The Swarm Awakens


The 2014-2015 Charlotte Hornets were the most disappointing reboot since The Phantom Menace. What was supposed to be a nostalgia-fueled romp to the Playoffs turned out to be an injury riddled, failed chemistry experiment that left casual fans and league observers shaking their heads, parroting old standbys like “same old Bobcats” or “same old MJ”.

What the skeptics missed in all of last season’s turmoil was that the Hornets organization had been trying like mad to be good. They went the extra mile to ditch the old brand and bring back the buzz. They hired competent basketball minds in Rich Cho and Steve Clifford over the years and phased out old cronies. They brought in real basketball talent instead of could be’s and could’ve beens.

Things simply broke bad. Lance Stephenson was a worthwhile gamble that went bust. Every starter either missed major time due to injury or went through a horrible slump. The glue that held the team together the previous season took his talents to South Beach. Stuff happened. Instead of scrapping the whole experiment, the franchise looked at what worked in ’13-’14 (passing + shooting + good vibes) and doubled down on it this summer.

Unlike George Lucas and his failed prequels, Michael Jordan isn’t forcing himself into the director’s chair and he isn’t selling the franchise in order to skip town. Jordan has given a primary directive (“be competitive, make the Playoffs”) and will occasionally make his opinions known in the Draft room when he feels it’s appropriate. To continue the analogy, MJ is now more Spielberg than Lucas – a collaborator working with a highly competent team. And last season, the shark didn’t work.

This season, the front office and coaching staff finally seem to be on the same page. Previously, Cho was attempting to hedge the “be competitive now” directive with one foot firmly in the future. For example: Sign Al Jefferson in his prime and then draft a 19 year old unpasteurized rookie to play next to him. In theory, that’s a neat idea but the league is much too competitive for that sort of hard-hedging to work. So Cho sent that rookie (Noah Vonleh) to Portland for 26 year old triple double threat Nic Batum. Both feet are firmly in the now (and near future).

The naysayers look at that trade and the Hornets selection of 22 year old senior Frank Kaminsky in June’s Draft as key evidence in the case for MJ as the Biggest Dummy in the league. The Hornets need to be collecting assets! They are striving for mediocrity! They need more Draft picks! They need to get better at Drafting! Jordan will never figure this out! He should sell the team!

It’s incredibly easy in life to point out what’s wrong. Twitter, YouTube and Xbox Live offer a cheap barrage of criticism daily. The Hornets struggles last season (and their macro-struggles as a franchise) require much more nuance and understanding. Since the time Cho was hired four years ago, the Hornets have made up a ton of ground from their past mistakes and taken several solid steps forward. Sure, they whiffed on Bismack Biyombo but scored on Kemba, MKG, Big Al and a slew of trades. They came within a few ping-pong balls of landing once in a generation talent Anthony Davis, barely missed and moved on to Plan B – build a winning culture. If you think this is naive, check out what perpetual tanking is doing to the Sixers organization.

For the first time in forever, the Hornets have a dozen competent professional basketball players and a well respected head coach. More than half of the roster can become free agents next season. Clifford’s on the last year of his deal. Motivation meet Incentive. They’ll bust their tails to go above .500 and make the Playoffs, come hell or high water. If a trade must be made, it will be made.

Charlotte will go 44-38 this season and make the Playoffs. The Force is Strong in this team. The Swarm will Awaken. Hugo, we’re home.

Charlotte Hornets ’15-’16 Bold Predictions:

1. MKG will return for a postseason run.

Defense, game planning and matchups reign in the Playoffs. MKG will be back and adhesively applying himself to John Wall, Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan.

2. Frank Kaminsky will eventually start.

By mid-season if not before, Frank will be in the starting five. Offensively he makes so much more sense than Cody as a ball mover and floor spacer. Kaminsky shouldn’t play more than half the game as a rook but every one of those minutes need to either be next to Al or as a small ball five.

3. Nic Batum will not average 18 points a game.

That’s simply not his game. Expect a 14ppg/6rpg/5apg line from the French Army Knife. He’s not a perfect player by any means but Batum has the ability to fill in the gaps of an incomplete roster. Nic, Frank, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes will do what Josh McRoberts did two seasons ago and much, much more.

4. Jeremy Lin gets Sixth Man of the Year consideration.

I initially thought he was going to start next to Kemba once MKG went down but J-Lin’s ability to run the second unit and finish games is much more valuable. His shot mechanics have improved and while he won’t shoot 50%+ from the 3PT arc as he did in the preseason, his ability to run the pick and roll, penetrate, distribute and draw fouls are absolutely sustainable. Expect Lin to average 28-30 minutes a night.

5. Steve Clifford gets Coach of the Year consideration.

If Clifford gets the defense in the top third of the league minus MKG (they’ve finished in the Top 10 during each of his first two seasons with CHA), he’ll not only get COTY consideration but likely a fat new contract from MJ as well. Let’s hope so. The idea of a Charlotte NBA coach lasting more than three seasons would’ve seemed mythical just a few years ago.

6. Kemba shoots over 40%.

He’s only done it once (his sophomore campaign) but Walker is due for a league average field goal season. With Batum and the other connectors moving the ball, Kemba will have to force less shot-clock bailouts and take less bad shots overall. Smart offense is contagious and my bet is that Kemba catches the bug.

7. The Wing is going to be a Problem.

Outside of Batum, the Hornets have serious depth issues at the SG/SF positions. Jeremy Lamb looks completely lost defensively and PJ Hairston is about as consistent as AT&T coverage. If Cho does pull the trigger on a trade, expect it to be for wing help.

8. If any Hornets are traded it will be Cody Zeller and/or Brian Roberts.

Roberts has shot lights out (44% overall, 45% from 3PT) in the preseason and has run the offense like a pro. He’s too good to be a third PG who sits behind Kemba and Lin. Some team with lead guard issues (maybe his old team in New Orleans) will come calling.

Cody is an extremely intriguing athlete who could blossom on a fast paced squad with scorers. He’s also the Hornets only big who’s a legit plus defender. If the right deal comes along (and only if), I could see Charlotte taking it.

9. The Eastern Conference Standings in April:

  1. Chicago
  2. Cleveland
  3. Atlanta
  4. Toronto
  5. Washington
  6. Charlotte
  7. Milwaukee
  8. Miami

Detroit finishes 9th. Boston and Orlando tie for 10th.

10. Final Prediction: This Hornets season will be much more fun than last.

Bank on it.


Projecting the Hornets Starters and Rotation


Right around the time of the Jeremy Lin signing, Steve Clifford told local reporters that he’d feature a strict nine man rotation during the season. In Clifford’s eyes, an NBA player needs at least twenty minutes a night in order to get into any kind of rhythm.

This will be a challenge. Unlike so many Bobcat teams of years past, this seasons’ Hornets roster is stacked with talent and a few high quality players will find themselves hoarding DNP-CDs. Injuries, matchups and merit will likely keep the cast in flux but I fully expect Clifford to stick to his word and get nine guys real minutes each game.


