Hoosiers In The NBA: Hornets’ Free Agent Decisions That Will Affect Zeller’s Role Next Year

Welcome to offseason coverage of Hoosiers In The NBA! Today I am looking at Cody Zeller’s Charlotte Hornets, who have some very crucial free agent decisions that will dictate the franchise’s future.  Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

The Charlotte Hornets are coming off their most successful season since the franchise was reborn back in 2004 (and were called the Charlotte Bobcats). While key players such as Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and IU’s own Cody Zeller are under contract for next season, the Hornets actually enter the offseason with more than half of last year’s team currently scheduled to  be free agents.

After such a successful year, it would only make sense to bring back as many players as possible but management knows it probably can’t bring everyone back. So for this edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I’m going to look at the five biggest free agents and how the decision of either keeping or parting with them will affect Cody Zeller’s role on the Hornets next season.

Nicolas Batum

While he’s always been a good player, Nic Batum really flourished in his lone season with the Hornets. Posting career-high averages in points (14.9) and assists (5.8), his passing took some of the pressure off of Walker (letting him focus a little more on scoring) while his defense helped compensate for the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist for most of the season.

If He Returns: Batum’s overall play has earned him a chance to land a max contract this offseason, and all indications are that both he and the Hornets are very interested in making that happen. While the size of the contract won’t likely affect Zeller when he has to re-sign next offseason, it will affect how Charlotte will handle the rest of this offseason as Batum’s new contract will limit how much the team will spend with the rest of its free agents. Chances are that if Batum returns with a max contract, at least one or maybe two of the five players on this list won’t be returning unless they take a considerable pay cut.

If He Doesn’t Return: While the Hornets could just hold on to the remaining cap space after re-signing everyone else, the pressure to remain competitive may force management to spend it which could lead to the Hornets trying to go after some big-name free agents. While that doesn’t sound that bad, it should be mentioned that all of the big free agent names who would be interested in coming to Charlotte are big men like Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside, all of which would greatly hamper Zeller’s role on the team and will likely lead to him signing elsewhere after this upcoming season.

Al Jefferson

The cornerstone of the franchise since he was signed in 2013, Jefferson earned a spot on the All-NBA third team for helping Charlotte make the 2014 playoffs. Since then, Jefferson’s numbers have decreased dramatically (from 21.8ppg and 10.8rpg in 2013-2014 to 12.0ppg and 6.4rpg this past season). Some of the decline may be in part to the many injuries he has suffered the last two seasons, but the more likely cause is that Jefferson will be entering into his 13th NBA season next year and his body is breaking down. No decision this offseason directly affects Zeller more than the decision to re-sign Jefferson.

If He Returns: Keeping Jefferson could mean one of two things for Zeller. It could mean that the Hornets want to move forward with Zeller as their center but they still don’t think he’s a big offensive threat yet and need a backup that can score when needed. Unfortunately it could also mean that the Hornets are not yet convinced Zeller is their future center and both will likely compete for the starting job with the loser likely to be gone by the 2017-2018 season.

If He Doesn’t Return: By combining this with re-signing Batum, Charlotte’s management would be showing complete confidence in Zeller’s abilities. Of course, it’s very possible that even if Jefferson doesn’t return that the Hornets may still sign a veteran big man, but Zeller will have a huge advantage over most players the team could possibly sign to the veteran minimum because Zeller would be much more familiar with Head Coach Steve Clifford’s system.

Courtney Lee

Brought in during the middle of the season to add shooting and fill-in for the injured Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Lee is probably the most expendable of Charlotte’s five key free agents. With a healthy MKG and the likely re-signing of Batum, Lee would likely play a sixth man role next year. For a guy who can start for a number of NBA teams, coming off the bench for the Hornets probably isn’t his preferred choice.

If He Returns: While Zeller still has a ways to go offensively, having a great three-point shooter such as Lee gives Zeller the much needed space to operate in the post. He also gives the Hornets another solid defender, which could help solidify Zeller’s role as starting center. The Hornets have talked about signing a rim protector in free agency, but if the team has more solid defenders that don’t let their man get past them to the rim, the need for a rim protector becomes less important.

If He Doesn’t Return: Losing Lee’s shooting and defense will be tough to replace with one player but could be easily replaced by two. Kidd-Gilchrist, if he stays healthy, should take over defensively for Lee while getting a shooter should be rather easy. There are always good three-point shooters available in free agnecy, including former Hoosier Eric Gordon. Also the Hornets could use their first round draft pick to select a shooter, with wings such as Malik Beasley (FSU), Patrick McCraw (UNLV) and Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) all likely options when Charlotte picks at 22.

