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Thursday, November 20, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 14. Charlotte Hornets

Overall Win/Loss Record:  43-39,  third place Southeast Division

2014/2015 Projection: 45-37, third place Southeast Division, sixth place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 96.9 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 97.1 (4th)
  • Team FG%:  .442 (25th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .442 (6th)
  • Team FT%: .737 (24th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .351 (23rd)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.7 (16th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.3 (21st)
  • Turnovers per game: 11.6 (1st)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.8 (28th)
Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Al Jefferson (21.8)
  • Rebounds per game:  ): Al Jefferson (10.8)
  • Minutes per game: Kemba Walker (35.8)
  • Assists per game:  Kemba Walker (6.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Bismack Biyombo (.611)
  • Free Throw Percentage:   Gary Neal (.960)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Gary Neal (.406)
  • Steals per game: Kemba Walker (1.2)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Bismack Biyombo (1.1)
Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Gerald Henderson (G)
  2. Gary Neal (G)
  3. Jeff Taylor (G/F)
  4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (F)
  5. Bismack Biyombo (F/C)
To think that just two short years ago, the one time Charlotte Bobcats made history as the worst performing team in NBA history with not only the fewest wins at just seven, but also the league lowest win percentage to boot.  No one would have expected a small market team that had suffered such an indignity would bounce back so quickly to not only make the playoffs two years later, but also be ranked as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.  Unfortunately, instead of celebrating such an accomplishment by remaining in the orange and navy blue, team owner +Michael Jordan chose to cheapen his franchise by not only renaming, but also re-branding the team with the old moniker of the previous Charlotte team that had broken the hearts of its fans leaving them so many years ago.  The Charlotte Hornets was once a staple of the city that held its name, but poor management and incompetent ownership led this once proud name down the path that led it to become a laughing stock.  Now in an effort to further maximize his profits, Jordan chose to turn his team's crowning achievement into a cheap uncreative marketing stunt by erasing a brand that had a chance of finally taking off and replacing it with one that represented a bygone era.

To be quite frank, the Charlotte Hornets name should have been retired after the onetime New Orleans Hornets relinquished the name in order to forge their new identity as the +New Orleans Pelicans; however, instead of allowing the Hornets name to fade into the annals of history, it was quickly snatched away and in a perverse manner by a carpetbagging privateer looking to line his own wallet.  Reusing the Charlotte Hornets franchise name and logo cheapens the history of the team that originally arrived in the league in 1989 with plenty of fanfare and bring about such memorable names as Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Mugsy Bogues and Dell Curry who initially forged the team's as well as its city's identity.  There is no history that can be associated with this current incarnation, because that past team has nothing to the one currently in existence and to use the Hornets name is to piggyback on a legacy that the neither Jordan or his cronies created or deserved. Unfortunately such disdain of this sacrilege and mockery of good taste will fall on deaf ears as fans who probably stretch through both the Carolina states have deluded themselves to thinking that their old Charlotte Hornets has once again returned, which is certainly not the case.  Regardless of what anybody thinks of this current sad state of affairs, it should not take away from the fact that this team has defied all the odds, shocked the world and silenced every single critic and naysayer.

Not many teams, whether they be from the NBA or any other sports league for that matter, can claim to rise from relative obscurity and harsh ridicule to becoming not only a playoff contender, but also a model example of how to rebuild a professional sports franchise.  Usually such an undertaking takes years through numerous trial and error tactics along with boom or bust draft picks that leave fans so frustrated and dejected that they no longer care about the franchise or even listen to the empty sales pitches of franchise owners promising a future that will never come.  Think of the situations of such teams as the +Philadelphia 76ers who continue to purposely flounder to the chagrin of not only their fans at home, but basketball loves everywhere; or the +Minnesota Timberwolves whose fans looked towards building a future with the team it had only to watch it fall apart and have to start again from scratch.  Rebuilding is never easy, especially for a team such as Charlotte who does not reside in a very big television market nor has the media mas exposure as its fellow Eastern Conference rivals such as the +Chicago Bulls+New York Knicks, or the +Miami HEAT.  Even an out of the way team such as the +Toronto Raptors, whose games rarely get any American media exposure whatsoever, get more respect in terms of media exposure and have a stronger television market than Charlotte and are do not even reside in the continental United States.

Credit the work of Jordan's right hand man Rich Cho, who before being unceremoniously canned from the +Portland Trail Blazers, was the driving force that helped build an newly named +Oklahoma City Thunder franchise that was searching for its own identity into one of the top teams in them league.  What is even more impressive about Cho's case of Charlotte is that he did not have the luxury of having marquee names and superstar talent such as +Kevin Durant+Russell Westbrook, and for a short time, +James Harden to build around.  In fact most of the players on that team were even known by the local fan base, let alone would have been recognized by the general public; nonetheless, this young team of  relative unknowns and those who had been disregarded by their peers managed to create names for themselves while at the same time bring the city of Charlotte back into the NBA conscious.  One of the best examples of this was big man Al Jefferson, who many had essentially ignored or disregarded by most NBA analysts and commentators, despite his career statistics of 17 points, 9 rebounds and a block per game; yet once he arrived in Charlotte, he became the driving force of the teams as he led the team to playoff contention.  Unfortunately, despite posting numbers comparable to All Stars such as +Dwight Howard and +DeMarcus Cousins, Jefferson has yet to be recognized or acknowledged as one of the league's top big men and probably remain that way for the rest of his career.

