The Charlotte Hornets were once a promising franchise with two young superstars that seemed destined for greatness. 25 years later, the Hornets are the consensus pick to be the worst NBA team in 2019/20 and they are most famous for being owned by Michael Jordan. The Hornets just released their latest jersey throwback, a purple beauty from the ’94/95 season. This franchise’s best memories are from the past. How did we get here? The city of Charlotte, Hornets fans and NBA fans did not deserve this.
To fully understand how and why this team is a current dumpster fire, we need do a history lesson. Feel free to skip ahead to the current Hornets and why they stink, if you wish.
Hornets History (1988-2003)
The Expansion Hornets (1988-1996)
The Charlotte Hornets came to be in 1988, starting their franchise with a dismal 20-62 record (which shockingly could be better than the ’19/20 group). The Hornets struggled the next two seasons, which lead to them getting the first pick in the 1991 draft – Larry Johnson, power forward from UNLV. Johnson won the ’92 rookie of the year award, but the Hornets still stunk (31-51 record) and ended up with the 2nd pick in the 1992 Draft. The Hornets used that pick on Alonzo Mourning, star center from Georgetown. Together, Mourning and Johnson (and Kendall Gill) would put together three solid seasons, including winning 50 games in ‘94/95, losing in the 1st round of the playoffs.
I never wanted to leave Charlotte, but the business of basketball got in the way of that”Alonzo Mourning on leaving the Hornets
The Hornets were owned by George Shinn, whose name sounds just like how he was perceived. After heated negotiations, Shinn and Mourning could not agree on a contract, so the Hornets traded Mourning to the Miami Heat for forward Glen Rice the summer of 1995, ending the Zo-LJ combo after three seasons. According to the Charlotte Observer, Alonzo Mourning said “I never wanted to leave Charlotte, but the business of basketball got in the way of that,”, but the then-owner of the Hornets George Shinn said that they “offered him more money than Larry Johnson.” … so, it’s a he-said, he-said. It’s a shame because it cut short something special, but here we are.
The Downfall of the Hornets (1996-2003)
Over the next three seasons, the Hornets won an average of 48.6 games, however it was the same three seasons Michael Jordan came back and we all know how that went for other NBA teams. In the summer of 1996, the Hornets made a trade thinking they were getting the best player for their team – they traded the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft to the LA Lakers for center Vlade Divac. The Hornets also traded Larry Johnson for Anthony Mason in the summer of 1996, ending a five-year run with the franchise. The Hornets did win 54 games the following season, but looking at that trade with the knowledge we have in 2019 … maybe the future in Charlotte is drastically different. The Hornets traded Glen Rice to the LA Lakers for Eddie Jones (one of my favorites) and Elden Campbell in the shortened lockout season of 1999, ending Rice’s run in Charlotte. The next three seasons, the Hornets made the playoffs each year, but attendance plummeted to just an average of 11K fans in the ‘01/02 season. The NBA approved the Hornets franchise to be moved to New Orleans for the 2002/03 season, ending a 20+ year run in Charlotte.
The Rise and Fall of the Bobcats (2004-2014)
So, at this point in their history, the year is 2003 and the Charlotte Hornets are extinct. The franchise was moved to New Orleans and renamed the Pelicans. The NBA announced that a new expansion team would be in Charlotte and the Bobcats were born in June 2003. The Bobcats played their first game in the 2004/05 season and finished a league-worst 18-64. The city of Charlotte went from a team that won 44 games in ’01/02, to a team that won 18 games.
The Bobcats were mainly known for losing, averaging 29.3 wins from 2004-2014, including a 7-59 record in the lockout shortened season of 2011/12. The Bobcats did make the playoffs twice, in ‘09/10 and ‘13/14, and drafted point guard Kemba Walker from UConn in the 2011 draft, but overall the Bobcats were not great. Michael Jordan became the majority owner of the franchise in 2010 and asked the NBA to rename the team back to the Hornets in 2013. In May of 2014, the team that was the Bobcats was no more and the Charlotte Hornets were BACK!
The Charlotte Hornets aka the Bobcats 2.0 (2014-current)
The Hornets rebranding was completed in 2014 with their new look logo, which were true to the color scheme in the 1990’s. The Hornets made the postseason in 2014 and were looking to build off that. So far, the Hornets have not been successful. They have won 40+ games in one season, in 2015/16 when the Hornets won 48 games, but have not been able to build off that. This past summer, point guard Kemba Walker opted to leave the only franchise he’s ever known to play for the Celtics, leaving the Hornets franchise in a tough spot. It’s not Kemba’s fault either. This is the fault of poor management.
