Questions loom for Hornets

Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges (0) celebrates with Charlotte Hornets forward Brandon Miller (24) during a game against the Atlanta Hawks. (Mike Stewart/AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — With a final record of 21-61, the Charlotte Hornets’ 2023-24 season came to a close last Sunday afternoon.

Concluding a dismal campaign where the franchise finished with its fewest wins in 11 years, the Hornets managed to close out the season winning two out of three. They sent Steve Clifford off with a victory in his final game as Charlotte’s coach as his team defeated playoff-bound Cleveland.

Clifford still plans to stick with the team in a front office role.

At the Hornets’ media exit interviews on Monday, he said the roster still has a lot of room for improvement. Clifford thought it could benefit from a fresh perspective at the helm.

“I would tell the new coach to start from scratch and to be careful watching much of the old film. They weren’t on the floor enough together to really know what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “You got to let the head coach have the say in how he wants things. I want to be a resource, but I only want to be a plus for the organization. You need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

The Hornets were decimated by injury woes and finished second in the league in games missed by players.

All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball (ankle) and second-year center Mark Williams (back) were out since January and December, respectively. That created an on-court void that never resolved itself, despite the best efforts of star rookie Brandon Miller (17.3 ppg).

“Individually, it was a great rookie season,” Miller said on Monday.

“Team-wise, we didn’t get as many wins as we wanted. That’s something we want to work on going into next season…Nothing is going to be easy and nothing is going to be given to you. Everything is earned.”

Charlotte’s eight-year playoff drought — the longest in the NBA — was hardly challenged. The Hornets finished 28th in offense (106.6 ppg) and 22nd in defense (116.8).

Still, this past season marks a new chapter in the franchise’s history.

Charlotte’s new front office team of executive vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson and co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin will now handle the head coaching search.

Deciding to part ways with familiar players like Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington and Gordon Hayward at the trade deadline, the Hornets opted to try to get some mileage out of newcomers like Grant Williams, Seth Curry, Tre Mann and Vasilije Micic, and will do so again.

Charlotte is now projected to have a top-five pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

With the draft’s lottery format, the team can fall as far as ninth in the draft or rise as high as first. The front office could target a particular shooting guard or power forward, or could just take the best player available.

Back on the injury front, Ball and Williams both mentioned on Monday that they were confident that their current injuries won’t affect their futures.

“Ankle has been feeling better and it’s the first time I’ll have a full offseason, so I’m definitely happy about that,” Ball said, adding that he will begin to wear ankle braces going forward. “My favorite thing to do is play basketball, so not being able to do that has been horrible. I’m gonna take the summer and try to get as strong as I can get out there and play.”

Teammate Miles Bridges mentioned that Ball told him he had a personal goal of playing over 75 games next season; Bridges’ own future with the team could depend on a possible $100 million contract this offseason to keep him around as his free agency begins.

“I love the city of Charlotte and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Bridges said. “I grew up here. I’ve been here since I was 20. The Hornets stayed down on me and they didn’t have to. My family loves it here, I love it here.”

Meanwhile, Williams indicated that his own back injury will not require surgery: “I’m starting to feel better and I’m able to do a little more. It’s not something that’s going to linger. I’m going to play every game next year.”

There are many loose ends for the franchise to evaluate and tie up — that process will formulate in a major way once a new coach is brought into the Queen City.