Welcome Back Hornets Fans

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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.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 7 Review

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The Cats finish a nearly perfect week 3-1, a span that saw the team:

  • Beat up the talented Kings in the Queen City, 95-87.
  • Win a stunner at the buzzer in Toronto, 104-102.
  • Play the greatest quarter in Bobcats history in a comeback victory in Detroit, 116-106.
  • Drop a disappointing home gimme against the Jazz on Hornets Reveal night, 85-88.

Still Growing Up

After the Jazz loss, Coach Clifford broke down the current state of the Bobcats succinctly:

  • They are executing on defense and taking the right shots on offense.
  • Effort isn’t the problem.
  • They give up too many “ranged” – aka three point – shots on defense.
  • They are challenged by their lack of “ranged” shooting on offense.

As usual, Clifford was frank and generally upbeat about the team’s progress towards becoming a consistent winner. He didn’t throw anyone (including the front office) under the bus and his point about the team learning to win was accurate. As much as we would like for a nineteen year old NCAA freshmen to save the day, in the NBA there are no shortcuts. Clifford and his staff are instituting the type of system and culture of responsibility that the Bobcats haven’t had in a decade; one that will eventually allow for the team to properly develop and maximize future draft prospects to their utmost. The Jazz loss, like the Magic and Lakers losses before it, was tough but with 13 wins in late December, we can already see progress happening in real time.

#NBA Ballot Kemba Walker

After an abysmal November in which he shot a 2011-like 36% from the field, Kemba Walker has absolutely erupted in December. In eleven games this month Kemba’s shooting 40% from three, nearly 51% overall and averaging 22ppg, 5apg, 4rpg. There’s a legitimate argument that he’s having a better season than either Kyrie Irving and John Wall – both of whom have had a lot more offensive talent around them yet sport fewer wins. With Derrick Rose out for the year and Derrick Williams perpetually nursing an ankle, the East’s PG slots will come down to Wall, Irving, Kemba, George Hill and Jeff Teague. If the Cats enter the break around .500 with Walker leading the way, expect him to earn a spot as the second All-Star in Bobcats team history.

The Greatest Quarter in Bobcats History

Detroit. December 20th, 2013. Charlotte was playing on the road against a physical team that was somehow nailing every three pointer they launched (even JORTS went 2-3 from deep). They lost their backup-turned starting SF Jeff Taylor to season ending achilles injury six seconds into the game. Nothing was going their way. Then the bench trimmed a twenty point lead to thirteen points at the end of the third. Then to eight on a Cody Zeller strip ‘n slam. Then the starters checked back in and Al Jefferson went off, dropping 15 points on a series of And-1’s and twenty footers that played like a YouTube highlight reel in real-time. Charlotte scored 41 points in that quarter while only giving up 17. It’s the kind of quarter you’d expect from a contender like the Spurs or Heat. It was magic. The comeback obviously took its toll the next night against Utah but long-term, the Cats can use that experience as proof that it’s not over until it’s over.

Expect a Trade

 


Clifford talked up Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts’ work filling in for Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but I guarantee you that behind the scenes, the front office is searching for a “range shooting” wing who can play some defense. Tolliver is best used in spot situations, not the 25+ minutes he’s logged in the last two games. Douglas-Roberts is a decent enough end of the bench guy but there was a reason he started the season in the D-League. The Cats could either go big name (Luol Deng), mid name (Wilson Chandler), or no name (Brandon Rush) in their pursuit depending on what they’re willing to give up. One thing is for certain: in order for Charlotte to have any success long-term, they CANNOT start two non-three point shooting wings. I’d be shocked if both Gerald Henderson and MKG are on the roster this time next season.