Absent serious injury or any more #TraderCho activity, look for Charlotte to open the season with following starters:

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Nic Batum
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford’s mantra of starting games with an emphasis on defense while ending them with an emphasis on offense gives Cody the easy edge over rook Frank Kaminsky. Even if Frank gets up to speed with pro defense during camp, Cody’s abilities as a mobile defender next to Al makes him a better fit to start.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Aside from the usual Kemba step-backs and Big Al post-ups, expect a steady diet of pick & pops with Batum and the two bigs. Nic ran a ton of them with LaMarcus Aldridge back in Portland and Big Al & Cody have dependable range out to around eighteen feet. Zeller and MKG will anchor the defense and look to exploit any extra attention given to Jefferson and Walker.

First Substitution: Mid 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Frank Kaminsky
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford traditionally rests two of his starters halfway through the 1st in order to bring them back at the begining of the 2nd to play with the reserves. In years past Josh McRoberts and Gerald Henderson would sit for guys like Cody and Gary Neal. This year we’ll likely see Zeller and Batum get a rest with Lin and Frank making early appearances.

LINEUP STRATEGY: J-Lin replaces Batum and makes certain the playmaking onus is never on Kemba entirely. Expect to see a steady dose of Big Al posts ups and a pick & roll/pick & pop bonanza with Lin and Kemba exploiting open lanes for drives.

Second Substitution: Late 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Jeremy Lamb
  • PF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • C: Frank Kaminsky

Clifford’s goal of playing Jefferson around 30-32 minutes per game should come to fruition this year and sliding MKG over to the four for a brief stretch is a nice enticement.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Depending on how Kidd-Gilchrist’s 3PT shot has developed, this lineup will either be a 4 out or a 5 out – a deep shooting rarity given the Queen City’s recent past. Expect this unit to play at a much faster pace with Frank spotting up for trailing threes at the top of the arc.

Third Substitution: Beginning of the 2nd Quarter

  • PG: Jeremy Lin
  • SG: Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: Nic Batum
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Spencer Hawes

Batum and Zeller check back in early and play most of, if not all of, the 2nd quarter. We get our first look at Hawes as yet another floor stretching big who can make plays.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Expect every possession to run through Batum, Lin or Hawes. Lamb thrived in OKC as a spot up release guy who didn’t have to rely on his handle. Cody should see plenty of rim-diving opportunities off Batum and Lin PnR’s.

Fourth Substitution: Mid-Late 2nd Quarter

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nic Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Frank Kaminsky
C: Al Jefferson

Clifford will slowly trickle back in the other starters towards the end of the quarter. Cody gets a rest swapping out for a floor spacing Frank.

LINEUP STRATEGY: A version of the starting five skewed for offense and floor spacing.

In this scenario, the Second Half substitutions play out in roughly the same sequence with Clifford riding hot hands deep into the 4th quarter.

240 Minutes of Action

There are 5 positions on the floor that need to be filled over 48 minutes for a total of 240 minutes per regulation game. If Clifford opts for a strategy similar to the above, we’re looking at an approximate minutes breakdown of:

  • Kemba: 34mpg
  • Batum: 34mpg
  • MKG: 30mpg
  • Cody: 28mpg
  • Big Al: 30mpg
  • J-Lin: 28mpg
  • Frank: 20mpg
  • Lamb: 18mpg
  • Hawes: 18mpg

Hawes and Lamb fall just a bit short of the 20 minute mark but of course that could change depending upon the matchup or individual performance.

The Expendables

The Hornets currently feature sixteen players on the roster. Two of the those players (Aaron Harrison and Elliot Williams) are signed to non-guaranteed deals and can be released at any time. A strict nine man rotation means that six or seven guys either sit or are inactive every night.

Brian Roberts

At risk of losing his roster spot to Aaron Harrison as the team’s third PG. Don’t be surprised if his expiring contract is traded to a team in need of PG depth before the start of the season.

Marvin Williams

Expect Marvin to be used in small ball matchups against bullying wings (Paul Pierce, Jabari Parker, Jared Dudley) as an alternative to Hawes.

Tyler Hansbrough

This year’s Jeff Adrien/Jason Maxiell. Psycho T (yes, I know he hates that name) will steal minutes from any big Clifford thinks isn’t being physical enough (you hear that, Frank and Cody?).

P.J. Hairston

Coming off a very disappointing rookie season and Summer League. P.J. was billed as a shooter but can’t seem to shoot. He’s another off-the-court incident away from joining Sean May and Jeff McInnis under the Tobacco Road overpass.

Troy Daniels

A nice Summer League surprise, Troy may get some burn as a bench scorer if Lamb and Hairston struggle with their shots.

Aaron Harrison

We should know by the end of camp just how serious a prospect Harrison really is. If he can build on his excellent Summer League, Brian Roberts may be out of a job. That said, Harrison won’t see court time unless one of Kemba/J-Lin goes down.

Elliot Williams

Not guaranteed to make the team.


Hornets 2015 Offseason Preview | Part Two


The Lottery is over and we now know the Hornets will own (or at least temporarily own) the ninth overall selection in a very solid 2015 Draft. But before I jump into what the Hornets should do with that pick, we need to do a little free agent housekeeping.

Part II: The Free Agents – Will They Stay or Will They Go?

The Hornets have just about every type of free agent on the roster and each of these players will influence the team’s strategy heading into June’s Draft and beyond.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

These are the straight-forward, vanilla variety free agents. Guys who played for Charlotte last season and whose contracts runs out in July.

  • Mo Williams
  • Jason Maxiell

The big questions start with Mo Williams – professional NBA journeyman – who joined the Hornets midseason (his seventh team in fourteen eleven seasons) and kept them competitive once Kemba Walker went down with a knee injury. Even after Mo cooled off late in the season, Williams’ shooting and pick and roll/pop abilities were real assets on a team lacking both.

In many ways, Mo’s game represents Kemba Walker’s best case scenario long-term: an above average, volume scoring point with enough distribution skills to run a team alongside a point-forward. It’s no coincidence that Mo’s best season came playing next to Lebron on the ‘09 Cavs.

Williams has close ties to fellow Mississipian Al Jefferson and has gone on record saying that he’d love to be back – but will the Hornets bring him back? Money shouldn’t be an issue – Williams will be 33 next season and is far from a franchise cornerstone. Anything around $3m per is reasonable. There are a couple of issues however:

  1. Charlotte already has $2.8m committed to fellow backup PG Brian Roberts next season and
  2. may decide to move on from yet another head-down iso player.

In fairness to Mo, he’s the least ball “poundy” of the Lance/Gerald/Kemba/Big Al crew – but if the front office decides to go in another direction with their lead guards either in free agency, trades or the draft (Cameron Payne?) – Mo may be the odd man out. That said, my gut tells me Mo wears teal again next season; Roberts’ contract is easily movable and the Hornets will likely end up drafting a wing.

As much as Coach Steve Clifford enjoyed Maxiell’s veteran presence last season as the rotation’s fourth big, there would be a guaranteed fan mutiny if Jason is brought back – simply because his mere presence would tempt Clifford to play him over Noah Vonleh. The front office, who’ve invested heavily in Noah, likely feels the same.

Potential Free Agents:

The Hornets have two veteran starters with player options for next season: opt-in and these guys play out their final contract year as Hornets, opt-out and they either re-sign new deals with the team or move on.

