Writer: Kyle Wheelock
This is the second part of an article. To read part one, go here.
Oh man, a lot has happened since I last wrote about the Charlotte Hornets, and only some of it could be called good. Let’s backtrack; part one of this series was published just shortly before the 2018 All-Star weekend, and almost immediately after, the Hornets’ star point guard Kemba Walker (who has been at the center of trade rumors for years now) publicly stated that he fell in love with the city and was planning on having a home built in Charlotte. Now in his seventh season, Kemba Walker has been the face of the franchise since the day he was drafted, but he doesn’t really have anything to show for it.
Now, props to Kemba, as he’s made it to the NBA’s All-Star game the last two years now, and just a few days ago on March 28th, he became the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. He shows love to Charlotte and Charlotte gives it right back, he’s all they’ve got. But, in his tenure with the team, Kemba has only made it to the playoffs twice (2014 and 2016) and was eliminated in the both times in the first round by the Miami Heat, which is (understandably) starting to drive him crazy, as he’s still the same natural competitor we saw lead UConn to an NCAA championship back in 2010. The man wants to play on the big stages, but I don’t see that happening as long as he stays in Charlotte.
One Redditor posted a list of similarities this season’s Hornets team has with the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 34-48 and triggered, “The Process,” a long-term system that revolved around intentionally losing games and trading away high-quality players all in the pursuit of high draft packs. Then general manager Sam Hinkie stated that the team would be going in this direction in an attempt to set themselves up to win as many championships as possible in the future, which he felt they didn’t have. The only reason I’m bringing all this up is because the Charlotte Hornets are in the exact same situation, a capped out team with an all-star caliber player, but an underwhelming supporting cast and a bleak future. This is the purgatory Charlotte has found themselves stuck in.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recently signed an extension for $52,000,000 over the next four years, which is already looking like a bad investment on Charlotte’s end, as a) they already Nicolas Batum on the books for $120,000,000 over the next five years (an average of $24,000,000 a year) and (b) he can’t shoot, which further reduces Charlotte’s already limited spacing. Unless they find someone benevolent/incompetent enough to take on either MKG, Batum or Dwight Howard’s contracts, the Charlotte Hornets are stuck with several underperforming draft picks and no space to sign any significant players. It hurts to say, but it looks like Charlotte has already missed their window for winning with Kemba (save for some sort of C. J. McCollum-like leap in production by MKG or anyone else on the roster).
So, what does Charlotte do now? It’s hard to say really; I personally am a believer of, “the process,” as Philadelphia has two promising young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (hell, three if Markelle Fultz starts playing like he did at Washington). However, before this season, Philadelphia was a pit of misery, multiple seasons of loss after loss without even a sliver of a hope for making the postseason. Teams like the Phoenix Suns and the Memphis Grizzlies have embraced the tank and are doing it with incredible effectiveness, although being good at losing isn’t exactly something fanbases appreciate (not in the short term at least). Plus, it’s pretty easy for me to say Charlotte should clean house and start over because I’m not a fan of the team, I’m not attached to Kemba the way fans of the franchise are. I’m from Houston, I’m a Rockets fan whose team is expected to at least make the Western Conference Finals, if not the NBA finals, and if some website told me we should trade James Harden for picks, I’d be defensive about that too (to say the least).
I’m not mad at Charlotte for holding on to Kemba, I’m disappointed they’ve managed to keep such a talented player loyal while they surround him with lackluster pieces and waste his prime instead of making serious playoff runs. But again, I understand why neither party wants to divorce from the other, Kemba is loyal (probably to a fault), and the Charlotte Hornets as an organization don’t want to trigger another rebuild so soon after their last one, I get it. But I also don’t see things suddenly changing for the better in the current situation unless one of them pulls the trigger. I honestly don’t see Charlotte letting go of Kemba for anything less than a top ten draft pick (and even then I could see them not taking that deal for reasons stated above), but I also don’t see them winning a playoff series anytime soon either. It’s yet another unfortunate situation for a franchise that has been molded by shortcoming after shortcoming, and it looks like there will be more to come.