Hornets NBA

Inevitable Mediocrity: The Charlotte Hornets Tale

While the trade deadline has come and gone, 26 different NBA teams made trades to help signify the path of their franchise (except for the Wizards, no one knows what they’re doing). 14 of those teams hail from the Eastern Conference. The 76ers obtained Tobias Harris, the Bucks traded for Nikola Mirotic, and the Raptors secured Marc Gasol as they prepare for an arms race to claim the Eastern conference throne.

Marc Gasol, however, wasn’t exactly expecting a trade to the Raptors. In fact, not many thought it was a genuine possibility.

You see, the Raptors had made an earlier offer for the big man, which would have sent Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas to Memphis in exchange for both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The Memphis Grizzlies declined–and rightfully so.

Two days later, Gasol alone would be sent to Canada for Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, and a 2024 second-round pick.

But, this wasn’t the original destination at which Gasol was expected to land. On February 5th, just two days before the trade deadline, Shams Charania of the Athletic reported that the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies were in ‘strong talks’ over a potential deal involving Gasol.

It was revealed the next day that the package at hand was centered around Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and a protected first-round pick. Another trusted source, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, confirmed that there was uncertainty revolving around the potential trade due to the protections on the pick, which is assumed to be the reason this trade never happened.

But, this wasn’t the only player that the Hornets missed out on (that we know of).

Harrison Barnes was a player made available by the Dallas Mavericks in attempts to create a max-contract slot for this summer, which is going to be one of the better free agency classes in the past few seasons.

Reportedly, the Hornets sent in an offer which was heavily considered by the Mavericks. Of course, the Sacramento Kings would beat out the Hornets bid and become Barnes’ suitor — which, might I add, is a spectacular fit.

We aren’t exactly sure what Charlotte’s offer was, but the Kings were able to promise salary cap relief, which is something the Hornets would have been unable to give for a player with a contract as large as Barnes’.

After this, though, we don’t necessarily know who or what the Hornets were going after, and what they were offering for those players or picks.

But the direction of the franchise has been relatively clear up until trade deadline. There was clarity. There was a certain expectation of management to bring in high-level (or at least mid-level) talent to compliment All-Star starter Kemba Walker.

But that never happened and no one should be surprised. Almost any trade that Charlotte could have been involved in would have been bad for one side or another–it’s just the way that their current roster, and salary makeup is constructed. With Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky being the only players on expiring deals, and Marvin Williams, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo all making way more than they should, finding a possible trade for a good player was a near-impossible feat.

Yet still, there were six months to do something, anything, and nothing happened.

This so-called direction seems less and less clear; like a self-aware compass that can no longer tell which way is north. In itself, a complete and total failure–but maybe not because of what wasn’t accomplished, but rather the potential repercussions.

The status quo for the past year has been that Kemba Walker is most likely going to re-sign with the Hornets. However, he provided a quote that I cannot stop thinking about.

In early January, Kemba Walker gave an interview to ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ when he said the following.

“They know. [Michael Jordan and Mitch Kupchak] what they got to do.” Walker said. “That’s not my job. I’ll leave it up to those guys. We have Mitch now, who’s a great guy who’s done a great job at building teams over his GM career. And I have a lot of trust in him. So, you know, we talk all the time. Who knows?”

Walker also stated that his free agency is a wait-and-see scenario, which, for most premier free agents in the NBA, is expected.

Moreover, the point I’m making is that the Hornets actively knew Walker wasn’t okay with not making the playoffs, and not only that, but also competing while there. Which he has yet to do for the entirety of his career.

But not only this but perhaps, like a lost man with a broken compass in the Alaskan countryside (you know, like one of those TV shows), were the Hornets searching for the wrong types of trades anyway?

I’ve proposed this idea, this notion, in the past and have received plenty of backlash for it. But the Hornets should have been looking into offers for Kemba Walker rather than trying to better the already-horrid roster around him. And they should have been doing it for over a year now.

The ultimate goal of any sports franchise should be to win a championship. That is the bottom line. Any goal less than that is unfair to the countless fans that spend hours watching games and hundreds of dollars on merchandise.

And that’s where we are. The current money problem that stems from the dreadful and painful off-season of 2016 continues to haunt the team today, especially on an aging roster with limited young talent and only one All-Star caliber player.

However, when stuck in cap purgatory with the ceiling of a first-round playoff exit (and likely a sweep at that) and the inability to do anything about it, what must be done?

It’s a genuine question, but it’s also a question that Jordan and Kupchak can’t seem to bare thinking about. Nothing in the NBA is simple, but effectively and ironically, trading Walker before the trade deadline of 2018 a year ago would have been the best possible move. Of course, this didn’t happen and there’s zero point in talking about that now.

Yet mediocrity has been possibly the one constant among the Hornets over the past three years. It’s possible they make the playoffs in 2019 but at the end of the day the question of “was it worth it?” will be asked.

Walker gave the Hornets an ultimatum, and I can’t blame him. As expected, Charlotte was unable to comply.

Perhaps blame will be dished to current general manager Mitch Kupchak, but the ultimate fault of the current mess, which draws pity from those outside of the situation, lies in the hands of whom some would call the greatest player (not executive) of all time, in Michael Jordan.

He’s becoming the equivalent of the Jerry Jones of the NBA, just with slightly better morals. I don’t use that comparison lightly. An enigma, at that. Jordan has a hand in almost all front office decisions and this meddling has made the Hornets pay a significant price.

That price is worse than constantly losing. At the end of the day, losing 55-60 games in a season would put Charlotte in a better situation than the one they have right now. And what they have right now, is the eternal suffering that is mediocrity.

‘The Process’ by the Philadelphia 76ers was the first of its kind. Rebuilding was a thing, but intentionally and actively making your team worse was not. It was a risk, a big risk. Monumentally big, in fact.

That’s something that Charlotte needs. They need to take a chance because what the Hornets have going on right now is adequately idiotic. Doing the exact same thing three years in a row with the expectation of a different result is the definition of insane, at least according to Albert Einstein.

When I say the ship for the current Hornets roster has sailed, I mean it sailed away three years ago, as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, after Charlotte had lost to the Miami Heat in seven games.

The Hornets need change, and they need it fast. But for now, at least there’s Shelvin Mack.

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