  • Al Jefferson
  • Gerald Henderson

How quickly things change. A year ago, Big Al Jefferson was a third team All-NBA center and a franchise building block who led Charlotte to its first winning season and Playoff birth in ages. But Al never fully recovered from the effects of the plantar fascia injury he suffered in last year’s sweep against the Heat. He arrived at camp out of shape and it all went downhill from there.

It wasn’t exclusively Big Al’s fault. Josh McRoberts’ departure created all kinds of spacing and post entry problems. Jefferson struggled to stay upright and effective all season and you could literally see it on his face. The guy was legitimately scowling and grimacing for 65 games – sometimes out of pain, sometimes at his own teammates. With little shooting or ball movement in the halfcourt, opposing defenses keyed in on Al knowing that he was Charlotte’s only legitimate weapon. It worked.

Jefferson has gone on record saying that he’ll opt-in and play the free agency game again when the cap skyrockets in 2016. That’s good news as it’ll be even more motivation for the 30 year old to drop some weight before November. If he does, we could see the return of the franchise cornerstone. If not, happy trails.

Hendo had the quintessential Gerald Henderson season: he played hard on D, he hit lots of mid-range jumpers, he made great cuts and threw down some ridiculous dunks. He also showcased a much more frequent corner three (the release is slowish and he doesn’t take enough of them but it’s still great to see). He’s always been a professional. The team had him riding the pine behind Lance Stephenson for nearly two months and Hendo said nary a word. He’s a lunch pail two guard who is sorely under-appreciated by the local fanbase – mainly because his weaknesses (distance shooting, ball-handling, head-down iso drives/post-ups) have also been the team’s.

Gerald turns 28 next season and his game is HIGHLY dependent on his athleticism. While other types of players his age could choose to wait for a bigger pay day in 2016, Hendo may survey the scene, see a weak free agent class and say, “screw it.” Wes Matthews’ unfortunate injury literally cost him tens of millions of dollars this summer. Gerald has always been both smart and practical. I could see him opting out and signing a nice sized deal with the Clippers, Knicks or Lakers.

Doing so would free up around $6 million for the Hornets to play with. That by itself won’t buy much – but if the Hornets combine the number with, say, a strategic cut (COUGH*LANCE*COUGH) – they may have just enough cash to offer a proper “3&D” shooting guard real money on the open market.

Restricted Free Agents:

These are guys coming off the last year of their rookie deals. They are free to negotiate with any team and Charlotte has the right to match any offer.

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Jeff Taylor

Let’s start with Taylor – and oh man, where do we start? JT is like a TV pro hoops character come to life. Meaning, he LOOKS like the prototypical NBA player but he’s not really all that good in real life. There’s lots of drama though. Tragedy in the form of his ill-timed achilles tear in 2014 and scandal in the form of his weird Detroit-based domestic violence incident that (thankfully) turned out to be more stupid than violent.

Aside from being a very solid on-ball defender, there’s really nothing to recommend here. Taylor was billed as a 3&D guy coming out of Vanderbilt but his shooting numbers (32% from 3PT, 41% from 2PT) are Kemba-like. JT turns 26 next month and we still have no idea how his game will transition post-achilles long term. His $1.2m qualifying offer is basically league minimum and I could see Charlotte picking it up to give him one last shot at putting everything together. I could also see the team moving on from a fringe rotation player who made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The real fun starts with Biz. Want to start an internet flame war? Get stat-geeks and casual fans talking about Biyombo’s merits as an NBA player. I understand both sides. The naked eye suggests that Biz should be nowhere near a professional basketball game. Four years into his career and he still has no idea what to do with the ball on offense unless it’s a dive to the rim for a dunk or an uncontested putback.

Biyombo will force moves in the post that will make you laugh/cry/laugh with regularity. These forced moves are universally proceeded by an offensive rebound because there’s no way in hell a teammate is going to feed Biz with a post look; thus beginning a viscious cycle (“this is my only chance to show people my stuff!!! I don’t care if Dwight Howard is standing right over me!!!”).

The real hoops smarties out there like Grantland’s Zach Lowe, At The Hive’s Frank Berndt/Bryan Mears and the Baseline’s own Bradford Coombs can paint Biz’s positives way better than I can. All I’ll say is that defensively, Biz is a legitimate game changer. He’s strong. He goes hard and he covers a ridiculous amount of territory for a center. Most importantly, he makes the paint a less friendly place for opponents. I don’t know if Biz will ever make the rotation of a legitimately good team but it could be possible in the right role.

Speaking of which, unless the Hornets draft another center (Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Willy Trilly Cauliflower Wonka), I’m fairly confident that they aim to bring Biz back on a second deal. That could change if another team jumps in with a real offer. There will be teams with rim protection problems that lose out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency. And if Roy Hibbert stays in Indy, a metrics-savvy, ballsy exec may say “screw it” and hand Biz $25-30 million. To the casual fan, this sounds crazy – I know. But getting a guy who can make up for the Damian Lillards’ and the Monta Ellis’s of the world is a real thing nowadays. Biz may end up getting paid.

State of the Roster

Making the proceeding free agent moves (and unloading Brian Roberts’ contract) would leave the Hornets with 11 filled roster spots minus any draft picks.

  • Point Guards: Kemba Walker, Mo Williams
  • Shooting Guards: Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels
  • Small Forwards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams
  • Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh
  • Centers: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo

There’s an obvious hole at the wings – which is why it’s the position the team is most likely to fill via June’s Draft and/or via run at shooter in free agency. More on those options coming up in Part III…


A Disruptive Force



Big Al Jefferson. He is a plodding, slow-to-react defensive liability. He hesitates to pass out of doubles. His mere presence throws the games’ pace back to the mid–90’s. And he’s by far the Hornets’ most important player.

This is not up for debate. Why? Because the other team actually has to scheme for him. He’s Disruptive with a capital D. There is literally no other player on Charlotte’s roster who inspires this sort of effort from an opponent. As young and promising as some of the Hornets’ prospects are, no player outside of maybe (fingers crossed) Noah Vonleh will ever put this type of pressure on a defense. It’s a simple fact.

Complementary Players Everywhere

We all love Kemba Walker. He’s the definition of gritty & tough but his style of play inspires little fear in the opponent. He can’t consistently kill you in the paint – either on the dish or the drive – and he’s at best a mediocre three point shooter. Walker does most of his damage on iso fall-away two’s and the occasional spotup three. In fact, it’s better for an opponent if he’s hitting those shots because he’ll get tunnel vision. “Please, play the poor man’s Iverson game,” opponents beg. It’s pretty low efficiency stuff and easy to defend. Remember that Gerald Henderson and Kemba ran this type of show together back in 2012–2013 as a “promising young backcourt” that averaged a combined 32.5 points per contest and won 21 games all season.

Opposing teams will live with guys like Kemba, Gerald and Gary Neal going for a team high 28. Keep them outside of the lane and you’re good. None of the Hornets’ complementary scorers are exceptional three point shooters and none of them can force their ways to the bucket. Rudimentary pro defense can stop that. But a healthy, engaged Big Al is dangerous. He will get your bigs in foul trouble with pumps and fakes on the low block. He will command double teams. He will hit sixty percent of his shots from the low block. If he goes for 30, the Hornets have a legitimate shot of beating a good team. Opponents have to stop him.

