Will the Hornets be healthy and whole again this season? It’s a mystery for now

Rick Bonnell
·3 min read

The worst thing for the Charlotte Hornets right now isn’t the two-game losing streak or the steady drift down the Eastern Conference standings.

It’s the complete unknown over when essential players will start healing enough to be back on the court.

The Hornets were down four starters and their best bench scorer Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were without two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The difference was L.A. still had enough depth to survive, pulling out a 101-93 victory at Spectrum Center.

I had the first question for coach James Borrego post-game. I asked if he has any sense who might be available Wednesday when the Hornets play the Cleveland Cavaliers, also at home. Borrego said he has no updates. I asked if there’s anything new regarding the long-term injuries to LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Malik Monk.

Again, Borrego said no updates. He added he’d love to share something, but there’s just not any clarity.

Tuesday the Hornets got worse news on top of bad news. Late morning, center-forward P.J. Washington was declared out with a right ankle sprain. Then, about two hours before the 8 p.m. tip-off, the Hornets also declared leading scorer Terry Rozier out with left knee tendinitis.

The five players out collectively represent about 80 of the 111 points the Hornets average this season. These injuries have slid the Hornets from fourth place in the Eastern Conference down to seventh. There’s no telling when this fall will break.

I suspect Rozier, averaging a career-best 20.3 points this season, has a shot at playing against the Cavaliers. Maybe Washington, too, although if they sit him Wednesday, he’d have four days of healing between injuring his ankle Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks and Friday’s road game against the Brooklyn Nets.

With Washington and Rozier out, Borrego moved Bismack Biyombo and Caleb Martin into the starting lineup. The good news? They both overachieved. The bad news? Virtually no one else did.

‘Next man up’ goes only so far

Biyombo takes lots of grief from fans about his offensive limitations, but he actually got the Hornets a good start with six points and four rebounds in the first seven minutes.

Biyombo’s role this season has swung wildly from starter to backup to not playing at all. He’s stoic about all that, as he is about the injuries to others that have caused all that fluctuation.

“This is the NBA. This is what we signed up for,” Biyombo said of a COVID-19 season that was inevitably going to be impacted by health protocols and tightly packed schedules.

Biyombo threw in the “Next man up” cliche frequently post-game. The problem with that is the Hornets are running out of next men. Borrego played every available non-rookie (eight in all) by midway through the second quarter. That undrafted free agent Nate Darling got six minutes in the fourth quarter, with the result still in doubt, showed how desperate the roster situation had become.

Caleb Martin all about reliability

Borrego’s decision to start Caleb Martin made sense in that he’s the better scorer of the Martin twins and this would leave brother Cody -- the superior defender -- free to sic on whichever Laker was having a hot night.

Caleb played quite well: 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. It’s what his teammates have come to expect: Not overwhelming talent, but reliable effort and focus.

“With Caleb,” Biyombo described, “you never worry about him working.”

Nothing about effort was lacking Tuesday. Rather, it was the well of talent running dry. You don’t want Brad Wanamaker taking 11 shots (he made one) and the next time Darling is playing meaningful minutes in a Hornets game, it should be summer league.

Anyone who could have made a difference was in street clothes behind the bench. That’s not their fault, and you don’t want them rushing back recklessly. But the question hovers.

When -- if ever -- will the Hornets be healthy again this season? No one knows.