The Bugs Are Back

The TWC went absolutely insane during the Hornets Logo Reveal on Saturday night. Hats off to the organization for delivering a fantastic halftime show MC’d by Michael Jordan and four original Hornets (Dell Curry, Muggsy Bouges, Rex Chapman, Kelly Tripucka). The video package debuting the logo was good enough but it was the BUZZZZZZ sound effect and the sea of teal glow sticks that moved the crowd into a frenzy. If this is a preview of the new Hive’s decibel level, the Hornets are going to have a helluva home court advantage next season.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: Michael Jordan Has(n’t) Figured It Out

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As we enter the final “Bobcats” season, perhaps no one in the organization has more to prove than owner Michael Jordan. Throughout the summer, League pundits and comment-thread snarks have been quick to point out that MJ’s latest offseason was yet a further demonstration of his ineptitude:

  • Nepotism Part 1: Jordan promoted his brother Larry to “Director of Player Personnel” back in July. MJ’s son, daughter and a host of other long-time friends are already employed by the team in various capacities.
  • Nepotism Part 2: Jordan brought in old friend Patrick Ewing to serve as the team’s associate head coach, continuing the Bobcats tradition of using their bench as courtside seats for friends & family (J.B. Bickerstaff, Stephen Silas, Charles Oakley, Cory Higgins).
  • Coaching Carousel: Jordan hired the team’s fourth coach in five seasons in June.
  • Draft Dunce: Jordan ignored two highly touted prospects, Ben McLemore and Nerlens Noel, and instead “reached” for Indiana’s Cody Zeller with the Draft’s fourth overall pick.
  • Free Agent Foibles: Jordan over-paid an offense-only, aging free agent, forgetting that his young team was the worst defensive squad in the league the season before.
  • Tank Timing: With an super-hyped 2014 Draft Class looming, Jordan picked the wrong offseason to improve the team and lower their Draft Lottery odds.
  • Perpetual Screw Up: Jordan presided over a tone-deaf, scattershot Hornets re-brand announcement that left just as many confused as excited.

     

While I can’t defend MJ’s continued fascination with nepotism, I believe the other accusations to be mostly pre-conceptions in search of evidence. Pretend for a moment, that Jordan didn’t have the decade-worth of “bad owner” baggage and look at it from another perspective – MJ might be figuring this ownership thing out:

  • Quick to Learn: Jordan owned up to his mistake of hiring the inexperienced Dunlap and moved quick to bring on highly respected veteran NBA assistant Steve Clifford.
  • Outside the Circle Part 1: Jordan hired Clifford even though he wasn’t part of or recommended by someone from MJ’s inner circle (Larry Brown, Dunlap via George Karl).
  • Outside the Circle Part 2: Jordan further committed to another outsider by supporting GM Rich Cho’s decision to draft Zeller – an EXTREMELY risky position for someone with MJ’s draft reputation.
  • Shrewd Businessman: Jordan fought hard for the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement back in 2011, then leveraged the new economics in his team’s favor. MJ immediately re-invested the revenue-shared funds back into the team, amnestying PF Tyrus Thomas ($16m in off the book salary).
  • Free Agent Closer: Jordan signed former Utah center Al Jefferson, who, outside of being a nightly double-double machine, is also the biggest free agent signing in Charlotte’s 25 year NBA history.
  • Populist: Spotty announcement aside, Jordan had the insight to Bring Back the Buzz, an incredibly popular move in the region that has re-invigorated a large part of the Hornets’ dormant fanbase.

Long time NBA fans probably remember MJ’s killer fadeaway jumpshot – the one he rode to six Larry O’Brien trophies. Some may have forgotten that Jordan didn’t have that shot until he’d been in the league for ten years. There’s a good chance that MJ is at it again.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

This Is Big

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Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S

Charlotte’s signing of “Big” Al Jefferson is monumental in so many ways

A few semi-coherent ramblings on today’s big news from halfway across the globe:

The Biggest Name Free Agent Signing in Charlotte Hoops History.