Disruptors Disrupt

Big Al is a prime example of why this league is all about Disruptors: Guys who do things opposing defenses don’t want or aren’t prepared for them to do. There are many Disruptors out there and most of them are superstars: Lebron, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker. But there’s also guys like Kyle Lowry, Big Al and Kyle Korver. Players who specialize in dominating either of the two zones modern NBA defenses are setup to protect at all costs: the rim and the three point arc. Check out the following shot charts:

BigAlSC14 HardenSC KorverSC LowrySC

Now check out Kemba and Gerald:

GeraldSC KembaSC

Sure, Gerald hits a high percentage once he actually gets inside but because he can’t shoot, the defense sags off and prevents the push into the lane. Same goes for Kemba’s poor numbers. Even with his improved three point percentage in December, teams are hardly running Walker off the line. And once Kemba gets into the paint, a good defensive opponent will live with sub-50% finishing at the rim. The ugly truth is that none of the Hornets secondary “threats” are worth losing sleep over defensively.

Build Around the Disruptor

Both Atlanta and Toronto have played it smart. Even though their Disruptors are minor stars, they’ve built entire systems and rosters around maximizing their Disruptors’ advantages. Atlanta has emphasized crazy offensive rotations and ball movement to free up all of the other shooters around Korver. The Hawks have added size, length and toughness inside, at the wing and at the point of attack to neutralize Korver’s average abilities at the other end. Lowry is a bowling ball that wreaks havoc in the paint and he’s upgraded his ability to find shooters on the dish. The Raps have also surrounded Lowry with long, organized defenders and big, rangy backcourt mates who’ve now been together as a group for nearly three seasons.

If the Hornets are going to build around Big Al’s Disruptive force, they’ll need to go back to the three keys that made his game so effective last season:

  1. Get Al quality looks. Find ball-movers and passers either at the four or on the perimeter who can shift the defense and get Al easy entry looks. Josh McRoberts worked that very role to perfection last season and the Hornets ended up replacing him with a spot-up defensive-liability (Marvin Williams) and a ball-dominant iso player who can’t shoot (Lance Stephenson). With those moves, the Hornets’ front office literally did what few teams could do last season: completely neutralize Big Al.
  2. Give Al space to work. If the entire defense is focused on both stopping Big Al in the paint AND stopping any Charlotte defender from getting into the lane – guess where the entire defense is going to be hanging? You guessed it. McRoberts brought deep shooting that the new starting PF, Cody Zeller, doesn’t have. Lance, Gerald and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scare NO ONE from deep. Gary Neal, Kemba, Brian Roberts and Marvin either take too long to shoot or are so inconsistent that you’ll live with giving them open looks. P.J. Hairston is the team’s only hope as a pure shooter and he’s currently hitting 29% from downtown. The Hornets’ front office has done a tremendously poor job at opening up space for Al to work with. Names like Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow and Evan Fournier were out on the market last summer and Charlotte either passed or didn’t get involved. That can’t happen in today’s modern NBA – Big Al or no. One can only imagine how much wing shooting would improve Kemba’s drive and dish game going forward.
  3. Give Al a frontcourt mate who can defend. Cody gets pushed around regularly. Vonleh isn’t ready. Marvin is a liability. McRoberts played big last season and helped erase some of Jefferson’s defensive shortcomings. The front office needs to find a stout defensive presence at PF who can complement Big Al – at least until Vonleh is ready. They had one and let him walk.

Building Around Big Al is Dumb (Wait, Wha-?!)

This is the point where you say “Al Jefferson is old and is limited, why build around a guy like that?” First of all, he just turned 30. Second, he’s logged under 23,000 career minutes. Keep in mind that Lebron is the same age and just crossed 40,000 (which doesn’t include stints playing for Team USA).

More importantly, if the Hornets don’t build around Jefferson, who will they build around? Kemba? We’ve already covered that topic. He’s at best a complementary semi-star. MKG? Again, a nice glue guy but he’ll never force an oppenent to alter their scheme. Cody? Too passive and is a terrible finisher at the rim. Complementary role player.

Outside of Big Al, the Hornets have exactly three shots at finding another Disruptor over the foreseeable future:

  1. Win this season’s Lottery and select Jahlil Okafor. It may take another three seasons but he projects as a major Disruptive force in the middle.
  2. Vonleh realizes his potential. He’s a 6’9”–6’10” PF with a strong lower body, crazy wingspan and giant hands who handles the ball like a small forward and has a natural three point stroke. He’s also 19 and has at least another season and half to go before he’s ready to impact a meaningful NBA game. And there’s always the chance that both Noah and Okafor could bust out of the league entirely – as longtime Charlotte hoops fans know, there are no guarantees with prospects.
  3. Lure a big-name free agent superstar. I’m not talking Lance or even Gordon Hayward. I mean a real deal, legit, functioning NBA superstar. The only one I can imagine taking the Hornets money in the foreseeable future is Steph Curry – and that won’t happen until July of 2017 (if ever at all).


So this is where we are in 2015 with this Hornets team. Like it or not, Charlotte’s fortunes are tied to Big Al. And if they want to take advantage of his prime, they need to get everyone on the same page (coaching, front office and ownership) and do something about it now.



Five and Fifteen


The Problem with Charlotte’s Roster Explained in Six Easy Steps:

1. The team’s biggest offensive threat – BY A COUNTRY MILE – is Big Al Jefferson. How do I know this? Because every time he gets the ball close to his kill spots (low block) the opposing defense bails on the other four guys to collapse on him. They know he’s a legitimate threat to score the ball on every posession. The message is obvious: stop Jefferson and let one of their other guys beat you.

2. The easiest way to punish a defense for triple teaming your best guy is to punish them with open three point shooters. The problem is, as it was last year, Charlotte doesn’t have those types of shooters. Y’know, quick release, dead-eyed long ballers who don’t need to dribble ten times or execute a couple of head fakes before launching a (by now) contested shot.

3. The few guys the Hornets do have who can shoot deep and quick are turnstiles on defense. A lineup of Big Al, Marvin Williams, P.J. Hairston, Gary Neal and Brian Roberts could cure the spacing issues in an instant but then give up a billion points at the other end.

4. After ascending into the league’s Top 10 defenses last season, Steve Clifford’s squad has slipped back into the Bottom 10 thus far this season. The team’s best defensive center, Bismack Biyombo, is barely functional on offense outside of a new-found dive game. The best wing defenders have either been injured (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) or suspended (Jeff Taylor) and while Taylor has shown promise as a ‘three and D’ guy, neither he nor MKG could be mistaken for an offensive terror.

