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Optimism Ranks – Part 1

If you missed the full primer, please check it out! There are many elements you could argue are important to a team’s future, but I believe the seven I have chosen encompass the essentials for believing in a team’s outlook. Some of these certainly matter more than others, so additional weight (3 tiers of importance) has been given to the more important categories. Without further ado, let’s see how bright the Eradicated Eight’s futures look under a microscope, starting today with the teams who ranked the lowest: Charlotte and New York.

8) Charlotte Hornets 

Prospects (3)

While the cupboard certainly isn’t bare, the Hornets don’t have anyone exactly drizzling with upside in my eyes. Devonte’ Graham is actually already 25.5 years old, in case people think he’s still a prospect. I do like both Miles Bridges and PJ Washington, however I feel like they are merely solid complementary players; neither project to be even a top-3 player on a solid playoff team. The Martin twins are sort of meh, and they also turn 25 before next season. The Hornets haven’t even drafted poorly recently (Monk notwithstanding), they just have had mediocre picks, as they never truly bottomed out or lucked into a top-3 pick.

Recent Performance (2)

Charlotte hasn’t won a playoff season since (re)joining the league in the Bobcat-then-Hornets franchise stretch. They have two seasons above 40 wins, and zero over 50 in the past decade. Momentum from prior year’s success is not something you can hang onto as a Hornets fan.

Star Power (1)

Since losing Kemba, there are really no noteworthy household names on this squad. Terry Rozier might be the most well-known? On the Charlotte deep dive pod, I pondered if they even had a player in the top 20 at their position across the league this season. As far as star power goes, this is looking the bleakest of the bleak.

Free Agent (3)

Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions turned up on a google search of best Hornet signings in the recent past. I’m not sure most people even realize Tony Parker played for the Hornets. They did manage to catch his sunset season, but  even he decided to retire before finishing out his two-year contract. Ugly.

Overall Team Competence (3)

The first thing that always comes to mind when I think about Charlotte’s front office is that they turned down four first-rounders for the pick that became Frank Kaminsky. They also had two of the dozen or so worst contracts left in the NBA as recently as a few years ago, in Nicolas Batum and Bismack Biyombo. I do think they have a sharp head coach in James Borrego, and have had some fine draft selections as of late though, Graham and Washington in particular.

Roster Flexibility (9)

Finally, a glimmer of hope! The Hornets have a pile of cap space this fall and will clear Nic Batum’s 27M off in 2021, a contract that they could even possibly swap to a team who is desperate to get into the free agency frenzy next summer. The only contract they have that you could really argue is a negative asset at this point is Terry Rozier .

Draft Assets (5)

Charlotte is middle of the pack when it comes to their draft pick drawer. They have all of their own 1sts going forward, and have three likely incoming 2nds to make up for their two outgoing 2nds. Unfortunately, they were a little “too good” this season, as they finished only in the 8th slot in the lottery pecking order, despite going just 23-42 and never really competing for a playoff spot.

Overall Indexed Score – 30.3

Ouch. Charlotte is in the unfortunate position of ranking in dead last place in the overall optimism rankings. I didn’t know ahead of time who would fall into the dreaded 8th place, but once I saw the Hornets land there, it certainly passed the sniff test. Failing to move Kemba Walker for future assets at the trade deadline in 2018-19 looks like it will setback Charlotte on their quest to be relevant anytime real soon. They don’t have any blue chip prospects to be excited about. They don’t have a long history of winning or shrewd front office transactions to dwell on. They don’t have a bucket full of draft picks in the future, and don’t even project (we’ll only know for sure after the lottery) to have a great pick this offseason. It is going to be a tough scene in Charlotte for the projectable future.

7) New York Knicks

Prospects (4)

New York missed out on the highly anticipated Zion sweepstakes last summer, but was still pretty happy to land highly touted RJ Barrett as a consolation prize. His rookie season did not inspire confidence though, as he struggled mightily to score efficiently and finished well in the negative in several advanced stats. I am willing to give him a mulligan as the Knicks didn’t exactly have an environment conducive for a rookie to thrive in. Counting Barrett as an untouchable piece is probably strong, but he is still likely to be a part of the next good Knick team.

