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LaMelo Ball’s star potential outshines Hornets’ Gordon Hayward misstep

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 8: LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets poses for a portrait during NBA content day at the Spectrum Center on December 8, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets hadn’t gotten lucky nor had they given themselves much chance to get lucky.

Since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004, Charlotte has missed the playoffs 13 times – tied for third-most in the NBA in that span (behind only the Timberwolves and Kings and matching the Knicks). Yet, the Bobcats/new Hornets had never moved up in the lottery.

Charlotte consistently used its lottery picks on players with only moderate upside. The Bobcats/new Hornets have put eight players on All-Rookie teams in this era. None have developed into All-Stars, and 2020 second-teamer P.J. Washington appears unlikely to break the trend.

But, finally, everything fell into place for Charlotte.

The Hornets moved up from the No. 8 seed to the No. 3 pick in this year’s lottery. The top prospect on my board – LaMelo Ball, who has a relatively high ceiling (and low floor) – fell to third. And Charlotte picked him!

Suddenly, the Hornets had a path to a bright future. Rookie point guards, even ones who go onto good careers, typically struggle to contribute to winning. Charlotte could play/develop Ball, tank and get another high pick in a 2021 draft that appears strong at the top. The Hornets could even go through this down season in a year fan attendance is extremely limited.

Instead of embracing that course, Charlotte innovated within mediocrity and became the first team in NBA history to chase the No. 10 seed.

The Hornets signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract. He’s a good player. But he’s not worth that much for his age- 30-33 seasons.

Charlotte even stretched Nicolas Batum to make room for Hayward, incurring a $9,043,478 cap hit each of the next three seasons. That only adds to the cost of getting Hayward.

Where does Hayward get the Hornets? Into the play-in tournament? Maybe. Out of prime lottery position but short of the playoffs? More likely.

Charlotte might like how Hayward influences Ball, whose shot selection and defensive effort have been atrocious. But incumbent point guards Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier already ensured Ball would have to earn opportunities. The Hornets also re-signed Bismack Biyombo, who’s a good locker-room leader.

Ultimately, drafting Ball matters more than signing Hayward. Premium young team-controlled talent is just so important for Charlotte.

The Hornets will probably further botch building around Ball. Hayward’s deal is just so discouraging about Charlotte’s approach to team construction. But future errors will be judged then.

For now, the Hornets come out ahead with Ball.

Offseason grade: B-