Is the Buzz back? Or is it simply a name change?
There is no questioning the success of Michael Jordan’s playing career. However since his return to North Carolina, when he gained control of basketball operations of the Charlotte franchise in June 2005, the highlight reels of Muggsy, LJ and Alonzo became nothing but a faint memory for the Hornets fandom. MJ’s post-playing career with the Charlotte Hornets, Bobcats no Hornets more closely resembled a Chuck Hayes free throw than the return to former glory, as once promised.
What’s that? I’m being to hard on MJ? Well check this out.
Ever since MJ became president of basketball operations and eventually majority shareholder in 2010, it has been a struggle. Fair to say Charlotte would’ve had better luck selecting their talent from a lucky dip than have MJ evaluate their prospects. Trading for DeSagana Diop… moving Gerald Wallace… paying Tyrus Thomas (5-years $40 freakin-million!).
The Adam Morrison decision however is the checkmate in the “is MJ a disgraceful judge of talent” conundrum. Morrison was undoubtedly one hell of college player, however most basketball pundits agreed he would struggle to transfer his game to the NBA. Once MJ passed on Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and the opportunity to position the club to draft Lamarcus Aldridge all to guarantee the selection of Morrison, he had well and truly driven the nail into the Bobcats coffin for the next few years.
I don’t think that it’s any great secret that MJ’s talent assessment has left a fair bit to be desired. In his time being the majority owner of the Hornets he has made one fantastic move, however; a move that is already beginning to revive the organization from the street to the suite. That decision was to hire Rich Cho as General Manager in June 2011 (and promote Rod Higgins to President of Basketball Operations) and step down as head of talent ID. Quite possibly the most prominent and influential decision MJ ever makes as owner of the Hornets was realizing he needed help. That decision has had more impact on the resurrection of the Hornets than anything he had done previously.
Since this fork in the road the Hornets have zigged while the rest of the league zagged, as Downtown’s Tom Hersz outlined so well in his ‘Bobbing and Weaving’ piece in late April.
While the majority of NBA teams were Riggin’ for Wiggins the Hornets acquired the ageing Al Jefferson who was a proven 20 and 10 performer to pair with their frustrated, but talented, young point guard Kemba Walker. Add to the mix Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and new addition Lance ‘Born Ready’ Stephenson, along with new recruit Noah Vonleh, and you have the foundation for a defensive minded roster with an incredibly large chip on its shoulder. The success the Hornets had in last year’s regular season has given them the belief they need to make the most of their opportunity in the lack luster Eastern Conference.
Coming into last season the Hornets had lost 120 of their last 148 games leaving their fandom with the type of expectations you have for a service station chicken roll. However, to many people’s surprise, the zagging has paid off. The Hornets (then Bobcats) finished 6th in points allowed last season and have become even stronger on that end of the floor with the addition of Lance.
There is no questioning the fact that the Eastern Conference is weak. Unlike the majority of the teams in the East, however, the Hornets are capitalizing on this. It has been a long time since Charlotte fans had the opportunity to attend a playoff game and cheer on their team, last year they were finally afforded that gift. Rich Cho has implemented a money-ball strategy to the Hornets, which was made popular by the Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Cho understands that Charlotte is not among the major markets in the NBA and needs to be smarter than the larger franchises or order to compete.
In the NBA there is a serious lack of appreciation for defense, it seems almost every man and his dog understands this notion however not many NBA franchises have chosen to capitalize on it. The Indiana Pacers have made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals for the past two seasons focusing on just this. The Pacers struggled to throw a pea into the ocean for the most part, but they understood by building on their ability to defend they could be successful. The Hornets, under new coach Steve Clifford, were a very good defensive team last season and are aiming to get even better.
Under Rich Cho, the Hornets have been bold (by signing Al-Jeff) and have placed a high value on defensive prowess (drafting Michael Kidd-Gildchrist and acquiring Lance Stephenson) while others worried about losing games and clearing cap space. The result has been a strong, defensive minded roster that will give the Eastern Conference a real shake, as while the entire league is trying to be good on one end of the floor they will be better on the other.
So, back to our original question, are we finally witnessing the return to glory for the Charlotte Hornets? Is it time to bust out your LJ jersey for some more fun in the sun?
I believe it is.
The Hornets have their man in the middle (Jefferson = Mourning), a small in-your-face PG (Walker = Bogues) and a transcendent, animated and aggressive strong man (Stephenson = Larry Johnson).
There may not be many similarities in the style of play between the modern day Hornets and their past selves, however they will be successful. A return to the Eastern Conference Semi Finals is not out the question for MJ and his Hornets, which is something none of us thought we would be saying for long time.
The Buzz my friends, is well and truly back.
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