Who beat the Charlotte Hornets Friday night added a little extra sting to the latest of many road losses.
Courtney Lee, who was such a God-send for the Hornets the second half of last season, took over the fourth quarter, scoring nine points and feeding teammate Brandon Jennings with a wide-open 3-pointer in the New York Knicks’ 110-107 victory.
Lee signed with the Knicks in July, receiving a four-season, $50 million contract. His impact in New York has been questioned this season, with him briefly losing his starting job with the Knicks.
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But if you followed the Hornets last season, you know Lee’s value is subtle and versatile. He plays persistent defense. He makes pressure jump shots. He has an exceptional basketball IQ; he knows which plays to make and he doesn’t try to play beyond his ability, as too many NBA players can.
The Hornets need another coup of a deal at the NBA trade deadline. They need someone like Courtney Lee.
The Hornets miss all that. They need another coup of a deal at the trade deadline. They need someone like Lee.
The point of this column isn’t to second-guess whether the Hornets should have re-signed Lee. General manager Rich Cho had five significant unrestricted free agents off last season’s 48-victory team. I would have done exactly what he did in prioritizing the retention of Nic Batum and Marvin Williams.
But it was never going to be easy to compensate for the losses of Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson. Those were veteran players, all with distinct offensive skills.
Again, Cho’s reasoning in the summer was logical: Lee would have been a very expensive luxury at the wing spots, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning from injury and the Hornets signing Batum to a $120 million contract off his best NBA season.
The Hornets couldn’t afford to lose Williams, their best athlete at power forward and a key to playing strong defense.
We missed shots. I thought we got great looks. We didn’t put the ball in the hole when we needed to.
Kemba Walker on loss to Knicks
Now, they are below .500 at 23-24 and looking flawed. The fourth quarter of this game was telling at both ends: The Hornets gave up 28 Knicks points on 48 percent shooting. Offensively, they generated 20 points, shooting just 30 percent (7-of-23).
"We missed shots. I thought we got great looks. We didn’t put the ball in the hole when we needed to," said newly named All-Star Kemba Walker, who was typically fantastic playing in his hometown, scoring 31 points, and adding 10 rebounds and five assists.
Walker is doing everything possible to keep the Hornets’ playoff chances afloat. He needs help, in the form of a trade that will infuse some energy and scoring into the rotation.
Batum does a lot of things. He was one assist short of a triple-double Friday with 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. But he also committed five turnovers. The Knicks converted 13 Hornets turnovers into 19 New York points.
I respect Steve Clifford’s not making excuses for this team’s play. But the Hornets need a spark, and in February that means a trade.
Williams had a strong night at both ends, scoring 17 points off 14 shots. But there have been other nights this season when he ends up with eight points shooting a poor percentage.
The trade for veteran Marco Belinelli has been a success, adding scoring and savvy to this roster. But Belinelli can’t make up for what this team lost in Lee, Lin and Jefferson.
Coach Steve Clifford frequently says there is enough talent on this team already to win. I respect his not making excuses for this team’s play. But they need a spark, and in February that means a trade.
It doesn’t have to be splashy. Just surgical in the way acquiring Lee and previously Josh McRoberts felt like basketball blood transfusions.
Yes, it’s a lot to ask. But it’s what this team desperately needs.