LaMelo Ball is to NBA Twitter what IPAs are to hipsters, Band of Brothers is to old white guys, dogs to my girlfriend, wine to NBA players (?) — there is no highlight too mundane, no beer too hoppy, no voiceover too stoic, no bottle too expensive for them not to click, sip, watch or waft.
LaMelo plays like he’s making a TikTok video, their play-by-play guy sells every play like a Chicago realtor trying to get you in a two-bedroom, two-bath in Lakeview (“OH TERRY! THE UTILITIES ARE INCLUDED!”) and, here’s the kicker, he’s actually really good at basketball.
This is the most fun Hornets team since Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues in NBA Jam. That was so long ago, no one gave Grandmama a second thought as to if it was problematic. (Don’t ask me. I’m still trying to figure out if I should still laugh at Mrs. Doubtfire.) The last thing the Hornets want to do is lose a player who has “it.”
Explaining what “it” is has been done so many times you know what “it” is by now, and Kemba didn’t have “it,” Al Jefferson didn’t have “it,” no Bobcat had “it.”
LaMelo has “it,” but he’s not Giannis. You can’t roll him out there with a bunch of betas and expect to win 60 games. My colleague Grace McDermott wrote about how rare the Bucks’ situation is.
The Hornets’ situation isn’t rare. We’ve seen it a million times. “Small market team drafts superstar, repeatedly falls on its face with bad signings/moves until the superstar can’t take it anymore.” It happened to the Pacers and Paul George, it happened to the Pelicans and Anthony Davis, it’s happening to the Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard.
So, since Grace already hit on the meta, let’s look at how to surround Ball specifically.
Miles Bridges is about to make Mikal money off of LaMelo passes alone, but he’s not your typical pick-and-roll lob partner. Trading for the Plumlee that’s still in the league wasn’t a terrible move, but it wasn’t a good move either. They need to think bigger, though.
There’s a team in Phoenix right now that is toying with not re-signing the kind of player you want to give the max to. A Ball-Deandre Ayton combo would be devastating for a decade plus. Offer him the max, have Michael take him to TPC Sawgrass, do whatever it takes to free up cap room because the Suns will probably cheap out (unless owner Robert Sarver gets himself Sterlinged).
Ball’s iso numbers are good (60 percent FG) but limited (1.4 iso per game last year). However, I just think you don’t want him skewing iso with that kind of vision.
If you have a guy that can carry the offense when he’s on the bench and also help finish games, it goes a long way in evenly distributing the workload. Terry Rozier has taken on this role, so keep him as long as he’s still scary but he’s not Khris Middleton. If you can snag a borderline All-Star type via firesale, that’d be ideal. Which brings me to my next point...
Hayward’s injury risk is almost as big as his contract. You can wait and see what this team looks like in the postseason with a healthy Hayward, but that’s dependent on him making it that far. Hope he gets off to a hot start and sell high, because Bridges will be a restricted free agent after this season, and he’s going to get paid.
He keeps getting better (50-40-87 splits last year), and seeing his potential through should be a priority over Hayward. Even if you “give” Hayward away, it allows you to pay Bridges and maybe offer another restricted free agent.
How big is the difference between, say, Eric Gordon and Gordon Hayward? They’re both injury prone, both have “Gordon” in their name, but one is making $18 million with a team option in 2023-24 and the other is scheduled to make about $31 million through the end of that season. These are the kind of turning points that can alter the future of a franchise.
I know it’s easy for me to say don’t fuck it up, but don’t fuck it up, Charlotte — because LaMelo has “it.”