The NBA has just approved a resumption to their season. Consisting of some regular season, play-in, and playoff games, the league has brought back the top 22 teams to play out their seasons and either secure their spot in the playoffs, or try and make the playoffs.
In typical Hornets fashion, Charlotte was the league’s 23rd-ranked team.
This news surprised no one. As an insignificant, small-market team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2002, and offended their only star player so much that he left in free agency, anyone who knew anything about the NBA expected the Hornets to miss the playoffs, again. Most expected the Hornets to tank and get a chance at a high lottery pick to draft a future star.
The Hornets, however, did not tank, thinking that their roster could somehow still contend for a playoff spot.
Shockingly, their roster, which had lost over 40 points of offense after their two leading scorers left in free agency, could not contend for a playoff spot.
This is a cycle that has become all too familiar for Hornets fans. Their team refuses to tank, leading to an uninspiring middle-of-the-road finish where the team is on the outside looking in during the playoffs. Combine that with some bad luck in the draft lottery, and the Hornets manage to secure a first-round pick in the early double-digits.
Their problems don’t stop there. The Hornets have a history of drafting disappointing players in the past decade, with their only real success being Kemba Walker in 2011. While they did draft Shai Gilegous-Alexander in 2018, they squandered that opportunity by trading his pick to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he went on to become an important centerpiece of the team that is contending for the Finals.
As the Hornets start the new decade, it seems as if history will repeat itself. The Hornets have a potent backcourt that includes a second-year breakout player in Devonte’ Graham, and a decent point guard on a bloated three-year, $58-million contract in Terry Rozier. Looking at the frontcourt, we go from one overpaid player to another. At small forward, Charlotte has Nic Batum, a player in the last year of his five-year, $120 million contract. At power forward, the Hornets are starting an exciting player in P.J. Washington who is going into his second year. While he threw down some spectacular dunks, he hasn’t produced much on the court. And finally, at center, Charlotte plays Cody Zeller, who has been average at best.
As of now, it looks like the vicious cycle will continue. Unless Graham or Washington continues to improve, the Hornets have no real players near the top of their positions. Combined with some ridiculous free agent spendings in the past, one of which is still starting for the team, Charlotte is unable to make much of a splash in the free agent market. This is only made worse by the fact that the current COVID-19 epidemic has lowered the NBA’s revenue, and as a result, the salary cap. All of these factors, combined with the Hornets’ apparent refusal to tank for a better draft pick, means that the Hornets will likely fall just short of the playoffs, time and time again.
However, there is hope. Over the next few years, Charlotte will have gotten rid of almost $45 million of expiring contracts, allowing them to in turn make a potential dent in the free-agent market. Additionally, for the first time in what seems like forever, the Hornets have some exciting young players. Not only does this include the starting backcourt of Rozier (26) and Graham (25), it also includes Cody Martin, who averaged five points a game as a rookie and even started three games as a small forward after the Hornets had accepted that their season was essentially over. Combine this with a group of potent players in their G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, and you have a team with loads of potential.
Under Coach James Borrego, Charlotte has a (knock on wood) good chance of making the playoffs within the next few years. Although fan interest, as well as interest from around the league, has dwindled due to their recent lack of success, the Hornets are now a younger team that is capable of getting production from both their impact players and supporting pieces. Although Charlotte is “just another small-market team” right now, it will be interesting to see how they perform in the coming years.