The Charlotte Hornets used NBA Free Agency last summer to take a tremendous leap forward. By signing veteran center Al Jefferson, the Hornets gained an elite-level offensive talent on the interior while also providing a young, developing roster with a veteran presence to learn from and to lean on. Jefferson, along with the influence of head coach Steve Clifford in his first year in Charlotte, helped lead the then Bobcats to the postseason.
Though the Hornets were unable to win a game in their first round series, getting to the playoffs was a great achievement for the organization. Not only did they win 43 games—15 more than in the two previous seasons combined—but that postseason berth was only the second in franchise-history and a sign of the changing times in Charlotte. Branded with a new nickname, the Hornets looked to continue their upward trajectory in the draft and 2014 Free Agency.
The draft was a major positive for the Hornets. Boasting two first-round picks, the Hornets had the opportunity to make some major improvements and did just that. With the ninth pick they picked up a projected top-six-or-seven prospect in Noah Vonleh to help deepen their frontcourt. With the 24th pick, the Hornets were able to trade down to 26 and then grab P.J. Hairston who offers potential as a perimeter scorer. Both players filled major needs for Charlotte moving forward.
Charlotte didn’t stop there in Free Agency, though. While they lost Josh McRoberts, Luke Ridnour, Ben Gordon, and Anthony Tolliver to other teams, they were also able to fill out role players with signings of undervalued and misused players like Brian Roberts and Marvin Williams as well as the re-signing of Jannero Pargo.
However, there was obviously no signing of more consequence than that of Lance Stephenson. Not only is Stephenson one of the most talented player on the open market that provides a lot of what the Hornets are looking for under Clifford (energy, versatile offense, elite perimeter defense), but were also able to get him on a relatively inexpensive three-year deal. Even better is that Charlotte gave themselves an out in case Stephenson throws off the chemistry of the team by having a team-option for the third year.
The Hornets were already a team to keep an eye on moving forward and now they’ve added even more weapons and even replaced the role players that they’ve lost this summer. Between the draft, their signings, and the biggest signing of Stephenson, Charlotte could be a legitimate force in the East if all goes as planned.
Final Grade: A