The same goes for his teammates Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Gary Neal, or any Hornets player for that matter as most people probably would not be able to pick them out of a police lineup let alone recognize them walking down the street. As it stands now, the Hornet player that has gotten the most press thus far is newcomer Lance Stephenson, who, like his teammates, is less known for his exploits on the court such as him leading the league last season in triple doubles, and more recognized for the infamous picture of him blowing into +LeBron James' ear in last season's Eastern Conference Finals.  Despite the negative press and unfair criticism, Stephenson might just possibly could be the best free agent pickup in the off season: second to the earth shattering return of King James to Cleveland and tied with the Cavs subsequent acquisition of +Kevin Love as the best off season moment ever.  He was arguably the best all around player in the +Indiana Pacers on both ends of the floor leading the team in assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage along with being second in most statistical categories behind the team's All Star, Paul George; yet the team's president +Larry Bird did not find it prudent to sign Lance to a well deserved max level electing instead to cheap out on him offering a fraction of what he was valued on the open market.  Thus Stephenson instead chose to snub Bird's less than generous offer and take almost the same exact money as Charlotte not only to stick it to his former team but to also rub Bird's shortsighted decision in his face as he leads another group of no names past him.

Many can draw numerous comparisons between Jefferson and Stephenson as both possess the tools and have produced at an All Star level, yet have both been marginalized and often publicly diminished by the media for a large portion of their careers.  Now together in Charlotte, both these unjustly convicted men will join fellow underdog Kemba Walker to form a super trio that can be comparable to the "Big Threes" that had been formed in Miami, Boston and Cleveland; however, unlike those three, will probably remain together for much longer and possibly be just as, if not even more potent.  Surrounding the Charlotte trio is a solid supporting cast of skilled, smart and talent young players with only three of them that have reached the over thirty mark, four who have yet to reach the big three-oh, and four who have yet not even reached the age of 25; however, it is not just their age, talent and limitless upside, it also the amount that these players have experienced in their young ages.  New addition Marvin Williams is a perfect example of such a phenomenon, as he is considered as one of "elder statesmen" of the team heaving already spent nine years playing in the NBA with six of them going to the post season, but he's just 28 years old.  Two others include Gary Neal, who had just recently turned thirty, already has played in a NBA Finals series and 31 year Jason Maxiel had spent the first five years of his career on a +Detroit Pistons team that had reached the finals once and the Eastern Conference Finals the three years that followed.  

Mix that post season experience and veteran presence with that of Stephenson, who has already played in two Eastern Conference Finals series and this team is not stacked with young talent that can probably last well into the next decade, but more credibility to a team and city that no one ever gave a chance to.  In an Eastern Conference that can be considered as completely wide open for the taking, a team such as the Hornets with its youth, talent and experience can possibly steal the conference crown from the more favored team such as the Cavs and Bulls or even sneak into third place surpassing the Miami Heat for the division tile and Toronto Raptors, who look to hold on to the Atlantic Division title they had earned last season.  Unfortunately, those predictions might be considered as a little far fetched since Charlotte's division consists of four teams that made last season's playoffs; however, upon closer examination, one can see that those teams almost match identical in terms of roster size, talent and depth thus making it anyone's game.  Nevertheless, one thing remains crystal clear and that is, barring a severe calamity of epic proportions, the Charlotte Hornets will be headed to the playoffs at the end of the regular season and will remain a strong force in not only the East, but the entire NBA, for years to come. What makes this even more ironic is if that was told to have to someone from Charlotte that this was going to happen two years ago, he or she would have completely scoffed and shrugged off at such a notion.            

Just two years ago this team was a complete laughing stock and the question would not have been when the now Charlotte Hornets were going to become a playoff contender, but when this team was finally going to fold and change addresses once again.  There who have openly blasted Michael Jordan's competency and capability as the franchise's owner must also be swallowing a huge helping of humble pie as he too now looks like a genius instead of the clueless bungler than he was previously portrayed as.  It is just disappointing that he did not keep the Bobcats moniker because his team's ascension would have been even more triumphant instead of switching to an name that had been long gone; however, one can take a more positive look at the situations. Perhaps the name change should be considered less of a cheap marketing ploy and instead as more of a symbolic end of a once struggling franchise that has left on a very high note.  Now when people of Charlotte speak of the old Bobcats, they can remember the majestic way the team bounced back from a history making collapse which then transformed back to the old Hornets that they had once known and loved.