The Kemba Walker Era: The Charlotte Hornets’ Road to Mediocrity

Entering the Kemba Walker era of Charlotte, the Hornets would be the worst team in the NBA.

In Walker’s first year, they managed just seven wins. Even though the season was cut short to 66 games, the team managed one of the worst winning percentages in NBA history. The following year, they would slightly improve to 21-61.

During these two awful years in Charlotte, they would manage to acquire two top-five picks in the NBA Draft. With those two selections, the Hornets would select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall (2012) and Cody Zeller fourth (2013). 

Two picks, two huge misses for the organization.

In 2012, Kidd-Gilchrist was considered the second-best player in the draft, though an offensive liability. A team snake bitten for offense opted for a project versus a sure thing like Bradley Beal; even players like Dion Waiters or Jeremy Lamb would’ve been sufficient.

Cody Zeller was an interesting pick for Michael Jordan and the Hornets. The team already had an abundance of centers that they should have been developing, but they added yet another.

Zeller, at the time, was the best big man prospect in the draft after having a terrific season with Indiana. However, the team still needed an offensive player to complement Walker. But instead of drafting a shooter such as Ben McLemore, C.J. McCollum, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, they decided to overload their center position with a player who could start right away in Zeller.

Zeller has been solid for the Hornets in his early years, but just like Emeka Okafor before, he was never more than an average center and has provided no help offensively. 

Walker would spend eight seasons with this organization. During those eight seasons, the franchise would make the playoffs twice. The first time would be in the 2013-2014 season, where the team would yet again finish as the seventh seed with a 43-39 record. And again they would be swept by their opponent the Miami Heat.

The team took a step back the following year, as Walker was in and out of the lineup with injuries.

But the next year would be different. A healthy Walker would return to the team, and they paired him up with newly-signed free agent Nicolas Batum. The year prior, they acquired forward Marvin Williams, and it seemed that the team would finally start putting together a solid roster around their All-Star guard.

In the 2015-2016 season, they would finish with their best record. Going 48-34. This landed them the sixth seed, but unfortunately, they had to face a Miami Heat team who were determined to prove that they could win without LeBron James. Even though the Hornets lost this series, they won their first game in the playoffs as a franchise and took the Heat to seven games. It took them just over a decade to win a game in the playoffs. 

After this season, the team saw major regression within their players. Players such as Williams and Batum would slowly start to mold into the Hornet’s organization. Bench pieces and young players would find themselves in and out of the roster. Williams started to lose his athletic ability as he aged, and Batum slowly started to lose his effectiveness as a scoring wing. Batum’s lack of production would take a huge hit after the 2017 season. 

Both Batum and Williams were on large contracts for the numbers that they produced. Making it very difficult to trade them away. The team because they had no cap space due to Walker’s max contract, and having both Batum and Williams are large contracts meant the team could not find any free agent help to bring in during the summers. This caused limbo in Charlotte. Walker and the team were stuck at the 36 win mark. They could not build a team around Walker to compete for the playoffs. But they were not bad enough to tank a few seasons to acquire a top pick in the draft. 

Walker would leave the organization during the 2019 off-season and head to Boston. Even though Walker wanted to win very badly, he told reporters that he would have stayed in Charlotte because he loved the fans and the organization. However, Michael Jordan did his best Robert Sarver impression and gave Walker a cheap contract. Walker, who loved Charlotte, felt disrespected by the low offer, as he is worth the max contract. Walker was eligible for 221 million over five but said he would have taken 190 million over five years to stay in Charlotte. But Jordan and the team only offered him 160 million over five years. And the excuse that they gave reporters was that the team did not have the funds to keep Walker and provide a competitive team. Which is true, but could have been avoided if they were capable of moving Batum and Williams. Walker decided to take the Boston Celtic’s deal of four years worth 141 million. Walker would go on and start to lead the Celtics to a comeback year and continue his All-Star play. 

From 2014 up until the present day of the NBA, the Hornets would continue to completely botch their draft capital. In 2015, they draft forward Frank ‘The Tank’ Kaminsky, instead of Myles Turner or Devin Booker. In 2017, they drafted guard Malik Monk instead of  Donovan Mitchell or Bam Adebayo. In 2018, they drafted then traded away Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Los Angeles Clippers for Miles Bridges. And in 2019 they drafted their current rookie forward P.J. Washington. Unfortunately, both Kaminski and Monk have had a rough time in Charlotte.

The team would not allow them to shine, even though their potential flashed in games where they played significant minutes. 

Kaminsky is a nice rotational player that can spread the floor which is fantastic in this age of the NBA. The team would not pick up his last year on his rookie contract. And with that, he would go to Phoenix and become a great deep shooter off the Suns’ bench.

Monk, who is still with the team, has flashed his potential of being a Monta Ellis-type player. He is capable of being a valuable scoring and is athletic enough to play well on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, the organization is holding him back as he gets irregular minutes going from games with 30 minutes played to a ‘DNP’ (Did not Play) coaches decision.

With Bridges and Washington, it is too early to critique their careers, but with how the organization plays its young core, it will be tough to not dismiss them as potential busts for the organization.

The team is still in limbo, and showing the sports world what mediocracy looks like. At their height of an organization, they were a playoff team that could almost upset a top seed in the first round. And at their lowest, they were a historically bad team that broke records. Mediocracy is not something the NBA wants in their league. The Hornets under Michael Jordan have been humiliating, to say the least. A once proud NBA legend, now managing one the NBA’s most frustratingly run teams. 

The best way to fix this Charlotte Hornets team is to clean house. From players all the way up to ownership.

Jordan should find help, someone with qualified experience to run the organization. And recently, Jordan has given up some control of the franchise. He recently hired a general manager with experience in Mitch Kupchak. Although it is unknown if he has full control of roster moves.

The team has also been buying out contracts such as Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. These moves are the right step to getting out of mediocracy. Now all the team needs to do is start the rebuild this off-season by clearing out any player that will help them succeed. 

Players such as Monk, Batum, and Zeller should be seeing new teams this off-season. Hornets should keep players like Washington, DaVonte Graham, and Miles Bridges as they have proven to be successful at a young age and could help them in the future. The Hornets need to build off of the young core and start fresh. Hopefully, this organization within the next five years can become respectable and compete constantly.

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