5. The team has major investments – either financial, thru draft status or both – in three other players (Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller) who are neither great long distance threats nor high-end defenders. Kemba is an (at times) very good off the dribble scoring threat who can hit from deep just enough to force the defense to account for him but he’s small, can’t fight over screens and owns an overall shaky jumper. Cody Zeller’s eighteen-footer has come a long way from last season’s abominable percentages. He’s shooting around 40% from outside the paint and the form looks pure. The problem is that the shot is neither fast enough nor far enough to really stretch a defense. Josh McRoberts’ release had a methodical wind-up but the fact that he was several feet back gave Big Al more time and space to make a move. Zeller’s made progress on defense but is still out-muscled down low and struggles on the perimeter guarding stretch fours. And then there’s Lance…

6. Stephenson has been an all around disaster. As a shooter, he’s 7-42 from beyond the arc (16.7%) and 32.7% from outside the paint. Keep in mind that the guy he was supposed to be an upgrade from (Gerald Henderson – never confused with Kyle Korver) has gone 30% and 46% from those same spots. Also, Lance may put up a beefy stat line but most of his rebounds are of the “gimme” variety – defensive boards grabbed out of the hands of a teammate with nary an opponent in sight. “Born Ready’s” 5.4 assists per game come at the price of 2.6 (often egregious and unnecessary) turnovers per and any on-ball defensive benefits are easily out-weighed by his loss of focus off the ball. In short, Lance is good at things the Hornets don’t need and he’s bad at all the things the Hornets do need.

What to do about it

The obvious conclusion is to either trade Lance – who is still young, talented and on a no-risk value contract – OR trade peripheral pieces plus an asset or two (2015 1st Round pick, Noah Vonleh, Zeller) for a two-way, tough-defending three point threats.

The problem is that shooting is extremely valuable in today’s NBA. And guy’s who can make you pay from deep while hounding their man at the other end don’t grow on trees. Take a look at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings: Orlando, Boston, New York, Indiana, Charlotte, Detroit and Philly. Aside from the Knicks and the surprising Magic, every single one of those squads rank in the bottom third of the league’s top distance shooting teams (Charlotte ranks 29th). The entire league is on the lookout for the same guys which explains why Klay Thompson is a max player and why Danny Green may get eight figures per next summer.

This is where Cho’s magical ability to find Bargain Bin Ballers needs to come into play. Finding the next Chris-Douglas Roberts, Anthony Tolliver, McRoberts, etc – is the best way to shore up the team’s weaknesses without mortgaging any of the future. Obviously, the team made a huge mistake not re-signing McRoberts in the first place and while I’d love to see the team make a move to bring him back from Miami, Heat President Pat Riley has absolutely ZERO incentive to empower a division rival. My guess is that they would only trade McRoberts in a package for either Zeller, Vonleh or a first rounder. That’s a tremendously steep price for a guy you could’ve just re-signed five months ago.

The Knicks are a natural landing spot for Lance but what do they have to trade back? Tim Hardaway has a fantastic stroke but would add yet another one-way player to the Hornets’ roster. Iman Shumpert is likely a downgrade from Gerald Henderson. The Nuggets could be convinced of Lance/Arron Afflalo swap. Something like that is the best case scenario if the organization wants to steer clear of the asset carpet-bombing days of Larry Brown and Rod Higgins.

That previous era’s lack of patience and long-term roster construction lies at the heart of the Charlotte’s current crisis: Ensure competitiveness in the re-brand year or take the PR hit today and keeping adding assets. It’s a huge question that doesn’t have an obvious answer. One good, costly trade could elevate the team today and push them into the thick of the East’s Playoff picture come April. The city would buzz and the Hornets would be relevant. But if that kind of trade were to backfire…well, all I can say is Google the phrase “2011 Bobcats”.


Baseline Buzz Hornets Season Preview 2014-2015



FIFTEEN FOR FIFTEEN! Baseliner’s Dr. E, Bradford Coombs and A.S. Chin answer fifteen burning questions as we head into the neo-Hornets era:

1. The season is just hours away. We’ve been through the Draft hype, the Free Agency hype and now the Preseason hype. What are you most excited to see from these neo-Hornets?

Bradford: Without question it’s MKG for me. I expect incremental improvement from his jump shot and think it’s still a couple years away from being a reliable weapon. But anyone who has seen the preseason has noticed the aggressiveness that has come with his newfound confidence on offense. I think the improvement everyone expected from year 1 to year 2 is going to manifest itself in year 3. I’m probably too old to be buying jerseys, but I might need an MKG jersey.

Dr.E: Two things: A) MKG taking a step forward to become a more confident offensive player and B) How Lance Stephenson fits in. From a strictly basketball point, some of Hendo’s minutes going to Lance should be a good thing — all those fadeaway long twos Hendo had to take at the end of the shot clock when the first option on offense had been stifled? Many of those are going to be Lance drives to the basket now. But the chemistry thing is what I’m more interested to see — I still worry that Lance was a big part of the Pacers undoing last year.

ASChin: The Cho Show. It was the least hyped event of the Hornets offseason yet MJ’s decision to dump Rod Higgins in order to let Rich Cho run the basketball side solo could turn out to be the organization’s best move. Higgins track record was horrendous and while Cho hasn’t been perfect (drafting Biz over Klay/Kawhi/Faried/Vucevic), he’s been way more successful and consistent in his transactions than Cory’s father ever was. Hornets fans haven’t had a legit GM running the show since Bob Bass skipped town over a decade ago. This could be the start of something good.

2. The Hornets starting PF at the end of the year is…?

Bradford: Marvin Williams will start, but Cody Zeller will be a better player and have the better year. Vonleh will barely see the court. I love Cody’s playmaking in the preseason. He’s driving and kicking to the plethora of shooters in the second unit. Williams has the better shooting range, which the starters desperately need.

Dr.E: I’ll go chalk here and say Marvin Williams. I know he’s had a quiet preseason, but he’s a reliable vet who’s learning a new system — he’ll be fine.

ASChin: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Charlotte is the only team in the league that has a ‘Cody’ backing up a ‘Marvin’. Also, I’m gonna go out on a longer limb and say that Cody is the starter by Playoff time. The mid-range release has looked faster during the preseason and he looks more confident shooting it. Zeller’s playmaking isn’t as flashy as McRoberts’ but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as effective. Cody makes smart basketball plays and goes hard for contested boards. He looks stronger too. A little bit more consistency and he might be too good to keep on the pine.

3. True or False: Rich Cho purposefully timed Lance’s final year (team option) with Gordon Hayward’s player option.

Bradford: True. But mostly for fun. Utah’s cap sheet is going to get interesting quickly having made so many draft picks so quickly. And if you’ve been watching Hayward whipping cross-court passes out of the pick-and-roll you can see what Cho liked. It’s pretty interesting that he was able to get such a team friendly deal with Stephenson. I can’t be the only one who thought, “They meant player option, right?” when I saw the headline.

Dr.E: I think it’s safe to say that both sides (Lance and the Hornets) wanted the contract to be on the short side. Lance knew he cost himself some money with his antics last season, and wanted to bet on himself with a shorter contract that expires when the salary cap will be significantly higher. The Hornets want future flexibility in general, as much for Steph Curry as Gordon Hayward probably.

ASChin: True. As the Baseline’s resident conspiracy theorist, I’m gonna say that Cho knew exactly what sort of deal Lance would agree to and poison-pilled Hayward’s contract in advance to give them another playmaking wing option should Stephenson bolt in a few seasons. The team made a HUGE impression on Gordon apparently – sending a crack team of investigators to uncover Hayward’s favorite refined sugar product and real-time strategy game. Don’t be shocked if Gordon’s wearing teal next to Steph Cur- *COUGH* Kemba Walker in a few years.