Derrick Coleman, Bobby Phills, Johnny Newman, Kenny Anderson, David Wesley and Ramon Sessions. Together these players make up the biggest “name” unrestricted free agents the Hornets and Bobcats have ever lured to the QC. Until today. Al Jefferson is one of the league’s best offensive centers and was a highly coveted free agent coming into the offseason. And Charlotte signed him. It actually happened. You can complain about Jefferson’s defense or his “fit” with the team but at the end of the day, a perpetually moribund, off-the-map franchise closed on a guy who had interest from Dallas and the Lakers. This is huge because:

  • Removes the glass “Free Agents Won’t Sign with Charlotte” ceiling. There’s a new precedent now. Live with it. Charlotte can lure big name free agents. I can’t believe I’m typing this.
  • Dispels the “Michael Jordan is too cheap to sign good players” myth. Bye-bye. Move on to something else please.
  • Signals the end to purposeful losing AKA tanking. Blowing it up for one year can be rationalized. Stinking in perpetuity? Nope. It is a disgrace to the league, the fans, the city and to the game itself. And the Horncats are done with it. Hallelujah. Also, every other team in the league is tanking this year so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.
  • Arrives in conjunction with the Tyrus Thomas amnesty. Thomas was the final remnant of the Larry Brown/Rod Higgins era of short term gain for long term pain. The draft pick owed to the Bulls for T-Time still looms but hopefully Charlotte will be good enough to place that pick in the mid-late teens sooner than later.
  • Allows the teams’ young prospects to play with a bona fide scoring threat. When was the last time Kemba Walker or Gerald Henderson weren’t the focal points of an opposing team’s defense? Between Jefferson and Cody Zeller, the Bobnets will have the most scoring punch in the frontcourt since Jamal Mashburn and Elden Campbell anchored the low block in the late ’90s. I can’t wait to see this team play together and what it will do for Kemba, Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist offensively.

I’ll update this post tomorrow once I sleep the delirium away. Until then, enjoy the holiday Bobcats/Hornets fans. Your team is relevant again.

-ASChin

Charlotte Picks Cody Zeller Fourth in Wild NBA Draft

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Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.

Bobcats GM Rich Cho Selects Cody Zeller

Turns out the rumors were spot on. Cody Zeller wasn’t at the top of any mock draft (at least not this year) but Rich Cho & Co worked him out, ran the numbers and made the call. And I like it.

MJ & Cho

The pick shows that MJ has given Cho carte blanche to run the team. Whether Zeller works out or not, this is massive step forward for MJ as an owner: Hire smart people, let them do their job. If not, hire even smarter people and allow them to do better ones. MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time, now it’s time to create opportunities for others to excel at their careers be it Rich Cho or the team’s next GM.

Zeller’s Skills

You may not have heard for all the uniform (or uninformed?) boos but Cody Zeller is a tremendously skilled 7-footer who is ready to step in and contribute right away. A pick ‘n pop weapon, Cody can shoot the mid-range or roll to the rim off the bounce. He’s the fastest, quickest big in the Draft and will be fantastic in the Kemba-led transition game. UPDATE: Cho, Higgins and Clifford said as much in their post-draft pressers; while Kemba Walker was apparently a big fan of the pick.

Belief in Biz

The Zeller pick also shows a ton of faith in 2011 first rounder Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats have given up on prospects all too often throughout their history. Biz won’t turn 21 until August and exhibited a much wider array of skills in his sophomore campaign. Pairing him with a skilled big like Zeller will take a ton of pressure off Biyombo to dominate offensively. New head coach Steve Clifford and associate HC Patrick Ewing will have a lot of young talent to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Where He Ranks

Remember also that Cody Zeller would have gone Top 3 in last year’s vaunted Draft class had he declared. Zeller’s game was picked apart much like Harrison Barnes during his sophomore season. They say familiarity breeds contempt and that has been true in the Draft for a while. Nerlens Noel only managed half a season with Kentucky; fans and scouts salivated over what their imagination projected him to be next year, not who he is or will be.

McRoberts/Henderson Returning

I’d imagine the Zeller selection only helps the team’s decision to bring back another Indiana-born and raised big man: Josh McRoberts. McBob played great for the Cats after coming over from Orlando at the trade deadline and should come somewhat reasonably priced. Josh does a lot of the same things Zeller can and will aid in Cody’s transition to starter.