Since the NBA has brought back basketball in Charlotte, there has only been three seasons of 40+ wins … that is AWFUL. The players the Hornets drafted and/or signed have not worked out. You want to what happened to the Hornets? They can’t pick talent to save their life (aside from Kemba Walker). Look below:
Hornets/Bobcats Draft Picks ’04-19
- 2004 – 1st Pick, Emeka Okafor
- solid player, passed on Dwight Howard, Andre Igoudala, Josh Smith
- 2005 – 5th Pick, Raymond Felton
- solid PG but was never a star
- 2005 – 13th Pick, Sean May
- flame out, passed on Danny Granger
- 2006 – 3rd Pick, Adam Morrison
- flame out, passed on Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, JJ Redick, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry
- 2007 – 8th Pick, Brendan Wright
- passed on Joakim Noah, Thad Young
- 2008 – 9th Pick, DJ Augustin
- solid NBA player, still a rotation player for Orlando
- 2009 – 12th Pick, Gerald Henderson
- solid NBA career, good value for the selection
- 2011 – 9th Pick, Kemba Walker ⭐
- 1x All-NBA, 3x NBA All-Star
- 2012 – 2nd Pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
- passed on Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond
- 2014 – 9th Pick, Noah Vonleh
- passed on Zach LaVine, TJ Warren, Dario Saric, Rodney Hood, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic
- 2015 – 9th Pick, Frank Kaminsky
- passed on Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Bobby Portis, Larry Nance Jr, Kevon Looney
- 2017 – 11th Pick, Malik Monk
- too soon to tell how Monk will pan out, passed on Donovan Mitchell, Derrick White, Josh Hart
- 2018 – 11th Pick, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- traded to LAC for Miles Bridges, who is a very nice young player, and two 2nd round picks)
- 2019 – 12th Pick, PJ Washington
- University of Kentucky, averaged 15.2 pts and 7.5 rebs in ‘18/19)
So, there you have it. It’s as clear as day. The number of misses in the last 15 years would make Russell Westbrook jealous. The Hornets best assets that they’ve drafted in the last 15 years are on other teams. On top of that, the Hornets have swung and missed in free agency. In 2016, the Hornets signed Nic Batum to a massive 5 year / $120M contract. Batum has been often injured and has 2 Years / $52M left on his deal. That same summer, the Hornets also spent $52M on re-signing Michael Kidd-Gilchrest. The question has to be asked … WHAT WAS THE MARKET FOR KIDD-GILCHRIST? I know it wasn’t $52M! However, it was the summer of spending in 2016, so if you were a free agent in 2016, you got paid (google Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov).
The Future of the Hornets
This summer, Terry Rozier got paid by the Hornets, in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics. Rozier will try and live up to his 2018 postseason with the C’s, while making an annual salary of $18.9M per season. If that gets you a little pissed off. I don’t blame you. While this season is set up to struggle, there is some relief. The big contracts of Marvin Williams ($22.5M), Bismack Biyombo ($25.5M) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($19.5M) come off the books, so the Hornets will have money to throw around. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Nic Batum has a player option in 2020 for $27M that he will clearly use (I mean, who the hell wouldn’t). The Hornets could still throw big money at Brandon Ingram (who’s from the North Carolina area) and force the Pelicans hand. Ingram is a RFA in 2020 and if the Pelicans aren’t ready to pay up, he could be playing elsewhere … and Charlotte would be an ideal place for him and the Ingram family. The same goes for Jaylen Brown and Domantas Sabonis. If the Celtics or Pacers are not ready to pay up, the Hornets will have the bank roll to do so.
If the Hornets strike out in free agency, they can always try and trade for a good player with a big contract. The Hornets can use Batum’s expiring contract as an enticement to any deal, which may or may not work. In reality, the Hornets will need to-rebuild from the NBA Draft. The Hornets do have one thing going for them — they have a very good chance at a top pick in the 2020 Draft. While the college season has yet to start, chances are James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards, Isaiah Stewart and LaMelo Ball will be in consideration come June 2020.
I hope the Hornets can get back on track. Even though I’ve never been to Charlotte, I always enjoyed watching the Hornets. Maybe it was their cool colors in the 90’s. Maybe it was grand-ma-ma. If the Hornets are back and buzzin’, the NBA world will welcome them back with open arms.