4. MKG will finish the regular season with the following stats:

Bradford: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block in 28 minutes per game. I think MKG plays closer to 30 minutes this year and all non-scoring stats increase proportionately. For scoring I used his pre-season usage rate and multiplied that by small increases in shooting and free-throw percentages. These numbers may seem modest considering my previously stated expectations, but the increased usage and efficiency are big deals in my mind despite the raw numbers not being overwhelming.

Dr.E: 11ppg, 7rpg, and a 15.0 PER in 27 minutes/game.

ASChin: Dr.E and I can’t compete with Bradford’s understanding of math. 12.5ppg, 7rpg, 1apg, 1.5spg, 1bpg AKA “The Young Gerald Wallace” line.

5. Most likely Hornet to be traded before the Deadline is…?

Bradford: Henderson is the easy answer. I’m going with Bismack Bye-ombo (see what I did there?). I’ve been really loyal to Biz, all the way up until the preseason where it’s just been the same old things. A good rim protector who struggles with defensive positioning beyond standing at the rim and waiting, with nothing to bring to the table offensively. You can’t even throw lobs or hit him as a roll-man let alone post him up. I could go out on a real limb and say PJ Hairston is going to come on strong and Biz will be packaged with Gary Neal at the deadline to fill out a contender’s roster, or Sacramento’s overly exuberant ownership.

Dr.E: It’s less likely now with Jeff Taylor no longer around, but I’ll still say Gerald Henderson. Dark horse would be Cody Zeller or Noah Vonleh if some big trade became available.

ASChin: Trader Cho has lots to work with heading into the Deadline. IF the team believes that both Cody and Vonleh are and always will be power forwards then one has to go, right? Before Taylor’s meltdown, I swore Hendo was the odd man out. Now the team desperately needs another athletic wing who can defend off the pine. Biz isn’t worth anything close to his upcoming qualifying offer or cap hold but he’s worth more to Charlotte now as a backup big than the 2nd Round pick he’d return. I’m going with Gary Neal.

6. Will Al Jefferson finally make the All-Star team?

Bradford: Sadly, no. I think you’ll see some combination of Bosh/Noah/Horford. If he does it will be due to Noah’s foot or Horford’s pectoral muscle.

Dr.E: As long as he doesn’t have a slow start, yes.

ASChin: If Charlotte is over .500 by the time the coaches vote, they’ll have to send a representative. YES.

7. The biggest dropoff from last season will be…?

Bradford: This one is pretty obvious when you think about it. It’s protecting the ball. Charlotte’s turnover ratio was tops in the league last season by a healthy margin. Lance Stephenson had a higher turnover ratio than anybody on the team last year.

Dr.E: I’m a little worried about regression for Big Al.

ASChin: Behind the back passes. Oh, how I grieve for you McBob…

8. The biggest improvement from last season will be…?

Bradford: Shooting, shooting, shooting. All credit to CDR and Anthony Tolliver for their efforts last year, but a full season of Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, PJ Hairston, Marvin Williams, Lance Stephenson… They shouldn’t be 23rd in 3 point percentage next year.

Dr.E: Hoping it’s MKG, but seeming more likely it’s Gary Neal, with the weight loss in the offseason and a full preseason in Clifford’s system.

ASChin: One more vote for shooting. The Bobcats were a very poor shooting team before the Break last season. Two of that team’s three point weapons, CDR (51) and McRoberts (105), DEMOLISHED their career highs in three pointers made – notching nearly two-thirds more makes than their cumulative previous career totals. Tolliver’s 105 makes will be missed but so many of his threes came in bunches early and he mostly sat once Douglas-Roberts proved a better defending option at SF. Marvin (84 threes in 66 games), Roberts (66), Lance (86), Neal and P.J. Hairston will more than make up for the departed. Each one of those guys has faster strokes and, outside of Lance, rarely hesitate to launch one. The big key to the Hornets becoming a very good shooting team is Kemba – he should get more spot up opportunities this year playing off of Lance.

9. Will Noah Vonleh log any meaningful minutes in his rookie season?

Bradford: Nope.

Dr.E: Clifford has already pretty much said no for the first half of the season, and if the Hornets are in the thick of the playoff race, might not be many minutes in the second half either.

ASChin: Not likely. I’ve been using Portland-era Jermaine O’Neal as a comp. He’ll sit as a youngster on a good team and learn valuable lessons behind vets who are trying to win now.

10. More likely to make an appearance at the TWC the season: Jeff Taylor or Rufus Lynx?

Bradford: My first inclination is to say Rufus. But if Taylor was going to get cut, why wait? He’s nothing more than insurance on the wing with no real future with the franchise (sorry JT fans). The team has to know more about the situation than has been publicly released. I don’t know if we’ll see him get minutes in an actual game, but I think you’ll be able to catch him chilling on the bench at some point.

Dr.E: Neither.

ASChin: Rufus and his friends Primoz Brezec and Melvin Ely will crash the Hornets opener wearing black B.W.O. t-shirts. OHMYGAWD IT’S A BOBCATS WORLD ORDER!!!

11.  Worst move of the offseason: Letting McRoberts walk for the mid-level OR Paying Marvin Williams $7 million per season?

Bradford: I’m going to say Marvin Williams at $7 million fully guaranteed. Some sort of team option or partial guarantee on year 2 would have made sense with such a high number. It’s not a crippling move, but it’s not very flexible either.
As for McRoberts, last year was a career year that I don’t think he’ll match again. It was a right place, right time kind of situation. The 3 point shooting probably won’t hold up. And even though he hit 3’s at a decent clip, teams still didn’t respect it according to SportsVU’s gravity measurements as discussed here  (Insider Only). The more interesting angle on McRoberts is which decision was worse, Cho not re-signing him or McRoberts choosing to leave?

Dr.E: Letting McRoberts walk for sure. If the Hornets don’t get off to a good start, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will be because McBob isn’t on the floor holding things together.

ASChin: McRoberts was set to become this generation’s Gminski, a bearded Dookie who played the game the only way a six-ten Jesus could: with style and grace; turning Lebron’s other cheek into his other elbow. Why Cho? WHY???!!!

12. The Hornets finish the season with a record of…?

Bradford: I’m sticking with my non-stats based 45-37 prediction from the summer.

Dr.E: 47-35.

ASChin: 50-32. The first time a Charlotte NBA team has notched fifty since 1998.

13. True or False: The Hornets will win a Playoff game this season.

Bradford: True. Not only will they win a playoff game this season, they’ll win a playoff series.

Dr.E: True.

ASChin: They’ll get to the Mike Woodson Invitational AKA The Second Round.

14. What does Kemba’s contract extension look like?

Bradford: 4 years, $50 million with a player option on the fourth year.

Dr.E: It’s really hard to say without knowing more details about how and how much the salary cap is going to go up over the next few years right?  I guess in the 10-11 million per range?