Jeremy Lin

Although it seemed his 15 minutes of fame had vanished after “Linsanity” left the New York Knicks after the 2011-2012 season, Lin has seemingly found a home in Charlotte as Walker’s backup and the Hornets’ sixth man. While his numbers don’t look that impressive (11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, 3.0apg), Lin always seemed to have big games when the Hornets needed him the most. He also formed a pretty formidable pick-and-roll tandem with Zeller.

If He Returns: While Lin’s situation has some similarities to Lee’s situation, the biggest difference is that Lin has already proven that he can be successful and is willing to come off the bench for the Hornets. Lin and Zeller form a great pick-and-roll team so Lin’s return could help Zeller try to increase his scoring for the fourth consecutive season. Lin’s shooting also helps provide the spacing Zeller needs to work in the post. He’s not as good of a defender as Lee but the return of MKG should offset that.

If He Doesn’t Return: As much as Lin could help Zeller score more, he isn’t mandatory for Zeller’s points to increase. Zeller also has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Walker and if he improves it along with his chemistry with Batum than Zeller should have plenty of opportunities to score more this upcoming season.

Marvin Williams

Once Zeller’s main competition for playing time, Williams has now turned into the player Zeller needs most to succeed with the Hornets. Thanks to the Hornets switching to a more up-tempo and spaced-out offense, Williams has turned into an excellent stretch power forward without sacrificing his rebounding. He also provides a perfect mentor for Frank Kaminsky.

If He Returns: It can’t be stated enough how much Zeller benefitted from Williams playing power forward alongside Zeller. Williams shot 40.2% from deep while also grabbing a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game. This compliments Zeller perfectly as it gives Zeller the space he needs to score in the post on offense and also helps cover one of Zeller’s weak spots on defense (rebounding). He also provides a veteran leadership that would be gone if the Hornets part with Jefferson.

If He Doesn’t Return: While Zeller could still succeed with the Hornets next year without Williams, he would need Kaminsky to take his place and provide the same shooting and rebounding. While I do believe that Zeller and Kaminsky are primed to be Charlotte’s frontcourt of the future, I think Kaminsky is still a year away from being a full-time starter. If this scenario plays out, Zeller will need “Frank the Tank” to adapt quickly or both could be playing for different teams in the future.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Recapping Zeller’s Impact At The End Of Game 5

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

In honor of a monumental game five victory for Cody Zeller and the Charlotte Hornets, this whole edition of Hoosiers In The NBA will be all about the final six minutes of the fourth quarter and how Zeller made a huge impact numerous times during that period:

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Charlotte leads 3-2)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes. (-20 plus/minus)

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes. (0 plus/minus)

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes. (+18 plus/minus)

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes. (+20 plus/minus)

Game 5: Charlotte 90, Miami 88

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 4 points (1-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

It was a really weird game for Cody Zeller.

Due to foul trouble and a minor injury, Zeller only played a total of six minutes for the first three and a half quarters. But the former IU big man made up for it by playing the final 15 minutes and proved to be the Charlotte Hornets’ unsung hero, especially during the final six minutes.

Every major play for the Hornets during that final half of the fourth quarter had Zeller’s fingerprints all over it. Whether it was a critical screen, or a 50-50 no call at the end, Zeller’s presence altered each outcome in Charlotte’s favor.

In fact, Zeller assisted on the Hornets’ four biggest shots of the fourth quarter without recording a single assist on any of them. Don’t believe me? Well here’s the rundown:

  1. 5:18 left in 4th quarter – Nic Batum had finally made his first bucket of the game just two minutes prior and was starting to feel confident. However, Justise Winslow was draped all over him and wouldn’t allow separation. Zeller’s screen held up Winslow just long enough to let Batum run around the screen and fire off a confident jumper that gave the Hornets their first lead of the fourth quarter at 80-78.
  2. 3:06 left in 4th quarter – A Luol Deng three-pointer gave the Heat the 84-82 advantage but on the next possession the lead went right back to the Hornets thanks to multiple screens by Zeller. Kemba Walker went right on a Zeller screen at the top of the key but Josh Richardson recovered very quickly. Instead of trying to get a shot off before Richardson could contest it, Walker threw it back to the top of the key to a wide open Marvin Williams, who got open after using Zeller’s next screen to get free of Deng.
  3. 2:05 left in 4th quarter – Back-to-back Dwyane Wade jumpers not only extended the Heat’s lead to 88-85, but they also got the home crowd rocking as momentum seemed to be fully on Miami’s side. That’s why Jeremy Lin’s long two-pointer (he barely stepped on the line) was so huge as he used yet another Zeller screen at the top of the key to get the Hornets within one point.
  4. 0:25.2 left in 4th quarter – All the credit in the world to Courtney Lee for grabbing the offensive rebound and then hitting the game-winning three. But do you know how Lee was able to get that offensive rebound? Well the answer is that Wade, who was guarding Lee, abandoned him to prevent Zeller from getting a potential tip-in after Zeller completely boxed out Richardson right under the basket.

