What If Steph Curry signs with the Charlotte Hornets?

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Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

Stephen Curry is a Charlotte native and an avid Panthers fan, he often attends games and beats the drum for them and his father played in Charlotte for 10 of his 16 years, including all of his prime. The baby-faced assassin was raised in Charlotte (Although he was born in the same Akron hospital as LeBron James), and is, at season’s end, an unrestricted free agent. His brother Seth is also nearing the end of his contract, as it expires at the end of the upcoming season.

Could the Hornets sign Wardell Stephen Curry II this offseason? 

Well, The Chef would clearly demand a max contract, which could be problematic, as Charlotte has many large contracts they would need to get rid of to pull off such a power move. They have Miles Plumlee ($12.5 million for the next 3 years) and Marco Belinelli ($6.61 million next year), and both make essentially no on-court impact (0 VORP and -2.5 BPM for Plumlee and 0.1 VORP and -1.9 BPM for Belinelli). Additionally, they have Jeremy Lamb ($7 million over the next two years; 0.1 VORP, -1.7 BPM), Marvin Williams, who is actually still a decent player, though he’s beginning to fall off a bit ($13.7 million over the next two years with a player option for a third; 1.3 VORP, 0.2 BPM), Nicolas Batum, who is also productive but may be a tad overpaid ($22.43 million over the next 3 years with a player option for a fourth; 2.1 VORP, 1.2 BPM), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is good, but again, is overpaid ($13 million over the next two years with a player option for a third; 1.3 VORP, .2 BPM). They also have Cody Zeller, who is quite good, but coupled with some of these other contracts he seems like just another big one ($12.5 million for the next 4 years; 1.8 VORP, 2.1 BPM), as well as All-Star Kemba Walker, who is paid a staggeringly low $12 million over the next two seasons and has a VERY good 3.9 VORP and 3.6 BPM.

Even if you decline all your team options, if you assume that Charlotte signs their two rookies [$2.06 million for their 1st-rounder (Justin Patton) and 670k for their 2nd rounder (Isaiah Hartenstein] these contracts + Kaminsky ($2.85 million team option) + Cap holds for the other two players = $104.79 million- which, even without Steph, is either $3.79 million or $2.79 million, depending on whether you listen to Woj or the more recent Jeff Zillgitt report, over the salary cap. So Steph is a no-go right? Well… not necessarily. Let’s go through the progressions of how they could clear up cap space.

1) Trade Batum and Belinelli’s contracts (along with a 2019 2nd-round pick) to New Orleans for a 2019 top-10 protected 1st, E’Twaun Moore and Tim Frazier

What this does for New Orleans is give them a 3-and-D wing to pair with dominant twin towers Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and since the trade will be completed pre-free agency, New Orleans can re-sign Jrue Holiday using Bird Rights. Yes, the Pels will have to pay the luxury tax, but if you want to be able to convince Boogie to stay you have to show a willingness to spend money. No one wants to re-sign with Robert Sarver.

On the Charlotte side, it clears up a lot of money ($18.59 million) as well as getting them some shooting to prepare for Chef Curry’s three-point revolution. It also gets more ballhandling for when Steph and Kemba are playing off the ball and/or on the bench.

2) Trade Marvin Williams’ and Miles Plumlee’s contracts, and Charlotte’s unprotected 2018 1st to Denver for Darrell Arthur

Arthur ($7.46 million; 1+1 with a player option) is a 3-and-D power forward who will be a nice compliment to future Hornet Stephen Curry. This deal also clears up $18.21 million for Charlotte’s Quest For the Chef ™. On the Denver side of things, they get a veteran scorer in Marvin Williams and a first-round pick, one which appears to be quite valuable (because of course there’s no way for them to know about the Quest For the Chef ™). Plumlee is just a bad contract, one which was offset by the 1st-rounder, and hopefully he can develop into a decent backup. Remember, Denver only played Arthur 41 games, and he only played 15.6 MPG in those games.