ASChin: Cap uncertainty is a major issue but Cho’s greatest strength has been contract negotiation. I’m gonna say it’s 4yrs, $48m with a team option after year three – timing it perfectly with a famous Charlottean’s free agency.

15. Unsung Hero: Which under the radar Hornet makes the biggest contribution this season?

Bradford: As a bit of a fanboy I want to say Brian Roberts, and I love his signing, but I’m going to go with Gerald Henderson. He’s the forgotten man and there are legitimate concerns about his fit with the team going forward. But I think he becomes an essential glue guy. He’s been overextended since he escaped the shackles of Larry Brown. He never should have been a first, second, or even third option on offense. He has an opportunity to redefine his career as a spot-up shooter and cutter who never handles the ball and puts most of his energy into defense. You know who else couldn’t shoot for the life of him until all he had to do was stand there, catch, and shoot? Thabo Sefalosha. Steve Clifford loves defensive versatility and Hendo is strong enough and athletic enough to defend multiple positions. An obvious trade target, and I’m not saying he won’t be, but Hendo is going to play a big role on this team. It’s all up to him to take on this new challenge and I think he’ll have a great year.

Dr.E: Gary Neal.

ASChin: Tyrus Thomas. MJ is gonna cringe every time he sends out a cut of the $9 million amnesty the team still owes T-Time. Every time Dougie McBuckets nails a three (Chicago acquired McDermott by packaging the Bobcats first rounder from the Thomas trade), MJ is going to curse the names of Larry Brown and Rod Higgins. The Tyrus and Tyson Chandler deals cemented Jordan’s status as a poor basketball mind five years ago. He’ll use these memories like he used getting cut from his high school basketball team. As the Waterboy would say, “Tacklin’ Fuel”. The Hornets will win a title in the next decade.

Bonus Predictions from Bradford:

  • Kemba shoots 45% from the field.
  • Cody Zeller averages 3+ assists per game.
  • PJ Hairston scores 30 in a game at some point.
  • Charlotte ranks in the top half of the league in attendance.
  • Lance Stephenson has less than 10 technical fouls all season.

Welcome Back Hornets Fans


November 1988. I was right there with you. Eleven years old, I had just started getting into hoops a couple of years prior. The speed and the skill fascinated me. The Celtics fascinated me. Kevin McHale’s armpit hair fascinated me. If I had that much pit-hair, I absolutely would not play with my elbows that high. Kareem fascinated me. He fought Bruce Lee in Game of Death and trained with him in the offseason. That’s all a half-Asian/half-redneck kid needed to know. These were some cool dudes.

Then the Hornets showed up. The concept of “expansion” didn’t really hit me back then. I was in the sixth grade – nearly everything is expansion when you’re that age. Did you know that people in France eat snails? Expansion. Did you know there was a state called New Mexico? Expansion. Did you know that girls weren’t in fact “icky”? Expansion.

The Charlotte Hornets were bad that season. Not Michael Jackson BAD. Not Color Me Badd. They were Paula Abdul Straight Up now tell me bad. Still, there was an endearing circus quality about the team. Their best scorers were Kelly Tripucka and Robert Reid; each rocking a non-discriminatory tight curl perm-fro. Rex Chapman, the team’s star draft pick, was a twenty year old kid from Appalachia whose rare mullet/rattail combo never caught on outside of Kentucky. The team’s best known player was a nerd in horn-rimmed glasses named Kurt Rambis who dominated the Bojangles Hustle Stats. Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues was a point guard shorter than a few of the kids in my sixth grade class. Rounding out the roster were a stack of random create-a-player fodder that you would’ve been pissed to find in your pack of Fleer ’88-89’s if you happened to live outside of Mecklenburg County. Whatever. They were our guys.

The entire Charlotte area expanded like crazy back in the 80s and 90s. People arrived from upstate New York, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Looking for a better life with clean, safe streets, cheaper housing and something called sunshine. A symbol of the region’s growth and status, the Hornets united Charlotteans new and old.

Within weeks of the Hornet’s inaugural home opener my brother and I were playing our first organized hoops game for Long Creek Elementary in Huntersville, channeling our inner Curetons, our inner Kemptons and Rowsoms. We eventually took that show to Iredell County and then across the border to Fort Mill, channeling our inner LJ’s, Zo’s and DC’s for three. Our household was unstable growing up. We moved around a lot. Our parents divorced. Our dad moved back to Asia and before long our mother had re-married. There was however one constant: The Charlotte Hornets.

LJ-retro-01Come to think of it, the Hornets might’ve been one of the few things we truly enjoyed together as a family. We didn’t watch the same TV shows or movies. Activities were rare. Between work, school and the summers spent visiting our dad overseas, there just wasn’t much time to bond back in the Carolinas. This probably reads sadder than it actually was – mainly because we loved the Hornets so much. Perhaps the happiest moment in our household, when we all felt unified joy – was the moment Zo hit the shot from the top of the key to put away the Celts. I remember it vividly to this day. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So when Shinn proved a cheapskate, an incompetent and (finally) a spoiled child who didn’t like sharing his toys, we all played it cool but were internally devastated. My mom and I attended that final, sad Hornets home game at the old Coliseum. Our personal lives were going great at that point – college, new careers – but that game felt like going to the funeral of a very dear friend.

The Hornets had become a massive part of our daily lives. Wake up, eat cereal and tear through the Observer sports page. Read Sorensen’s piece on Dr. K or Dave Cowens. Bonnell’s recap of a Playoff win against Milwaukee or a regular season loss to New Jersey. Talking about the last night’s game with your friends at school. The drive to the Coliseum listening to Matt Pinto and Gerry V’s pre-game show. Martin and McGregor in the booth. The energy at the Hive. Jr. Walker and the All-Stars “Shotgun” booming during timeouts. The Chris Farley looking guy who did backflips. The thrill after a win. The pain after a loss. GONE.

The NBA knew that it screwed up BIG by letting Shinn bolt and, in an unprecedented move, immediately awarded the city yet another expansion franchise just a couple of years later. (Consider that Seattle, a larger market with a championship history and major corporate dollars, is still waiting for another team five years after the Sonics bolted for the Midwest.) Unfortunately, rebound relationships almost never work and the Bobcats were no different. A legion of heartbroken fans stayed away. Shinn had abused your trust, your loyalty and your love for too long. You couldn’t go through this again. And you were right.

Unlike the self-hating masochists who identified themselves as Bobcats fans over the last decade (this writer included), YOU old school Hornets fans who stayed away played it smart. YOU had already been through the expansion nonsense once – the growing pains, the awkwardness. YOU had already made a sizable (and ultimately ill-fated) investment of blood, sweat, tears and benjamins into an NBA franchise. And look how it panned out? And now YOU were being asked to do it all over again? For another twerp? Screw this.

