The Charlotte Hornets fired their coach in April after another season without a Play-off appearance, but then they stood still in the offseason and watched their Eastern Conference rivals pull away.
The Hornets have lost in the Play-in tournament in consecutive seasons and making it back into the top 10 seems a best-case scenario for them, while they might even be tempted to write this season off.
With a tough path into the Play-offs and a potential huge upside to tanking this season, could the Hornets become one of the first postseason hopefuls to lean into a rebuild?
|What||NBA Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||18th October 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||Sky Sports, NBA Pass, bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||GS Warriors 6/1, MIL Bucks 13/2, LA Clippers 13/2, BOS Celtics 13/2, BKN Nets|
The Hornets are one of just two teams to lose all five preseason games ahead of the coming campaign. The other was the Milwaukee Bucks, who left out key players and had to jet out to Abu Dhabi for two tough meetings with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hornets were beaten across all five games, even losing comfortably to a Pacers side that project to be the East’s worst team. While those results can be written off as just warm-up games, they come on the heels of a quiet summer in Charlotte.
The Hornets drafted Jalen Duren with the 13th pick, but they moved the highly-rated prospect to the Detroit Pistons via the New York Knicks for five future picks. They traded the number 45 pick, Josh Minott, for 40th selection Bryce McGowens, then stuck him straight into the G-League team. With just one free agent addition in Dennis Smith Jr, the Hornets simply haven’t improved.
The worst part of preseason for the Hornets had to be the injury to star man LaMelo Ball. The All-Star guard has had a major impact on the team, making them one of the most watchable teams in the league thanks to his showmanship.
LaMelo has the numbers to back that up, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game since arriving in the league as the number three pick in 2020. His ankle sprain will leave him out for the start of the season.
With Miles Bridges departing in the summer, the Hornets are missing two core pieces from last term. They’ve got next to nothing to rely on now, especially as their only meaningful signings this summer were a rookie centre in Mark Williams and Smith Jr, who is now onto his fifth NBA team in four years.
With Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson coming up in the draft next summer, there’s every reason for the Hornets to consider writing this season off. Not only could they give their young talents a season to get NBA experience, but they could prime themselves for a franchise-altering pick.
The Hornets have been pretty consistently middle-of-the-road of late. They’ve finished ninth, 10th or 11th in each of the last six seasons. That means they rarely get high picks and fail to make the Play-offs.
Another season in the middle could see them fall even further behind the leading sides in the East. However, if they boost their chances of landing Wembanyama to pair with LaMelo, they could start thinking about a potential title push in the not-too-distant future.
Even without LaMelo, there are some winnable games early on for the Hornets. They meet the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic in their opening five games, although there are tougher contests against the New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Hawks.
The Hornets are 12/5 to make the Play-offs this season, which seems fair given the hurdle that the Play-in has proved to be for them.
There are nine teams in the East who are expecting to make the Play-offs, never mind the Play-in. With the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards likely to be stronger, the Hornets' path to the postseason looks more challenging than ever.
With limited depth and their best player injured, I have little hope for a strong Hornets season. When the choice is between an uphill struggle for a top-10 finish or the chance to land one of the greatest-ever NBA prospects, it’s hard to see them choosing to stay competitive.Safer Gambling Week (17-23 October) – Let’s talk about safer gambling. Click here for more information on independent resources. Gamble Responsibly.