The Charlotte Hornets have more wing players good enough to earn minutes than they have minutes available.
That’s a common thing for NBA teams going into training camp, and it usually works itself out over time, particularly since shooting guards and small forwards are usually interchangeable.
But it does make some Hornets fans wonder about the future of Jeremy Lamb, who is 26 and entering his seventh NBA season. Lamb will be an unrestricted free agent in July. Will the Hornets re-sign him with an abundance of midsize players at the positions Lamb plays already under contract beyond this coming season? That was one of your questions for this Hornets mailbag:
Q: Is there any chance Lamb is a Hornet after this season?
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A. Oh, of course there is. There’s a chance he might start at shooting guard, with Nic Batum likely playing more small forward this season. I think Lamb and Malik Monk are the top two candidates at shooting guard, and Lamb is 6-foot-5 to Monk’s 6-3.
Lamb is coming off his best season in the NBA: He averaged a career-high 12.9 points and dramatically improved his 3-point percentage to 37 percent. He dramatically changed then-coach Steve Clifford’s opinion of him in the summer of 2017 by working so hard on his weaknesses, particularly on defense.
Having said all that, circumstances could work against him staying: As mentioned above, the Hornets have a lot of other options — Batum, Monk and Dwayne Bacon — who can play shooting guard. Also, the Hornets likely will still face a tight salary-cap situation in the summer of 2019 and Lamb will no doubt want a raise above his current $7.5 million salary.
This is a big season for Lamb, not just in how Hornets management perceives his worth, but also each of the other 29 NBA teams.
Q. Is it time to go young? Play Monk, Bacon, Miles Bridges, Kemba Walker, Lamb and Willy Hernangomez?
A. Yes and no: I don’t think it makes sense for the coaches to cut bait on Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But the plus in a coaching change is a fresh approach to old problems. James Borrego isn’t going to get fired for exploring whether Monk, Bacon and rookie Bridges are ready for rotation minutes.
I think this coming Hornets season should be as much about development as about wins and losses. Reaching the playoffs is always nice, but if getting a strong read on the younger players’ readiness costs a couple of victories along the way, I’d accept that as appropriate once owner Michael Jordan chose to hire a new general manager (Mitch Kupchak) and coaching staff.
A caution: Because most NBA player contracts are fully guaranteed, it’s hard to make over a roster quickly, and trying to speed that process can be hazardous. It might be a couple of seasons before we know if the Kupchak-Borrego pairing is the right direction.
Q. Do you see Monk making a big step toward starting?
A. I think Borrego is open to the idea of playing Walker and Monk together. That backcourt will work only if it is so explosive offensively that it compensates for the obvious lack of size defensively.
Monk playing as a rookie last season presented two challenges: His defense and his decision-making with the ball. I saw improvement in his decision-making in that one summer league game he played before injuring his thumb. It’s a shame he couldn’t play more in Las Vegas, after also missing summer league with a sprained ankle before his rookie season.
The attention Monk will draw from defenses will create advantages for teammates. He needs to keep in mind creating quality shots for others is as important as his own scoring.
Q. What players would make your all-time Hornets Mount Rushmore?
A. I’ll be writing a lot more historical stuff along the way during the 30th anniversary of the NBA in Charlotte, but my quick reaction to your question: Walker, Glen Rice and Dell Curry (Curry more for his longevity than any individual accomplishment). That last figure would be a tough call between Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.
The significance of Zo’s jump shot to beat the Boston Celtics in the first playoff appearance would probably be my tiebreaker, but LJ and Muggsy were such charismatic players here.
Q. What’s your sense of how Borrego values Frank Kaminsky?
A. I think this is a huge season for Kaminsky; the Hornets will have to decide whether to make a qualifying offer of about $5 million guaranteed to restrict Kaminsky’s free agency in the summer of 2019.
As I wrote, you’re going to see Kaminsky play as much center as power forward in the preseason, maybe more center than power forward. Center could well be his best opportunity to play in this rotation going forward.
Q. What do you think are the odds that Tony Parker ends up out of the rotation?
A. I would say that barring 36-year-old Parker’s body failing him over the course of the season, he’ll be Walker’s primary backup and will close out some games in the same backcourt with Walker.
The Hornets didn’t sign Parker to be a de facto coach. Look for him to play 15 to 17 minutes per game. Rookie Devonte Graham was promising in summer league — I’m high on his long-term potential — but a second-round rookie is not typically ready to be a backup point guard.
Q. Do you anticipate a rejuvenated Batum this season, with the departure of Dwight Howard and the addition of Parker?
A. Batum knows he didn’t play well last season. But part of that was circumstance; the elbow injury that cost him the preseason and the difficulty he had collaborating with Howard, whose style offensively slowed ball-movement.
It’s crucial Borrego gets more out of Batum, who is still owed about $75 million guaranteed. Parker is Batum’s close friend; they played together for many summers on the French national team. Parker can help draw the best from Batum.