Clifford: Hornets need to get bigger to get better
Steve Clifford said the Hornets need to get bigger before they get better.
Charlotte's second-year coach expects the team to address its lack of height in the NBA draft Thursday night or in free agency next month. The Hornets own the ninth, 24th and 45th overall picks and have more than $16 million available to spend under the salary cap.
"Size across the board is always a key thing at every position," Clifford said. "When you get into the matchups of the playoffs, size is a big deal."
Charlotte reached the playoffs last season but was swept by Miami in the first round.
The team's top two players are 6-foot-10 center Al Jefferson and 6-foot point guard Kemba Walker — but both are considered undersized for their positions. So are 6-foot-5 shooting guard Gerald Henderson and 6-foot-7 small forward Michael-Kidd-Gilchrist.
"We are small," Clifford said. "We aren't terribly small but, we are small."
Hornets owner Michael Jordan took in the last of Charlotte's rookie workouts on Tuesday at the team's downtown arena, but the club stated ultimately general manager Rich Cho will have final say in all personnel decisions.
Charlotte acquired the No. 9 pick in the draft from Detroit after the Pistons fell out of the top eight in the NBA draft lottery, leaving the pick unprotected.
It was a rare break for Charlotte when it comes to the lottery.
In 2012, Charlotte was coming off the worst winning percentage in NBA history after finishing 7-59. But when it was announced the No. 1 pick went to the New Orleans Pelicans, Cho looked like a man who had just been kicked in the stomach.
It was a bitter disappointment.
It meant Charlotte losing out on a chance to get franchise center Anthony Davis.
Charlotte would settle for Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis' college teammate from Kentucky. He's been a two-year starter, but hasn't had nearly the impact Davis has had in the NBA.
Bad luck struck again last summer.
After finishing with the second-worst record in the league, Charlotte wound up falling to fourth in the draft order in the lottery. They drafted power forward Cody Zeller, who showed improvement as the season progressed but remained a reserve behind Josh McRoberts.
Charlotte has had eight lottery picks since Jordan bought partial ownership of the team in 2006 — he became primary owner in 2010. While that group has produced three starters — Walker, Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist — it hasn't produced any All-Stars or a franchise player to build around.
Although this is considered a talent-rich draft, Clifford is approaching it with tempered enthusiasm.
He said while there are some exceptions, overall it is rare when a rookie steps into the league and makes an immediate impact.
"Look at the last few years — how many guys have you seen?" Clifford said. "I don't think it's fair for any of these guys to say that they're going to be able to come right to an NBA team and make a major impact. I haven't seen it much in 14 years. Guys might put up numbers and play a small role but, I don't think it's fair to do that."
Charlotte would love to have a powerful 7-footer to pair with Jefferson down low, but that type of player doesn't seem to exist unless Kansas' Joel Embiid were to make a dramatic fall to No. 9.
Charlotte could look to add height — and some needed shooting — at other positions instead. Michigan's 6-foot-6 shooting guard Nik Stauskas and Creighton's 6-foot-8 small forward Doug McDermott are two players who'd make a lot of sense for the Hornets since they'd fill both needs.
Clifford said along with shooting, the Hornets need to add a backup point guard and acquire more depth in the frontcourt.