The Charlotte Hornets had high hopes of turning their defensive squad into one of the more balanced teams in the Eastern Conference. With Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all returning at full strength, getting back into the NBA playoffs in 2015-16 was starting to look like a realistic goal.

Now, not so much. Per reports, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could miss the entire 2015-16 NBA season due to a serious shoulder injury. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will go under the knife soon to repair a torn labrum and very well could miss the entire season.

It’s a heavy blow to a team that thought they were turning the corner after dealing with a laundry list of injuries a year ago. A playoff team as recently as the 2013-14 NBA season, Charlotte struggled through injuries to Walker, Jefferson and even MKG, while also working their way through an ugly ordeal with free agent bust, Lance Stephenson. The Hornets beefed up their roster to prevent a huge slide for the second year in a row, as they traded for swing man Nicolas Batum, brought in combo guard Jeremy Lin and drafted big man Frank Kaminsky.

Of course, all of these moves were naturally predicated on having their healthy core of Walker, Jefferson and Kidd-Gilchrist at full strength. While not an offensive source on a nightly basis, MKG may arguably be the most important link for Charlotte – at least on the defensive end. One of the top perimeter cover men in the game, MKG’s mere presence boosted Charlotte’s overall team defense tremendously when he was healthy and active. Adding in Batum to help lock down the other side was going to give the Hornets a spike in defensive production, but it now appears fans will have to wait an entire year to see how these moves turn out.

MKG’s Future

This isn’t necessarily a troubling injury for MKG’s long-term future as a pro, but it could have a negative impact on how the Hornets proceed with him beyond this season. Kidd-Gilchrist is clearly a defensive asset and at just 22 years old still has plenty of time to develop into a capable offensive player but this will be his third year in a row where he’s missed 20+ games. With next year being a contract year, a less than willing to commit Hornets organization could see him as a trading chip.

Next Man Up

In the short-term, replacing MKG isn’t all that difficult thanks to some solid depth. Replacing his level of play, of course, is. The only other wing player with anything close to his defensive aptitude is Nicolas Batum, and he was already starting and looking at heavy minutes. His role is more cemented than ever, but who jumps up on the depth chart to actually try to fill MKG’s shoes? The rest of the preseason may be needed to discover the answer, as the likes of P.J. Hairston and Jeremy Lamb are the top contenders to earn those minutes. Both players offer serious upgrade potential as offensive players, but neither has displayed even solid defensive ability yet in their young careers. There is also the slim chance that the Hornets opt to use versatile big man Marvin Williams, who could potentially spend some time at the three spot in certain lineups. Charlotte will more than likely consider starting Jeremy Lin at the two and sliding Batum over to the three on a full-time basis, however.

Playoff Bound?

The Hornets were definitely improved across the board before this news broke, but even then they were no locks to make the playoffs in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. Once the laughing stock of the NBA’s two conferences, the East has improved dramatically over the past two years and could for the first time in a while have all 8 playoff teams with above .500 records. Charlotte will have their work cut out for them to be one of those eight teams, and losing MKG takes their one major strength – defense – down a notch. Anyone looking for a sneaky NBA bet may want to look elsewhere this year, as the Hornets are far less likely to make a serious run than they were maybe just a week ago.

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