Williams, on the other hand, played 30.2 MPG over 76 games, and Denver hopes that he can not only play big minutes for a young team hoping to contend around Jokic, but also teach some offensive moves to still-kind-of-young power forward Kenneth Faried, and also be a mentor to actually-young power forward/center Juancho Hernangomez.

3) Trade Tim Frazier for salary-cap relief.

Tim Frazier is making just a fraction more than he can in order for the Quest For the Chef ™ to work. So, in a pure money-saving move, he is shipped to Indiana in exchange for swap rights on 2020 2nd-rounders. This gives Charlotte $28.36 million in cap space, which means that the Hornets can…

4) Sign Curry to a 4-year max contract with a player option for the fourth year.

At this point, the Hornets are up to $28.36 million dollars in cap space. The max they can pay Stephen Curry for year one? $26.92 million. Congrats Charlotte- you made it, and with $1.77 million to spare.

Additionally, the $5.82 million MLE still remains as does Zach Randolph, who decides that between his old age and the emergence of JaMychal Green for the Grizzlies, a new contender (Charlotte) who just happens to be in the East would be the best option for his legacy and career. He receives almost the full MLE on a one-year deal. Jonathon Simmons and OmriCasspi also come to play the wings on one-year deals for just above the minimum, as well signing veteran point man Brian Roberts to fill the third point guard slot on their roster. This is their depth chart going into the season:

SEASON 2017/18
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PG: Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts
SG: Jeremy Lamb, Jonathon Simons, E’Twaun Moore
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, OmriCasspi
PF: Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur, Isaiah Hartenstein
C: Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Justin Patton*

*Injured in Summer League, out for season

So, how will this first season with Steph end up going? (Note: Before I even signed Curry, 2K automatically signed Kerr. Don’t know why, but it happened. What a coincidence.)

Our rotation for the majority of the season was:

PG- Stephen Curry
SG- Jeremy Lamb
SF- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF- Zach Randolph
C- Frank Kaminsky
6- Kemba Walker
7- Jonathon Simmons
8- Cody Zeller
9- E’Twaun Moore

(Note: Walker and Simmons played more minutes throughout the regular season than Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist, but for the sake of the bench offense and starting defense, Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist start.)

All-Star Break:

Kemba Walker is 2nd in SMOTY voting behind Jeremy Lin
Stephen Curry is an All-Star
Stephen Curry is in the Three-Point Contest
Team is 34-22 (5thin the East, 1st in their division)

End of the Regular Season:

Kemba Walker wins Sixth Man of the Year
Team is 44-38 and the 6th seed

First Round:

Playing Toronto

Starting Lineup
Curry/Lamb/Kidd-Gilchrist/Randolph/Zeller

Bench Lineup
Walker/Kaminsky/Simmons/Moore

Game One

Raptors win 107-97

Game Two

Raptors beat Hornets 111-109

Game Three
Hornets beat Raptors 103-97

Game Four
Hornets beat Raptors 121-103

Game Five
Raptors beat Hornets 124-105

[Coach Note- From this point forward, E’Twaun Moore and his awful defense are out of the rotation]

