Publish date:

9 CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Author:

A MODEST PROPOSAL...

PAY KEMBA WALKER

The Hornets are in a situation worse than keep-losing-in-the-first-round purgatory. They haven't been good enough to make the playoffs the past two seasons, nor have they committed to truly bottoming out. Charlotte has been a lottery team for two seasons despite a roster full of veterans with bloated contracts.

The one ray of sunshine has been Kemba Walker. The 28-year-old point guard is in the final year of a four-year deal he signed in 2014, and he's been a bargain that entire time. Granted, Charlotte can't actually give Walker the deal he deserves until next summer, but it would be a mistake for the Hornets to think about trading him at the deadline just so they can attach one of their bad contracts to the deal.

Walker is a homegrown star who has said he wants to stay, and the Hornets should take advantage of his loyalty. Walker may never be the ringleader of a championship squad, but he had an incredible impact on his team last season. Charlotte was 4.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent with Walker on the court in 2018; it was 6.8 points per 100 possessions worse than opponents with him on the bench. That's a more dramatic split than LeBron James had in his final season in Cleveland.

STARTING 5

COACH JAMES BORREGO

2017--18 RECORD: 36--46

PREDICTION: Miss playoffs

SG NICOLAS BATUM (73 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

11.6

PPG

SF MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST

4.1

RPG

PF MARVIN WILLIAMS

41.3

3FG%

C CODY ZELLER

54.5

FG%

22.1

PPG

PG KEMBA WALKER (32 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

Walker eclipsed the 20-points-per-game mark for the third time, tying Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice for the most such seasons in franchise history.

BENCH

PG TONY PARKER [NEW ACQUISITION]

SG MALIK MONK

C BISMACK BIYOMBO

(*) NEW ACQUISITION

(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP CHARLOTTE

THEY'RE STUCK with all these bad contracts, that's the biggest problem. They had a good year in 2016, made the playoffs and then felt like they had to bring guys back. KEMBA WALKER is the fifth- or sixth-highest-paid player on the team. To me, they're just kind of stuck.... With TONY PARKER coming in and [former Spurs assistant] James Borrego taking over as coach, maybe the hope is that they bring a little bit of the San Antonio culture with them.... At the very end of last season, MALIK MONK showed what he can be for them [averaging 16.4 points over his last nine games]. [Former coach] Steve Clifford didn't really give him much of a chance—maybe Monk wasn't really ready for it. If he can be a Lou Williams--ish scorer, if you see some positive signs from MILES BRIDGES, to me those are the key things this season. I think ultimately they'll have to use Kemba as a trade piece and go young and rebuild.... NIC BATUM is 29, and his game kind of blends in and is complementary. If you're depending on him for 15, 20 points—I mean, he's good on a lot of levels but he's a No. 3 guy getting paid like a No. 2 or 1 guy.... Injuries zapped MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST's ability to be an elite defender, and his offense has never really grown. He's more of an undersized four playing on the wing, which highlights his deficiencies. He's a reluctant shooter, and defenses can sit back in the paint. It seems like he's going to be phased out.... They're in no-man's-land, and I don't think the roster is good enough to get them to the eighth seed.