The league replaced Shinn with a dodgy, narcissistic, DC-based owner who will ultimately only be remembered for making a series of terrible business decisions and for naming an actual NBA team after himself – not in 2K but in real life. Aloof and insecure, Bob Johnson had little experience outside of the cushy confines of DC crony capitalism. His ill-fated C-SET regional sports network has hamstrung the franchise to this very day. Ever wonder why the arena has the words ‘Time Warner Cable’ written on it and why fans two counties away can’t watch the games? It’s worth a Google. Johnson’s overwhelmed front office passed on superstar after superstar in the Draft. The franchise quickly gained a reputation for thriftiness and instability both on and off the court. Given the needs and expectations of the QC’s abused fanbase, BJ’s reign was an unmitigated EPIC FAIL. The few fans who jumped back in got a heaping helping of headaches to add to our heartbreak. First time shame on you; second time shame on us. Well played, old school Hornets fans – YOU stayed away and it was the right move.

ammo-illustratedIt was a dark, sad era filled with miscues, short-term fixes to long term problems and lots of losing. LOTS and LOTS of losing. The Bobcats had exactly two winning seasons in a decade’s worth of work and never once won a playoff game or notched fifty wins in a season. They passed up a trade for Chris Paul, drafted every guy they shouldn’t have, whiffed in free agency and player development, alienated much of the region with that imbecilic TV deal and played nearly every hand wrong in between. If the United States had declared a War on Error, there would’ve been more troops stationed at the TWC than in Kabul.

Many of us who jumped back in did so with a kevlar dive suit – and the era was ripe for this new breed of distanced fandom. There was terror, fear, recession and pessimism at home; endless wars abroad. Charlotte’s seemingly infinite economic growth spurt had stalled.

sean-may-illustrationThe internet ushered in an entire wave of snark and cynicism fueled by the painfully self-aware. A new breed of knowledgeable, objective fans who followed “the league” at arm’s length were born. Analytics brought sanity to front offices and fan debates but it also risked transforming what was once (and at its core still is) an entirely emotional endeavor into an emotionless pastime. Hoops fans started to resemble Marvel’s Watcher character – quietly, passively observing in the distance. The raving lunatics who dominated The Hive back in the day were at risk of being turned into an orgy of once-bitten twice shy “smarks” – holding out just enough emotion so that they couldn’t be hurt again by the dispassionate business side of pro sports. Thank God for alcohol.

Professional sports is rarely uglier than when the owners leverage our absurd emotional investment for ever higher profits. It’s an exchange that feels downright gross. You could forgive us the first time because we were so naive and didn’t know what we were getting into. We love the Hornets and the Hornets love us. A child’s understanding of the world.

Here’s the good news. We’re no longer children. We’re no longer naive about how this stuff works. And we have nothing to lose. If the neo-Hornets flee to Seattle or St. Louis one day, then fine. Been there done that, got the closet full of oversized sponsored t-shirts.

Speaking of those neo-Hornets, the NBA ostensibly admitted (yet again) that it had screwed Charlotte hoops fans (yet again) by approving Johnson as owner. The league hastened the team’s sale to Michael Jordan back in 2010 and the rebrand process following shortly after. The league returned the Hornets name, the mascot, the colors and, amazingly enough, the team records. I repeat: these are UNPRECEDENTED MOVES. We’re here to make you whole again, the league said. We’re sorry. Apology accepted.

In the meantime, [and I’m looking at you OLD SCHOOL HORNET NATION] if we are gonna be fans, let’s go ALL IN. It’s really the only way to do it. The NBA has never been more fun. There are fantastic players, story-lines and franchises nearly everywhere you look (except for Philly). And it’s perfect timing for local fans because this Hornets team is potentially VERY good, very fun with a lot of room to get better.

Let’s start with the owner. Unlike George Shinn, Michael Jordan isn’t addicted to embarrassing the City of Charlotte. No, his addiction is to winning. And he’s been separated from the Larry O’Brien trophy for sixteen years now, learning a series of tough lessons along the way. Is he perfect? Of course not. He’s prone to nepotism, poor tipping habits and he likes to wear tattered jeans to meaningful press conferences. But he wants to win; needs to win. Also, he’s Michael freaking Jordan.

MJ’s shown growth as an owner. After surrounding himself with a never-ending stream of “yes-men” a few years ago, MJ essentially fired one of his longtime pals (former GM Rod Higgins – who, by the way, severely sucked at his job) in favor of a braniac Burmese-American dude. That dude’s name is Rich Cho and for all of his Draft drama (I’m looking at you Bismack Biyombo), in just three years he’s transformed a laughingstock franchise into a legitimate pro hoops organization. Shinn lucked into a guy like that back in the day named Bob Bass and Bass kept the franchise relevant for nearly a decade in spite of Georgie’s ineptitude. Imagine what that level of competence can do for an owner who actually wants to be the best?

The team has young players with a lot of upside. Many of whom aren’t even counted on to win today. They’ll develop steadily and become fine NBA veterans. Cody Zeller is seven feet, runs like a gazelle and jumps higher than Grandmama. He’s also incredibly skilled and a nice kid. His fellow Indiana alum, Noah Vonleh, is a 6’9″ power forward who can hit three pointers and handle the ball like a guard. He also has giant hands, just turned 19 and could still be growing. Michael-Kidd Gilchrist was once thought of as a draft bust but after a summer spent working on his jumper with former Cleveland great Mark Price, MKG has a chance to become one of the league’s best small forwards. He’s already thought of as one of the NBA’s top defenders. He just turned 21.

Speaking of Price, the Hornets coaching staff has some familiar faces next to uber-genius headman Steve Clifford. Bob Weiss used to coach the Hawks back in the day and is now in full mentor mode on the pine. Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing stopped sweating long enough to put on some weight and transform into a top big man coach and associate head guy. Clifford himself was groomed from the Van Gundy/Pat Riley school and those guys kind of know what they’re doing in case you’ve forgotten.

Remember how intense Alonzo Mourning used to get? Just like MJ, he wanted to win – BAD. That same fire burns inside of the Hornets’ twenty four year old point guard, Kemba Walker. The odds of Kemba hitting The Next Great Charlotte NBA Shot are huge.

And then there’s Lance Stephenson – you may have heard about him blowing in Lebron’s ear. Yes, he can drive opponents, teammates and fans crazy. He’s also quite good at basketball and tallied more triple doubles last season than the Bobcats had in their entire ten year history. Imagine if Magic Johnson played for the Hornets back in the day. Lance could be a version of that. He’s also just 24.

alFinally, there’s the team’s All-NBA center – Al Jefferson. Imagine if Armon Gilliam (my fave guy back in the day, RIP) was six foot ten, weighed nearly three hundred pounds AND had about a thousand more post-moves. Nobody in the league has Big Al’s back to the basket game. Nobody. There’s never been a more skilled big man in QC hoops history. It’s like watching a ballerina the size of a small tank straightup EMBARRASS the best paint defenders in the world on a nightly basis. He is an absolute treat to watch, O.G. Hornets fans – I’m telling you, YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE WATCHING HIM.

Twenty-six years later my brother and I still have Hornets hysteria. I write and Mike designs the site and creates all of the awesome illustrations. The Bugs are Back and we couldn’t be any more excited. There will be ups and downs of course. Injuries happen. Players get traded. Guys sign elsewhere (I still grieve over you Josh McRoberts). But it’s ok to like the Charlotte NBA team again. Go ahead. Understand what you’re getting into. Then open your hearts and get pumped. We’ve literally had the worst done to us and things can only get better from here. Have fun at the games. Maybe you’ll run into us. We’ll be the guys there with our mom.