Game Six
Hornets beat Raptors 134-116

Game Seven

Hornets beat Raptors 127-95

So… The Raptors blew a 2-0 lead

Second Round

Playing Miami

Starting Lineup

Curry/Lamb/Kidd-Gilchrist/Randolph/Zeller

Bench Lineup
Walker/Kaminsky/Simmons

Game One

Hornets beat Heat 98-94

Game Two
Heat beat Hornets 89-86

Game Three
Hornets beat Heat 106-101

Game Four
Heat beat Hornets 88-81

Game Five
Hornets beat Heat 98-93

Game Six
Heat beat Hornets 122-108

Game Seven
Heat beat Hornets 103-91

So with Stephen Curry, the Hornets (At least according to NBA2K17) would lose in 7 to the Heat in Round 2. Whose fault was it? Well, Z-Bo was supposed to be part of our “Big 3” (Even though he isn’t really even an All-Star at this point), but he kind of just laid an egg in the playoffs. He made 5.3 of 12.4 FGs (37.3%), as well as 0.4/1.6 threes (19.2%). Additionally, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shot 36% from the field and 14.3% from 3, and Jeremy Lamb shot just 40% from the field. Overall, our stars stepped up - Steph had 23.9/5.1/7.7 with 2 steals, Frank Kaminsky took his game to the next level and has 17.1/5.7/2.5, and Kemba had a disappointing 14.4/4.4/6.4 off the bench on startlingly low efficiency (43% from the field and 35% from 3, much lower than his 50% from the field and 44% from three in the regular season), with even his FT% taking a hit (84.5% to 82.4%). Is this a Steph problem? No. He played incredibly well, elevated the play of Frank Kaminsky and shot remarkably well for anyone, much less a player leading a team all by himself - 52.3% from the field and 52.2% from downtown but besides Kaminsky, no one really stepped up.

So at the end of season one, the roster looks like this: Steph Curry, Kemba Walker, Frank Kaminsky, Zach Randolph, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Jonathon Simmons, Jeremy Lamb, E’Twaun Moore, Brian Roberts, Darrell Arthur, OmriCasspi, Justin Patton*, Isaiah Hartenstein.
*Injured

[Offseason note: Zach Randolph decides to retire]

SEASON 2018/19
------------------

Let’s go through the season two offseason in chronological order.

NBA DRAFT 2018

Our draft pick is a draft-and-stash player named Michael Fusek, who re-entered his name in the 2018 draft after going undrafted the previous year but will stay overseas to develop his strength and shooting. Thus, his contract will not affect the team’s salary-cap situation.

OPTIONS

Kaminsky and Hartenstein’s team options are accepted, and Darrell Arthur accepts his player option.

CHARLOTTE”S FREE AGENTS

Casspi and Roberts are re-signed for the minimum. Simmons is re-signed to one-year $1.71 million, and one-year minimums have been given to Hollis Thompson and Nemanja Bjelica.

Here is the depth chart entering 2018-2019 season:

PG: Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts
SG: Jeremy Lamb, Jonathon Simmons, E’Twaun Moore
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, OmriCasspi, Hollis Thompson
PF: Isaiah Hartenstein, Nemanja Bjelica, Darrell Arthur
C: Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, Justin Patton

It is a bit worrying that sophomore Isaiah Hartenstein will be starting, but coach Kerr apparently is enamored with the same guy who he essentially redshirted in the D-League with the Greensboro Swarm. He can hit the midrange and get boards and is also quite tall for a 4 (6’11), something Kerr is hoping that he will give them something that Z-Bo didn’t last year: athleticism. Or at least, not being unathletic.

You see, 36-year-old Zach Randolph isn’t exactly as mobile as a 20-year-old, fleet-footed 6’11 power forward with a good midrange jump shot. This gives Charlotte a dimension they didn’t have last season, and now players like Jonathon Simmons can use the extra space to use their athleticism and quickness. Also, it is a shakeup- something Sixth Man of the Year Kemba Walker badly needs after his no-show in the playoffs. Here are the rotations for Year Two.

PG- Stephen Curry
SG- Jeremy Lamb
SF- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF- Isaiah Hartenstein
C- Frank Kaminsky
6- Kemba Walker
7- Cody Zeller
8- Jonathon Simmons
9- E’Twaun Moore

The Hornets struggled in their first two games, losing by a combined 56 points. However, by the All-Star break, they have fought through those chemistry issues to become a fringe playoff team. It did take a while, but by the trade deadline, they are tied for the seventh seed. Why are they so low in the standings? Well, if I put my advanced analytics hat on for a moment, we can see that the Hornets are just fine offensively.