Additionally, the pick can only mean good things for Gerald Henderson fans. By passing on Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Charlotte has to fill the SG spot by either re-signing Hendo or bringing in someone else via free agency. Bank on Gerald coming back. UPDATE: The team announced earlier today that Henderson would be extended his qualifying offer, while Byron Mullens would not. This opens the door for both Henderson and McRoberts to return next season. We’ll know for certain once the free agency period begins in couple of weeks.

Humphries Trade Rumor

UPDATE: SI.com’s Chris Mannix tweeted after the Boston/Brooklyn mega-swap that PF Kris Humphries could be re-routed to Charlotte. A proposed Ben Gordon for Humphries trade was rumored during February’s deadline. There are a few over-priced veterans entering expiring years floating around the league so a Hump/Gordon swap could be expanded into a three team deal to include others (Danny Granger for example). Keep a look out for this one. A hard-nosed, down and dirty rebounder, Humphries could be the perfect complement to both Zeller/McRoberts when Biyombo is out of the game.

-ASChin
twitter: @bobcatsbaseline


Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:

POLL : What to Do with the 4th Draft Pick?

  • Alex Len (29%, 33 Votes)
  • Anthony Bennett (37%, 42 Votes)
  • Cody Zeller (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Trey Burke (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Trade the Pick (22%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 115

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Charlotte Wins Big Thanks to Jordan

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Michael Jordan’s Clutch Move Brings the Hornets Home.

Four years ago Michael Jordan was inducted in to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Of the occasion, Jordan said that it was “simply a continuation of something that I started a long time ago.” During his induction speech Jordan called out a lot of the folks that he didn’t feel were helpful to his ambitions. He even claimed that there was a chance you “might look up and see me playing the game at 50.”

Now at the age of 50, Jordan’s made a huge play off the court for the city of Charlotte. His body might be too old to lace up those eponymous high-tops but Michael’s still the ‘alpha’ and the only one who could make the shot Queen City hoops fans needed someone to make. Say what you will about his past mistakes as an owner, MJ deserves a ton of credit for bringing back the Buzz.

The Long Road Back

Illustration by Mike S

George Shinn

In 2002, George Shinn moved his Hornets down to Louisiana. He sold the NBA on the idea that the Big Easy wanted a pro basketball team and that New Orleans was the only place where he could make ends meet. It worked so well the first time that Shinn tried the same story with the league just a few years later with Oklahoma City. Fortunately, Commissioner Stern and the Board of Governors finally wised up to Shinn’s tactics and took the Hornets off of poor Georgie’s plate for good.

Shortly afterward, the league office found a buyer for the club in Tom Benson, majority owner of the New Orleans Saints. As new owner of the neglected franchise, Benson vowed to make Louisiana proud of their NBA team. His first order of business was to begin the process of rebranding the club with regional ties, and steer toward a name (Pelicans) that meant something to the surrounding area. Along with evoking a sense of local pride, the rebrand will go a long way to separate the climate of new ownership from Shinn’s downtrodden and generic Charlotte/New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.

For decades Shinn did his best to render the Hornets brand meaningless – trading players in their prime, disregarding the fan base, and keeping that wandering eye toward the next town’s cash. Yet somehow, twenty-five years since his birth and against all odds, Hugo the Hornet finds himself on the precipice of returning home to the city that once loved him and – as the last twelve months have revealed – still very much does.

The total cost of reclaiming the Hornets moniker and washing away the Bobcats experience will be substantial. It also comes with the risk of alienating the few faithful who’ve kept the franchise afloat. It’s a gamble, but MJ’s always been the gambling type. For the doubters who say the Hornets rebrand won’t matter, be ready to be proven wrong because that’s one of MJ’s two great gifts – proving people wrong. The other? Taking and making big time shots.

