Now we'll get to see if they're capable of meeting rising expectations.
The Hornets were a surprising feel-good story for much of the 2020-21 campaign, establishing themselves as a clear playoff contender until injuries to Ball and Gordon Hayward derailed their trajectory. They still squeaked into the play-in tournament but didn't put up much of a fight in a 144-117 blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Charlotte had a solid offseason, inking Kelly Oubre Jr. to a two-year contract, trading for Mason Plumlee and knocking the draft out of the park with the selections of James Bouknight, Kai Jones and JT Thor. Bouknight will replace a departing Devonte Graham, who netted a first-round pick in a sign-and-trade, while Plumlee slides in as a Cody Zeller replacement.
Jones and Thor are high-upside wild cards at the two big-man spots where the Hornets desperately needed to fill a hole.
All told, the Hornets look like a team with a cogent, consistent plan on how to build their roster. Here's a look at what to expect this season.
2021-22 Charlotte Hornets Season Details
Season Opener: vs. Indiana Pacers (Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: +12000 (FanDuel)
Chicago Bulls (Nov. 29 at Bulls)
Few things get social media in a bigger uproar than a matchup of the Ball brothers. Lonzo headed to his third team in five NBA seasons this offseason, inking a four-year, $85 million contract with the Bulls and becoming playoff race rivals with LaMelo in the process.
Lonzo should see an increase in his on-ball role in Chicago after moving off the ball in half-court sets last season. The Pelicans preferred to run the offense through Zion Williamson, whereas the eldest Ball should take the lead ball-handling duties in Chicago. It'll be a timeshare with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine also needing touches, though.
These teams are also playing on the same general tier in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls likely fashion themselves a 4-5 contender after a splashy offseason, but their roster fit and defense still leave something to be desired.
It's possible these teams will wind up seeing one another in a play-in game at the end of the season.
Minnesota Timberwolves (Nov. 26 vs. Timberwolves)
While Anthony Edwards came on strong late in the season, many feel the Wolves made a mistake drafting him over Ball a year ago.
The Wolves will seek to prove the doubters wrong in 2021-22.
Much of that will hinge on D'Angelo Russell, the player who cost them the seventh pick in July's draft and the guy they felt could handle the franchise point guard spot over Ball a year ago. Russell missed most of last season due to injuries and didn't look like an All-Star-caliber player when he was in the lineup.
If Ball takes another leap this season—and has a huge game against Minnesota—it's going to create even more questions.
The Hornets' season depends on how big of a leap Ball takes in his second year. They were an exceedingly watchable team in 2020-21, and a solid playoff squad before injuries took hold.
A full season with a healthy Hayward and an ascending Ball could have them competing as high as the No. 5 seed.
That said, we're talking about a best-case scenario there. It's far more likely Ball takes an incremental leap, and Hayward misses time, leading to them settling in that 8-10 seed range.
This is still a team very much on the rise. Just don't expect it to happen all at once.
Record Prediction: 41-41