They score 106.1 per game, 5.2 below the #1 offensive team Minnesota Timberwolves. Defense on the other hand… well, that’s a whole different story. They allow 108.8 PPG, more than all teams but the Timberwolves (113.4) and Lakers (110.9). They need defense really bad. Sure, they could try starting Cody Zeller, but he’s been subpar (8.6 GmSc) and they need more definite help. They have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for defense… but he’s sitting at a -3.2 EWA. So, who is messing up defensively? Well, if you look at per-36 PAPG… everyone. Our team is simply TERRIBLE at that end of the floor. That terribleness is led by… and I hate to say it… Kemba Walker. On the other end, he’s shooting 42% from three and 46% overall. Also, his PPR is the highest on the team, and his TS%, GmSc, and PER are second to none other than star point guard Stephen Curry. So we go to our second-worst defender… but Jeremy Lamb is a rebounding machine who is great inside the arc. Next up are Cody Zeller, who is better offensively this year but miles worse defensively, and E’Twaun Moore.

So what adjustments need to be made at the deadline?

Well, Kidd-Gilchrist is simply bad. I’m sure the Nets could use him in exchange for some veteran, they always need high-potential guys. Zeller may fit at one of those other bad defensive teams, as he’s been good at that end in the past, so we may be able to sell them into thinking they can “rehabilitate” his defense. As for Moore, we may just need to bench him. Trades are needed if we want to contend… and one was made. Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, our 2019 1st and New Orleans’ top-10 protected 2019 1st to Milwaukee for Khris Middleton. A sweet-shooting wing who plays lockdown D, he is a great glue guy for us. The big question though, who will start at center? Kaminsky wasn’t holding up defensively, and Zeller is gone. Well… let’s just say the youth movement is real. A team that wants to contend for a title has a starting frontcourt who have a combined 2 years of prior experience. So post-deadline, our rotation shapes up as:

PG- Stephen Curry
SG- Jeremy Lamb
SF- Khris Middleton
PF- Isaiah Hartenstein
C- Justin Patton
6- Kemba Walker
7- Frank Kaminsky
8- Jonathon Simmons
9- E’Twaun Moore

A few more deadline notes: Chef Curry made both the All-Star game and the Three-Point Contest, and the team sat at 28-28, good enough for 8th in the East.

CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

Frank Kaminsky’s exploits as an Enes Kanter-esque player have gotten him a flat, 3-year, $16.5 million deal. Jeremy Lamb will get $5.5 million over 3 years, and Kemba… is testing free agency. Should he be traded? Well, considering that he won’t extend, we would likely get just pennies on the dollar. But winning fixes everything, right? and we DO need him if we want to win. SO, at least until season’s end, Kemba stays. Hopefully, we’re not making a terrible mistake (Although this is only going two years, so it doesn’t really matter that much anyway, but oh well.).

HALFWAY BETWEEN THE DEADLINE AND THE REGULAR SEASON

We have fallen to 2.5 games out of the 8th seed with Patton in the starting lineup. So, we’ve made a few adjustments - we are now starting Kaminsky again, and have taken Moore out of the lineup and replaced him with Bjelica. Hopefully, this will jolt us back into success.

A week later - Well that failed miserably. Let’s try starting Kemba at the 2.

PLAYOFFS

Actually… no playoffs. Kemba wins Sixth Man yet again, but turns out improving one spot defensively and dropping four spots on the other end isn’t a positive thing. Turns out that even with Walker, Middleton, and Kaminsky, Curry couldn’t make the playoffs without a strong, seasoned veteran like Z-Bo at the four. So it is here that we leave off. The Hornets missing the playoffs despite Steph’s best efforts, Kemba’s unrestricted free agency looming, and no clear path to really improving.

It seems as if Steph has locked himself in purgatory - he’s too good to be bad, but the team surrounding him isn’t good enough to be good. It’s the worst spot of all, NBA mediocrity. And Steph Curry is right in the middle of it.

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