Charlotte will be seeking an upwards trend during the 2015-16 season.

I assure you nobody’s job is safe from the players to the front office executives.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Hornets Still Afloat

Apr 01, 2015 -- 11:27pm

In a game Charlotte needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Hornets took care of business defeating Detroit 102-78.

You know this was an unusual performance when Marvin Williams led the team in scoring with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

Steve Clifford’s ball club played close to a complete 48 minutes of basketball, five other Hornets’ were in double-figures scoring.

In a game between two bad basketball teams Charlotte’s urgency was on display, they hustled and played defense. More importantly they didn’t let their lead slip away when Detroit cut it to single digits at the top of the fourth quarter, the Hornets led by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter.

“It was a good bounce back win,” were the words of Clifford following the win.

And for those wondering Lance Stephenson did not play for the second consecutive game, Troy Daniels and Noah Vonleh received some playing time with a little under three minutes to go in regulation.

The reason Stephenson hasn’t been playing is due to Clifford not finding a lineup that will work for him. Clifford answered the questions about if he and Stephenson had something happen behind closed doors.

“Lance is here because of me,” said Clifford. “I wanted him here.”

He mentioned that his playing time could change in these remaining weeks of the season, but at the moment he's still looking for a lineup that'll work for Stephenson.

Though the win is good for the city to be excited about, Charlotte’s playoff hopes are still dim. Both Brooklyn and Boston won tonight, the two teams sit eighth and ninth, respectively. This win does nothing but keep them in the same position rather than falling with eight games to go.

The Hornets are still two games out of eighth and will have two more games this weekend that will feel almost as "must wins" against Indiana on Friday and Saturday night against Philadelphia. The purple and teal sit half a game above the Pacers, but before you jump off the couch and celebrate Charlotte lost to the Sixers 89-81 in Philadelphia back in February.

If the Hornets lose both of these games on Friday and Saturday I strongly believe they'll offically fall out of playoff contention.

Charlotte have been the NBA’s roller coaster all season with their inconsistency, and sadly as pathetic as the Eastern Conference is Charlotte still has a fighting chance.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Hornets/Celtics Preview

Mar 29, 2015 -- 10:50pm

Tonight’s game could very well determine if Charlotte makes the playoffs or not with 10 games remaining in the regular season.

At 31-41 and one game out of the eighth seed, if the Hornets were ever in need of a win it’ll have to come tonight against Boston.

Neither team is playing exceptionally well. Charlotte is 3-7 over their last 10 and the Celtics are slightly better at 5-5.

As ugly of a season that this has been for the Hornets, they still have a fighting chance at making the playoffs.

At this point last season the Bobcats had 35 wins.

I personally don’t believe that Charlotte is a playoff team, but if they can win some games and get some help from the teams ahead of them- - Indiana, Boston and Brooklyn- - they’ll see the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.

Before we get too far ahead, we must remember we have to take this one game at a time.

The final stretch begins tonight against Brad Stevens’ ball club.

The Hornets were victorious Saturday night when they beat Atlanta though the Hawks rested their starters, but anytime you can get a freebee in this league you’ll take it and Charlotte did just that winning 115-100.

Boston is having the same dream that the Hornets are having, and that’s making it to the postseason.

Steve Clifford’s ball club is aware of just how important tonight’s game is.

“It’ll be huge,” said Marvin Williams following Saturday night’s victory. “Monday could be the game of the season.”

Who’s going to leave Time Warner Cable Arena with a victory tonight?

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

A Team That's Not Very Good

Mar 25, 2015 -- 10:21pm

“We played a good game, obviously we’re tired,” said Steve Clifford. “We have to know who we are, it’s got to be about winning.”

Wednesday night Charlotte lost to Brooklyn 91-88 inside of Time Warner Cable Area.

At 30-40 the Hornets’ playoff hopes are diminishing as the games go by.

Two things I took from Clifford’s presser: tired and team identity. Through 70 games played everyone is tired, being tired is an excuse that’s invalid. If you don’t know who you are with 12 games remaining in the regular season, you should know your team is not a playoff team. The finger of blame isn't pointed to just one coach or player, its distrubted equally amongst both the coach and players.

I’m very aware of the injuries and back-to-backs the Hornets have played, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Charlotte just isn’t a good basketball team. You can’t sugarcoat it with being fatigue or scheduling, that team that wears the purple and team is not a playoff team.

When you pride yourself on being a good defensive team-- the Hornets rank fourth in points allowed--there is no reason why you should give up 54 points in the paint.

