As 2018 comes to a close, we all take a look at all the memories and events that happened over the course of the past calendar year. The good times, the bad, your best moment maybe. No matter what it is, reflection is always key going into a new year. However, the most important thing we look at is how can we improve ourselves? For the Panthers and Hornets both, the question is simple. Who are you?
Panther fans and Hornets fans alike have gone through some dark times together. While there have been some bright spots throughout the years –more so for the Panthers– the narrative remains the same for Charlotte sports, we stink. That’s the harsh way of putting it at least, but there’s a bigger story to be told in the Queen City. These teams just don’t know who they are yet.
It’s almost as if Charlotte sports is going through its teenage years. We’re like a high school kid who has had three different friend groups and have gone through three personality changes and changed his name once in the past 4 years. “It’s a just a phase, honey.” Mom says to Dad as they sit at the dinner table.
It’s time for Charlotte sports to grow up and discover themselves. Find a path, commit to it and prosper. 2018 was stressful, and none of us, the fans, the players and coaches want to experience something like this ever again.
By now we all know the story of the 2018 Panthers. The highly disappointing decline from 6-2 and the wear and tear of Cam Newton’s shoulder define this season. But even during the impressive 6-2 start that had the Panthers labeled as a potential Superbowl pick, as a fan, I had no idea who this team was. In past years, our defense held us up on two feet while everyone on offense –outside of Newton– was incapable of sustaining any kind of consistency. This stretch was different, at no point was I confident that our defense would get a stop and the offenses aerial attack was extremely shaky for reasons already noted. The only thing I was certain of was that Christian McCaffrey was going to touch the ball on essentially every snap.
Is that an identity or is it just the easy way out?
As we all can tell, this caught up to the Panthers and they have finished the season 1-7 (7-9 overall), with their one win coming against a Saints team who were resting most of their starters for the playoffs. The Hornets oddly enough find themselves in a slightly similar situation. As i’m writing this, Charlotte will have to play the Dallas Mavericks tonight before the start of the new year. They just came off a three game stretch of both losing and beating the Brooklyn Nets, and losing a high scoring shootout against the Washington Wizards, who were without star guard, John Wall.
The Hornets are very weird this season, they have beaten good teams; Boston, Milwaukee, Denver, and Indiana. Yet have lost to every team at the bottom of the eastern conference; Washington, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Chicago.
This isn’t the formula you want if you’re trying to push into the playoffs. You simply have to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. If they were doing this there’s a good chance they would be sitting at a top 5 seed in the eastern conference. However, that’s not the case and the Hornets are still searching for answers. The identity that James Borrego wants this team to have is sort of clear. Get shots off at a fast pace while shooting a high percentage of threes. The fact of the matter is that this roster just isn’t equipped to do this. You could say that Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb are thriving in these roles, both of the guards are having the best season of their careers.
This isn’t a knock on Borrego’s scheme, I think his philosophy is just what you need to succeed in today’s NBA. He just doesn’t have the right personnel to do it. It seems like every game we see a new lineup trot out onto the court at some stage during the game. We’re only in December and Borrego has played 250 different lineup combinations so far this season. Yes, two hundred and fifty. He’s searching for a unit to actually click, but he’s running out of time to right the ship for this season.
Every Charlottean is aware of Kemba’s contract situation. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season and the options for the Hornets are pretty scary. We can resign Walker –if he wants– and give him the money he deserves, we’ll dive further into cap purgatory and we’ll continue to not be able to bring in free agents. This will leave us good enough for about the 9th to 14th pick for the next few seasons and probably end up right back where we left off. Mediocrity.
They can also disappoint a lot of fans and trade Walker. Bring in a collection of young talent and picks to officially start the rebuild process. Or we can simply let Kemba walk for nothing in return to postpone the tank until next season.
One of those three options are going to happen, do we bring in a player to help Kemba? I have no idea but they need to decide sooner rather than later what direction they want to take.
That answer remains the same for the Panthers. It looks like Ron Rivera will be returning at least for one more season next year, which I guess is understanding. He’s had some good seasons here (not a lot), but you could probably say we would have been in the playoffs this year if Newton was healthy enough to throw the ball 10 yards. Anyways, it’s up to him to look at his roster and make the changes necessary to prevent what happened this season from ever happening again. Fixing up the defense and committing to a offensive style. Also ensuring your franchise quarterback is 100% healthy whenever he returns.
For both teams, discovering themselves doesn’t necessarily mean somehow being a top team in their respective leagues, that’s foolish thinking. For the Panthers, if you need Newton to take the Andrew Luck route and sit out a year to regain his health, while they give to reigns to a backup or a rookie they draft in the mid rounds of the 2019 draft. That’s perfectly fine! Either way, start rebuilding the identity of this team. Carolina will be losing a handful of veterans this off-season; Ryan Kalil is retiring and there’s a good chance Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers and Greg Olsen don’t return as well.
It’s possible four new guys are going to be captaining this team come August, it’s time to start establishing a new culture in Carolina to get this ship back on track quickly before we waste the prime years of Newton and Luke Kuechly. This is going to require a lot of outside of the box thinking from Rivera, as he’ll likely be coaching for his job this season, so it will be interesting to say how all of it plays out. All we can do is hope for the best.
It will surely be an interesting 2019 for Charlotte sports. The Hornets may look completely different in a month or two, Carolina may have a new temporary starting QB at the start of next season, no one really knows what’s going to happen. Let’s build some consistency, find our identities and start moving forward.