Zeller also proved pivotal twice in the five seconds as he prevented Wade from tying the game and caught the in-bound pass to make time expire.

As for whether or not Zeller fouled Wade is up to interpretation. Sure Zeller didn’t go perfectly vertical on his jump, but Wade forced the contact on purpose to try and draw a foul and even embellished getting hit in the face (which he didn’t). At the end of the day it was 50-50 call that went against the Heat.


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Portland leads 3-2)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 4: Portland 98, Los Angeles 84

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 5: Portland 108, Los Angeles 98

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-0 FG), rebound, 1 minute.


Hoosiers In The NBA: How The Trade Deadline Affected Former Hoosiers

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

Tons of rumors pop up around the NBA trade deadline with most of them just being hypotheticals that teams make public for the sole purpose of gauging fan reaction. Even though most fans know this, there’s always the slight possibility that there may be truth in those rumors so fans continue to react anyway.

A couple of former Hoosiers found their names connected to multiple trade rumors last week, and while none of them switched teams they did get new teammates because their team ended up trading someone else. This week I’m going to go over how those trades will affect these former Hoosiers for the rest of the season as well as whether or not it was for the best that they didn’t get traded.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Atlanta (W 117-110): 9 points (3-12 FG)(2-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 8 assists, steal, block, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

Vs San Antonio (L 98-96): 14 points (6-14 FG), 3 rebounds, assist, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, personal foul, 40 minutes.

Vs Dallas (W 110-104): 17 points (6-18 FG)(2-2 FT), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 42 minutes.

Vs Indiana (L 105-102): 17 points (6-17 FG)(5-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 41 minutes.

Trade Deadline Moves: Acquired Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova from the Detroit Pistons while giving up Tobias Harris; Acquired Jared Cunningham from the Cleveland Cavaliers and a 2nd round pick from the Portland Trail Blazers while giving up Channing Frye to the Cavaliers

The Orlando Magic desperately want a franchise player and were hoping to grab one at the trade deadline. To pull that off would mean the Magic would have to part with some of their young talent. Well they did end up trading Tobias Harris but in return Orlando received Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.

While neither are the franchise player the Magic are looking for, they do play an important role in getting one. Jennings is an expiring contract who will create 8.5 million dollars in cap room for next summer’s free agent market, where multiple franchise players expect to test free agency. Ilyasova makes for a nice veteran role player and is basically a younger Channing Frye. His acquisition made more sense when the Magic later dealt Frye to Cleveland.

Jennings works really well with Victor Oladipo. Because Jennings is a much better shooter than Elfrid Payton, Oladipo isn’t forced to continuously shoot jump shots to create space in the offense. He can also play more of a facilitator role, as shown by his 11 assists in his first two games with Jennings.

Should He Have Been Traded?

Of all the former Hoosiers, it really felt like Oladipo was the most likely to get dealt while simultaneously being the one I least wanted to be traded. While it would have been cool to see him play for a contender (for example, the Los Angeles Clippers after a Blake Griffin trade), Oladipo just fits so well in Orlando both in how the team is structured and in the community. Of course, if a team is willing to part with a franchise player but wants Oladipo in return, I wouldn’t blame the Magic for making that deal. However, that should be the only situation the Magic consider dealing their closest thing to a superstar.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Chicago (W 108-91): 5 points (2-3 FG)(0-2 FT), 8 rebounds, assist, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers, 6 personal fouls, 20 minutes.

@ Indiana (W 117-95): 11 points (4-7 FG)(3-3 FT), 11 rebounds, 3 assists, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

@ Milwaukee (W 98-95): 23 points (9-12 FG)(5-5 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 31 minutes.

@ Brooklyn (W 104-96): 10 points (4-8 FG)(2-2 FT), rebound, 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 22 minutes.

Trade Deadline Moves: Acquired Courtney Lee in a 3-team trade while giving up Brian Roberts to the Miami Heat and P.J. Hairston to the Memphis Grizzlies

There was no doubt that the Charlotte Hornets were going to make a move at the trade deadline and there were talks of that move being Dwight Howard. In any kind of Howard trade, Cody Zeller would more than likely be a part of it since it would be a waste to have both when you can only play one at a time.