How can a team that ranks in the top-five in the league allow a team to score 54 points in the paint?

A team that’s not very good.

“This is a man’s league,” said Clifford. “The best players in the biggest moments concentrate on the play at hand, if we would have done that tonight we would have won.”

When it was time to come up big Brook Lopez did when nobody from Charlotte wanted to, Lopez finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

The scheduling doesn’t get any easier for the Hornets with 12 games to go. Charlotte will face a not so happy Washington team--who lost to Indiana on Wednesday-- Friday night then fly back that same night to play Atlanta inside The Cable Box.

It’s likely that the Hornets will lose both of those games, and if that’s the case their playoff aspirations will conclude with 10 games to go.

Clifford was right his team didn’t play a bad game grabbing 51 rebounds seven over their average and dishing out 23 assists along with holding the Nets to under 95 points, that’s not a bad game at all.

The “Buzz Was Back” on opening night, but at this moment it’s safe to say the buzz that was once here has left the building.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Hornets/Nets Preview

Mar 24, 2015 -- 9:48pm

After a five-game road trip that resulted in Charlotte going 1-4 winning one game in Minnesota, the Hornets are back in Charlotte to welcome the Brooklyn Nets.

Both teams are competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets are 30-39 on the outside looking in sitting half a game out of eighth, and Brooklyn is 29-40 currently one and half games out of eighth.

Neither ball club is playing their best basketball with 13 games remaining in the regular season, the two are 4-6 over their last 10 games.

From here on out both teams will need to be playing playoff basketball if they’re going to make it to the postseason.

The season series is split 1-1 with the Nets taking the first meeting and the Hornets taking the second meeting, the wins for the two came on the road.

Coach Steve Clifford knows his team must play better.

"We played better, we had some stretches of good play (Monday) and we gotta get ready to play better Wednesday," Clifford said.

The magic number is seven at the minimum and eight is more of a guaranteed playoff spot.

The goal to eight started Monday night in Chicago when Charlotte fell to the Bulls 98-86, a win tonight would be of great help.

The Hornets aren’t great inside of Time Warner Cable Arena at 16-18 on the season, and Brooklyn isn’t a good team on the road at 17-20 on the season.

Al Jefferson's status for tonight’s game is uncertain after showing signs of limping against Chicago on Monday, Charlotte has had to fight the injury all season long, and Jefferson not being healthy isn’t a good sign moving forward for the Hornets. It would be hard to image Jefferson not playing knowing how important he is to his team’s success.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Hornets' Seek Strong Finish

Mar 23, 2015 -- 12:30am

It's great that Charlotte ended their three-game skid last night in Minnesota 109-98, after allowing 59 first half points, the Hornets only gave up 39 points in the second half. Mo Williams led the way with a game-high 24 points, including Williams Charlotte had five-players in double figures scoring, that won't happen often but if it could that would be a recipe for sucess.

For a team that hasn't been great in back-to-backs the Hornets will need to take care of business tonight in Chicago.

At 30-38 Charlotte is currently occupying the eighth seed with a half-game lead on Boston and Indiana. The good news is that the Celtics have lost their previous three games and the Pacers have lost their last four games.

What does that mean?

The Hornets competition for the eight seed has not been playing their best basketball with 14 games to go in the regular season.

To be honest Charlotte isn't a team you can put your complete trust in, so the fact that their competition isn't playing well just makes their job easier. Now, in order for the Hornets to make the playoffs they need to win games, but their remaining schedule is brutal. Of Charlotte's remaining 14 games, eight of them are against playoffs teams and seven of the games will be on the road.

Something that will bold well for the Hornets is that they only have three B2B's. Charlotte can use all of practice time and rest they can get in order to close the season strong.

It starts tonight in Chicago, coming off of the win over the Timberwolves the excuse of being "tired" from the B2B will be invalid. The Hornets rallied back from 19 down to beat the Bulls 10 days ago inside of Time Warner Cable Area 101-91.

The battle between Charlotte, Boston and Indiana has been an interesting one to say the least. With 14 games to go I believe the Hornets will need to win at least eight of the games to have a chance to secure that eighth seed.

Charlotte is up to fourth in the NBA allowing 97 points per game, and 10th in the league at 44 rebounds per game.

Great stats are nice to look at, but they mean nothing if they don't validate themselves when it matters the most and that time is now.

Finishing strong will be key.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter: @JTyree704

Facebook: Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

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