After years of mediocrity, the Charlotte Hornets (then Bobcats) finally bucked the trend and made the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Now the franchise finds itself on a very interesting precipice, and that certainly includes their 2014 draft decisions.
They have the opportunity to add two young pieces to their dynamic core, or they could opt to pursue some veteran help.
Given that the team finally had its first taste of winning since Gerald Wallace was there, it’s tough to predict whether it will opt for the slow, methodical process or try to skip steps and get better right away.
Because the team could go in so many directions, there are naturally plenty of rumors swirling behind the scenes.
Let’s take a moment to dissect some of these rumors and look at which ones we should buy and which we should sell.
Hornets Looking for Point Guard, Frontcourt Depth
As Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer noted, the Hornets have needs beyond outside shooting: point guard and big man depth.
Charlotte has quality starters in Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, but there are serious question marks down the depth chart.
Bismack Biyombo hasn’t exactly panned out, and incumbent backup Luke Ridnour is an unrestricted free agent. Clearly upgrades need to be made.
Charlotte likely won’t go for a pure point guard like Tyler Ennis or Marcus Smart with the No. 9 pick, but they could certainly target a combo guard.
Some options Bonnell floated include Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton, UConn’s Shabazz Napier and UCLA’s Zach LaVine (who we’ll touch on later).
Potential big men Bonnell rattled off include European big Jusuf Nurkic, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne.
It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say Charlotte will take a big man or a guard (there aren’t many other options), so you can pretty safely buy this rumor.
The Hornets are a young team with plenty of needs, but expect these two to take precedence in the draft.
Mitch McGary Likely for Charlotte at No. 24?
ESPN’s Chad Ford reported recently that Michigan big man Mitch McGary is a very likely pick for Charlotte at No. 24.
Ford even went as far as to imply that the Hornets may have promised McGary, who shut down his draft workouts.
While McGary would fill a need and has lottery upside, he also has a troubling injury history behind him.
Given his position and physical style of play, McGary’s balky back is especially troubling.
McGary did average a solid 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists on 54.5 percent shooting as a sophomore, but he wasn’t as dominant as many expected.
In fact, McGary’s season was a disappointment even before he was shut down after playing in just eight games.
Having a bruiser who can rebound and finish in the paint is always a plus, but there are other, safer players who could do that for Charlotte.
McGary is certainly in play for the Hornets, but he is by no means a lock.
Vasa Micic, Johnny O’Bryant Also No. 24 Possibilities?
Here’s why you shouldn’t buy McGary as a lock for the Hornets.
Bonnell took to Twitter shortly after Ford’s post and noted that LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant III is also in play at No. 24.
O’Bryant, a junior, has valuable experience and was dominant for much of the 2013-14 season.
He averaged 15.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists while making 49.6 percent of his shots.
LSU didn’t have a banner year, but when it excelled it was largely due to O’Bryant’s strong play.
O’Bryant is an old school power forward who can post up and also play facing the hoop.
He’s 6’9”, so he cannot play much center and is a little too foul-prone, but O’Bryant is a terrific rebounder who could be a valuable rotation player in year one.
Another option, if Charlotte wants to go perimeter, is Serbian point guard Vasilije “Vasa” Micic.
Bonnell listed him as a possibility, and it makes sense given the Hornets’ glaring hole behind Walker.
Micic turns the ball over a ton, but he’s a 6’6” playmaker with fantastic creativity off the dribble.
He could be a lethal pick-and-roll guard in the NBA and a potential starter if he develops a more consistent jump shot.
Thanks to his size, he could even start next to Walker if need be and defend 2-guards.
He has been banged up playing in Europe, so injuries are a concern, but Micic is a low-risk, high-reward late-round selection.
Given Charlotte’s needs, taking either O’Bryant or Micic at No. 24 would certainly make sense.
Hornets Still in the Running for Afflalo?
Despite coming off a career year, many are considering Orlando’s Arron Afflalo an eminently available trade target.
Afflalo averaged 18.2 points, 3.6 boards and 3.4 assists in 2013-14 while shooting 42.7 percent from three, but the Magic already have a similar player in Victor Oladipo.
Since the Magic are still rebuilding, it stands to reason that they will be looking to get back a lottery pick in exchange for their star guard.
The Hornets could use a defender and shooter next to Walker, and Afflalo fills both roles quite well.
He can cover most 2s and 3s, and is a lights-out shooter off the catch.
He can even create some offense on his own and allow Walker to cut without the basketball.
Additionally, Afflalo is owed just $15 million for the next two seasons, a bargain for his level of production.
While the Bulls could use an upgrade at 2-guard, adding Afflalo to their young core would vault the Hornets ahead a few steps in their path to contention.
Expect to hear Charlotte mentioned with Afflalo often leading up to the draft, and don’t be shocked if they pull off a deal centered around the No. 9 pick.
Harris or LaVine Options at No. 9?
Verdict: Buying (if they keep the pick)
Bonnell identified both LaVine and Michigan State’s Gary Harris as “No. 9 candidates” following their workouts with the Hornets.
It’s difficult to say whether or not to buy this rumor, because obviously it depends if Charlotte keeps the pick.
Assuming they do, taking either Harris or LaVine is pretty logical.
The Hornets have a need at the 2, and both LaVine and Harris have skills that would help Charlotte immediately.
LaVine averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 37.5 percent from distance as a freshman.
He’s an explosive athlete who can get to the rim, but he is also confident stepping outside and knocking down shots.
Sometimes he isn’t assertive enough and settles for bad mid-range jumpers, but he has all the physical tools to be an elite scoring guard at the next level.
Harris wisely returned to the Spartans for a sophomore season and averaged 16.7 points, four boards and 2.7 assists.
His shooting percentages dipped to 42.9 percent overall and 35.2 percent from three, but he showed improvements as a playmaker and defender.
Harris isn’t the athlete LaVine is, but he’s a much more polished player.
His jumper is nearly automatic, he shows great poise driving to the rim and he is a capable and willing passer if need be.
If Charlotte keeps its pick, it would be surprising to see it pass up Harris should he be available.