-Mike

Building the Bugs

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How the Hornets Return

To Tank or Not to Tank

Unbelievable. The Charlotte Bobcats organization actually made a great decision. As first reported Friday evening by CBS Sports, the Queen City’s original (and best) NBA team monikor is coming back home, likely beginning in November of 2014. Great news but if the franchise has to wait eighteen months for the teal & purple, what on earth is their on-court game plan between now and then? Here’s the dilemma:

Remember when Miami won 27 games in a row earlier this season? The Bobcats have won just 28 games OVER THE PAST TWO SEASONS COMBINED. As if their early history wasn’t terrible enough, the Cats have cemented their status as a national joke since launching OPERATION TANK twenty-four months ago. The franchise can’t afford to begin the Hornets Era as a re-skinned farce in new duds. Credibility must be nurtured and harvested before Super Hugo dunks from his first trampoline.

Simultaneously, no Draft since 2008 has featured a bigger potential superstar than 2014’s top prospect, Andrew Wiggins. Do you bet the franchise on bottoming out for a third consecutive season in the slim hopes that Lottery ping pong balls bounce in your favor? Or, do you use this offseason’s cap space, draft pick and coaching search to further upgrade your roster, disregarding Lottery odds in order to build excitement through actual wins and player development?

No mistake, Andrew Wiggins is going to be very good, perhaps awesome. He’s been compared to a young Tracy McGrady and for those who don’t remember, young T-Mac was a stud. But here’s the problem: there is absolutely ZERO guarantee, no matter how many games you throw, you’ll be able to get him.

A Little NBA Draft History

Since 1985, only FOUR times has the league’s worst team won the Lottery. That’s four times in twenty seven years. The FIFTH WORST team has actually had more luck, winning it five times. Betting your franchise’s future on the Draft Lottery is just slightly less irresponsible than betting your personal financial future on the Powerball.

Worse yet, if the team tanks and doesn’t wind up winning a Top 3 Pick, they’ve essentially sacrificed an entire season — in which they could further develop players and nurture local fans — for the measley reward of drafting Marcus Smart or Aaron Gordon. Note to pro-tankers, this scenario is by far the most likely given the Lottery’s odds.

In fact, this type of scenario is the very the reason Commissioner Stern implemented the Lottery system to begin with. Franchises should be forced to remain competitive because it turns out that you can royally piss off a fanbase by purposefully trying to lose.

Finally, two outstanding articles on the Draft were published shortly after the Hornets news broke.

Take a few minutes to read each of these if you haven’t already. Then go back and scan our Draft Retrospective Part I (Part II will be published later this week). Notice a pattern here?

Perhaps four times in a decade, a ready-made NBA star enters the Draft. No amount of organizational dysfunction can prevent that player from achieving greatness. Lebron, Durant, MJ, Bird, Magic. But the vast majority of the time, it is the organization itself that must shape the talented clay into All-Stars and Superstars, especially now that most top picks are one-and-done 19 year olds. The Indiana Pacers enter the Eastern Conference Finals with not a single Top 5 pick on the roster. Paul George, D.J. Augustin and Tyler Hansbrough were late Lottery selections while Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, David West and George Hill all arrived in the NBA via the mid-first round or later.

Developing Prospects

Meanwhile, what have the Bobcats accomplished with their ten Lottery picks in nine years? At some point, after noticing the differences in all of the team’s “failed prospects”, you begin to realize that the one constant in all of this nonsense is the Bobcats organization itself.

In the great David Mamet stage and screenplay “Glengarry Glen Ross”, we are introduced to two primary types of salesmen. The Ed Harris/Jack Lemmon types, perpetually moaning about the quality of their sales leads – yearning for the day in which they’ll finally land those precious ripe prospects, the “Glengarry leads”. In contrast we have Al Pacino’s character, Ricky Roma, whose leads are no better than Harris’ or Lemmon’s but through shrewdness and skill, coasts to being the agency’s top rep month after month. When Alec Baldwin’s head honcho character arrives to deliver the Glengarry leads midway through the film, he teases Harris and Lemmon with this:

“These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers.”

The Bobcats have never been closers. The Hornets, for all of their mistakes, were. If Michael Jordan, Rod Higgins and Rich Cho want to truly turn this franchise around, they need to focus less on where they pick their Draft prospects and more on building an organization that can actually develop one.

- A.S. Chin