The turn of events was so deflating that I decided to run the letter anyway to pay tribute to the unexpected playoff bid for Charlotte that Ball was leading.
The Hornets have been one of this season’s fun surprises and, thanks largely to the drafting of Ball and the much-criticized signing of Hayward in free agency, quickly became known among NBA League Pass aficionados as the most watchable Charlotte team in decades. No one was ready to proclaim that Charlotte had suddenly become a free-agent destination after one strong half-season from Ball. Yet his arrival helped illustrate why teams relish the ability to put multiple playmakers on the floor — and why Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, LaMelo’s brother, are in such high demand as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.
Along with Terry Rozier, Ball and Hayward gave the Hornets three players who could routinely make good things happen for themselves and those around them. In the East, where the Nets, Philadelphia and Milwaukee look dangerous but conference depth is an issue, that’s enough for Charlotte to overcome a suspect frontcourt and be in playoff contention.
It’s no secret that the Hornets have been seeking a quality big man such as Indiana’s Myles Turner in the buildup to Thursday’s trade deadline. They were also one of the teams to register rebuffed interest in the Orlando All-Star Nikola Vucevic. Upgrading their frontcourt remains a priority for the Hornets, and Ball’s injury does not rule out a trade this week, but the wisest course is pursuing deals that align with Charlotte’s bright Ball-led future rather than chasing the short-term high of a playoff berth without him.
Q: I have a semantics question about how the N.B.A. views the naming of its teams. When we talk about the New York Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets or the Indiana Pacers, the first part of the team name is the city where the team plays. Is the second part — Knicks, Nets, Pacers, etc. — considered to be a team name or a team nickname? In other words, if I said that the Knicks are finally turning things around, would you say that I used the team’s name or its nickname? Given that you have a degree of access and institutional knowledge most of us don’t have, I’d very much appreciate if you could clarify this matter. — Adam Ginsburg (Toledo, Ohio)
Stein: Congratulations, Adam, on posing a question no one has ever asked me. I had to look into it on that basis alone.
The league, though, has no official policy on this, based on my checking. Semantics was a good word choice by you, because the distinction you’re seeking can’t be easily made and likely depends on the person — provided there are others who want this matter clarified.