Scott Fowler

Whatever the cost, Hornets planning to win now

Charlotte Hornets' newly acquired player Nicolas Batum, left, answers a question as Jeremy Lamb, right, listens during a new conference last month at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Charlotte Hornets' newly acquired player Nicolas Batum, left, answers a question as Jeremy Lamb, right, listens during a new conference last month at Time Warner Cable Arena. AP

The Charlotte Hornets are done being patient.

In a series of moves over the past three weeks, they have appeared so consumed with winning now that they are willing to mortgage some of the future to do so.

They traded away Noah Vonleh, the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft. They then declined to trade the No. 9 pick in 2015 for six draft choices – reportedly four of them were first-round picks – to the Boston Celtics. They have made four significant trades. They look like a team that isn’t looking for the exact “Mr. Right” anymore, one who may never show up (even after you go 7-59). It’s more about “Mr. Right Now.”

The Hornets would be crazy to admit any of that publicly, of course. The company line is that you can keep an eye on both the immediate and the long-term future and do them both well.

But that’s not the way this looks – and ultimately that’s OK.

After all, the “preaching patience” philosophy has gone poorly. Since the NBA rebooted the franchise in 2004, the Hornets have only made the playoffs twice in 11 seasons and got swept in the first round both times.

The Hornets were patient with Bismack Biyombo, and for four years he had hands of stone. The Hornets were patient with Lance Stephenson for most of last season, even when it was quite apparent he was a horrible fit, and we all know how that turned out. The Hornets were patient with athletic, erratic Gerald Henderson for many years, and after all that time he still was a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot.

So they parted ways with Biyombo, Stephenson and Henderson in various ways over the past month, and all of that makes sense.

They have also added four new rotation players to a team that went 33-49 last season and could not afford to stand pat. Of the four – Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky – Batum will make the biggest immediate impact. All four will help space the floor on offense because they can shoot.

But not trading the No. 9 pick away when you could get four future No. 1 picks for it? That doesn’t make sense. That was such a potentially great deal for the Hornets that the Celtics general manager Danny Ainge proclaimed the next day he was relieved that Charlotte didn’t take it.

And if the Hornets absolutely felt they had to keep the No. 9 pick, they should have taken Justise Winslow – the player the Celtics were so desperate to get – instead of Kaminsky.

But the Kaminsky pick makes more sense if viewed through the “We Must Win Now Or We Might Get Fired” prism. Kaminsky was the best player in all of college basketball last season, stayed four years at Wisconsin and is three years older than Winslow. It’s quite likely Winslow will have the better NBA career, but it is also quite likely Kaminsky will help the Hornets more over the next two years.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford is very good at what he does, but he’s also on the last year of his contract and knows there are no guarantees in this business. General manager Rich Cho, whose drafting history has been as spotty as a leopard, is on even thinner ice.

If Cho had taken the Celtics’ draft-night offer but the Hornets had another 33-49 season, it’s quite likely a new GM would be making those future first-round picks and a new coach would be coaching them. These men need to win soon. Owner Michael Jordan – while he has certainly become more patient in the past decade – is by nature an impatient, ridiculously competitive alpha male.

Jordan already stripped this team down to the bare bones once and it then went 28-120 over two seasons. That can’t happen again, so now he is trying to rebuild on the fly with more proven veteran commodities.

The team the Hornets will field next season reminds me of something out of the Larry Brown playbook (remember Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace?) and its heavy reliance on veterans. Those guys don’t last forever – witness what the Hornets hope was a temporary decline of Al Jefferson last season. But the Hornets are gambling they will all last long enough to make something good happen.

Is it a short-sighted approach?

In some ways, yes. But given that this team’s long-range vision has produced zero playoff victories in the past 11 seasons, it’s worth a shot.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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