The only other youngster I have real hope for is Mitchell Robinson. Despite being a rebuilding squad, Robinson has a tough time getting sufficient minutes (big man glut, foul trouble) but he does show promise when he is out there. I think he is certainly a solid rotation player, potentially a starter, although I don’t think finding a player similar to him is the most difficult thing to do in the league. I know Knox, DSJ, and Ntilikina have small pockets of supporters on the web, but I don’t fall into any of those camps.

Recent Performance (1)

The Knicks haven’t been to the playoffs since 2012-13, have won one playoff series since 1999-2000, and have topped 40 wins twice in 19 seasons. Poor Madison Square Garden.

Star Power (1)

I suppose there are people who will dream of RJ Barrett becoming a star, but at the moment I think Julius Randle is their biggest name. Next category please.

Free Agent (7)

This was a super tough category to peg for The Big Apple. It feels like it’s been driven into our brains for years (decades?) that everyone would love to play in “The Mecca.” Every time a coveted star nears free agency, you hear the murmurs of the Knicks being in the hunt, or at least interested. LeBron, Durant, Chris Paul, Marc Gasol and fifty others are constantly rumored to be Knicks’ targets or interested in New York, but those deals never come to fruition.

Outside of Amar’e, the other names the Knicks have reeled in over the past 10-15 years are, in a word, underwhelming. Just last season, when the Knicks were armed with double max cap space, Kyrie and Durant eschewed the Knicks for Brooklyn, their next-door neighbor. Still, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire, and the bright lights of MSG always seem to ignite passion inside of opposing players. Maybe – just maybe – someday soon they will land another big fish.

Overall Organizational Competence (1)

James Dolan is probably enough to single-handedly torpedo this one. Most NBA fans will immediately shake their head upon hearing the name alone. In the last year, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story questioning if he was the worst owner in sports. There was the infamous Charles Oakley controversy, where Oakley was kicked out of the arena last season. A  fan was also banned from The Garden just for telling Dolan to sell the team. Further, The Knicks were the subject of many jokes last year regarding their PF shopping spree, and I haven’t been too fond of their recent draft history. Oh, and they have had five head coaches in the past seven seasons.

Roster Flexibility (9)

The one thing the Knicks have going for them again is the fact that they do have optionality, as they have minimal swollen contracts bogging them down. Besides Julius Randle being slotted to make 19M, and the 6+ million in dead (waived and stretched) Noah contract, they essentially have nothing but rookie deals committed to next season. Unfortunately, this offseason has the least exciting superstars of recent history hitting free agency. Fred Van Vleet come on down?

Draft Assets (7)

New York does finally have a decent stash of draft assets going forward. They have three extra 1st round picks over the next four seasons: two extra Dallas first rounders (‘21 & ‘23) and a Clippers 1st this coming draft. They have all of their own future 1st round picks too, which is somewhat of a rarity for them. Seven first rounders in the next four drafts sounds very appealing, but it is worth noting that the Clipper pick is going to be around 26th, Dallas projects to be a good team going forward (Luka effect), and the Knicks (naturally) were just a hair too good this year to claim a lucrative slot on the lottery odds board, as they came in 6th, just two losses shy of 2nd.

Of course, you do have to remember that the reason the Knicks have these extra picks is that they gave up Kristaps Porzingis for two firsts (and cap space), so maybe even this encouraging category leaves Knicks fans with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouth.

Overall Indexed Score: 36.4

Oh New York. I feel like there are two common schools of thought when it comes to fans thinking about New York: you either love to make them the butt end of jokes, or you say that you wish the Knicks were good – it would be better for the league! I think I am more in the latter (but sometimes the jokes are too easy), so I take no delight in placing them second to last in the inaugural Optimism Rankings. Porzingis, their best recent asset, was moved for cap space and picks a year ago, which ultimately doesn’t seem to be panning out. The summer of 2019 had Durant, Kyrie, Zion dreams (that would have been amazing) but ended up with Portis, Barrett, Gibson, and Morris.

Sigh. It’s hard to fathom a bigger swing in fortunes in just a few months. At the moment, they just have a whole lot of nothing currently going for them, other than clinging to the fantasy of landing a premiere free agent, or nailing their upcoming draft picks. Unfortunately, they have no recent history of doing either of those things. I am curious whether this ranking seems accurate or if Knicks fans remain the eternal optimists. Outside of Charlotte, is there a team you’d be less hopeful for in the next 1-4 years or so from the Eradicated Eight?

Sam Johnson

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