How about ‘dem Charlotte Hornets? No, seriously, how ‘bout ‘em? The Charlotte Hornets have been making steady, incrementally slow progress over the past five years or so since Michael Jordan became team owner. But for every playoff berth and swift exit came the inevitable stretch in which the team would languish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference like rain water in a slime-covered dumpster. Stinky, putrid and good for nothing but attracting flies. There just always seemed to be something missing.
In the 2010-11 season they said it was coaching. In the following campaign, the losing was blamed on Michael Jordan’s failure to bring in talent and to draft properly. 2012’s team couldn’t stop a runny nose with a forest of toilet paper on defense and 2013 was more of the same. God bless his soul, but former coach Paul Silas seemed out of touch and out of time when trying to relate to millennial basketball players.
However, despite the doldrums, the teams got a little better each year. 21-61 in 2013 under Steve Dunlap grew to 43-39 and a playoff berth and an early exit at the hands of the Miami Heat under Steve Clifford the following season. 2014-15 saw the team tumble below the Mason Dixon line of respectability once again with a 33-49 record that was due in large part to three members of the Hornets’ starting five missing at least 20 games and the failed Lance Stephenson experiment.
This year the franchise is on pace to win more games than they have during any season in MJ’s ownership stint.
Since Jordan got most of the blame when the Hornets drafted poorly or made an ill-advised free agent acquisition, it is only right that he be shown some love for seemingly turning things around. His drafting of Gonzaga's Adam Morrison in the lottery of 2006, while such players as Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry remained on the draft board, was seen as indicative of how most of the greatest players of all time make poor decision-makers in managerial positions.
Some even alluded to Jordan drafting Morrison because he would draw white fans to downtown Charlotte. All of that seems like an eternity ago as their most recent lottery pick, Frank Kaminsky, is coming along quite nicely and is contributing when he gets the minutes.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
The addition of point guard Jeremy Lin to spell Kemba Walker is also something you have to give Jordan a dap for. After Lin was shipped from New York to Houston and then to the Los Angeles Lakers, the hype of his Linsanity days at MSG had long faded, but he maintained an average of around 11.5 points and four assists per game. He continues to put in work behind Walker and is a team player. But the biggest acquisition this year just might be shooting guard Courtney Lee, who was acquired from Memphis just weeks ago and was immediately plugged into the starting lineup.
Lest I forget that PG Kemba Walker is playing in the same vein as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard, with none of the hype. Just named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Kemba averaged three straight seasons of 17 points per game early in his career before upping the tally to 21.4 points per game this year. The Hornets were in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture before a loss to the Dallas Mavericks dropped them behind the Atlanta Hawks for sixth place.
But they’re well within striking distances of the Hawks, Heat and Celtics. Am I saying they’re going to make the Eastern Conference Finals? No, but if they keep playing as they have been it isn’t difficult to imagine a situation in which they make things really uncomfortable for a few teams. As it stands, they appear to be a very interesting first round matchup for the Boston Celtics should the standings remain as they are.
But the potential for a bumpy road is just around the corner as Charlotte is set to embark on a brutal stretch that will see them play nine of their next twelve games on the road. A .750 record over that stretch would give them the potential to place themselves in a good spot to snag home court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. If that happens, I wonder what President/GM Michael Jordan-haters are going to say, then.