Luckily for Zeller, talks with the Houston Rockets went nowhere and so the Hornets went a different direction and traded for Courtney Lee. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist injured again, it opens up a spot in the starting lineup and Lee offers good defense and good shooting. That means more spacing on the floor so big men like Zeller and Al Jefferson can have more room to work with in the post.

Should He Have Been Traded?

The Hornets seemed to have found an identity with Zeller at center, as Jefferson has been coming off the bench ever since his return from injury and may stay in that role because he’d have an easier time scoring against backups. For that reason, I’m glad Zeller wasn’t traded.

On the other hand, there is still a logjam in the front court and you still have the feeling that moving one of those big men would have been a better way to balance the roster instead of trading guards P.J. Hairston and Brian Roberts. I still feel that someone is leaving in the offseason but whether or not its Zeller or someone else remains to be seen.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

@ Memphis (W 112-106): DNP – injury

Vs Houston (W 116-103): DNP – injury/coach’s decision

Vs Golden State (W 137-105): 9 points (3-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 personal fouls, 22 minutes.

Vs Utah (W 115-111): 5 points (2-7 FG)(1-1), 8 rebounds, 3 turnovers, personal foul, 16 minutes.

Trade Deadline Moves: Acquired Anderson Varejao and a conditional 1st round pick in a 3-team trade while giving up a 2nd round pick to the Orlando Magic; acquired Brian Roberts from the Miami Heat in exchange for cash

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Portland Trail Blazers have exceeded all expectations as they currently sit at seventh place in the western conference a week after the all-star break. There were a couple of rumors that the Blazers might trade some of their young developing talent (such as Noah Vonleh) but Portland smartly decided to keep its young players. The Blazers remain focused on developing their talent and if they make the playoffs that’s great but if they don’t it won’t be a big deal.

That didn’t mean the Blazers were going to avoid taking part in a couple of midseason trades. Portland helped Cleveland and Orlando complete the Frye trade and all it cost was a second round pick. In return, the Blazers received a conditional first round pick from the Cavaliers. To be more specific, Portland now has Cleveland’s 2018 first round pick unless the Cavaliers are drafting in the top 10 for some reason. Portland also ended up with Anderson Varejao in that trade, but he was immediately waived so he won’t affect Vonleh’s playing time. The Blazers also added Brian Roberts (who the Heat traded away right after getting him) as a veteran backup for Damian Lillard and only gave up some cash.

Should He Have Been Traded?

As I previously wrote, I think it was a smart decision to keep Vonleh, as well as their other younger players. For Vonleh in particular, I don’t think there’s a better situation for him. How many other NBA teams are going to be as patient and helpful as the Blazers have been? Portland is committed to grooming Vonleh into key player for this franchise and I don’t see the team changing its mind anytime soon.

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Minnesota (W 116-102): DNP – injury

Vs Utah (W 100-96): DNP – injury

@ Oklahoma City (L 121-95): DNP – injury

Vs Philadelphia (W 121-114): DNP – injury

@ Detroit (W 111-106): DNP – injury

Trade Deadline Moves: Acquired Jarnell Stokes and cash from the Miami Heat while giving up a future 2nd round pick

With the New Orleans Pelicans quite a few games out of playoff contention, I figured they would either start selling off veterans to acquire younger players and draft picks or that they would try to swing for the fences by grabbing a big-name player in hopes of jumpstarting the team to make a late-season playoff push.

Turns out neither happened as they basically stuck with their team. Stokes, the one player they acquired, was released immediately so they could sign free agent guard Bryce Dejean-Jones because his 10-day contract had ended. Dejean-Jones played fairly well for the Pelicans and is meant to provide depth at the shooting guard position when Eric Gordon comes back.

Should He Have Been Traded?

I really respect Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps for sticking with this group of guys even after the slow start to the season. The truth is that the Pelicans should have traded Gordon only if they were giving up on trying to make the playoffs and were looking ahead to next season. Not only are the playoffs still a possibility (The Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Sacramento Kings are in front of the Pelicans for the eighth spot but none of those three are sure things), but the Pelicans really need Gordon now after losing Tyreke Evans for the season. If Gordon plays well when he returns, he may also earn himself a new contract to stay in New Orleans.

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 14.9ppg, 2.1rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.29bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.0% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 88.5% FT, 33.4mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 14.4ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.1apg, 1.38spg, 0.58bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 41.2% FG, 33.7% 3FG, 82.8% FT, 31.7mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 0.5apg, 0.44spg, 0.29bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 42.6% FG, 21.4% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 16.1mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.1ppg, 6.1rpg, 0.9apg, 0.83spg, 0.68bpg, 1.0tpg, 3.0fpg, 50.3% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 74.5% FT, 24.9mpg.