What would it take for the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets’ to have the best season in Charlotte history?
Charlotte has made some noise this off-season. With the additions of Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, and P.J. Hairston, many are expecting Charlotte to move up in the Eastern conference standings. One of our writers is predicting top 4.
This is a 4-part series discussing current and former players as well as comparing last season to some of the great seasons in Hornets past. We’ll look at how Kemba Walker stacks up to Muggsy Bogues and Baron Davis. Who had more impact on the game between Al Jefferson and Alonzo Mourning? Which player really had the best season for Charlotte? Which Hornet team had the most success (sorry Bobcats)?
Let’s get started with that last question.
Which team had the most success in one season that will be considered the year to beat? Charlotte has had only limited success in its short history. They have had three 50-win teams and made the playoffs 9 times. And remember, Charlotte basketball history counts the Charlotte Hornets from 1988-2002 and the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets from 2004-present. Note statistics are per basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Alas, the contenders:
1994-1995 Hornets – Regular season record 50-32, Lost in 1st round of playoffs to Chicago 1-3 (Jordan returned from baseball this year)
1996-1997 Hornets – Regular season record 54-28, Lost in 1st round of playoffs to New York 0-3
1997-1998 Hornets – Regular season record 51-31, Lost in 2nd round of playoffs to Chicago 1-4 (Jordan’s last year as a Bull)
2000-2001 Hornets – Regular season record 46-39, Lost in 2nd round of playoffs to Milwaukee 3-4
The Case for the 1994-1995 Hornets:
This team had the names that come to mind when you think Charlotte Hornets. Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning. Dell Curry coming off the bench. Other notables include Hersey Hawkins, Scott Burrell, and Robert Parish. LJ and Mourning made the All-Star team that season. Unfortunately, they were done in when Michael Jordan decided to return to basketball after the baseball experiment, making the 4 seed Charlotte his first playoff victim (the Bulls would lose to the Orlando Magic in the 2nd round).
Alonzo Mourning was this team’s best player with a PER of 20.1 and was top 5 in blocks and top 3 in free throws. Larry Johnson averaged 18.8 ppg, 4.6 apg, and 7.2 rbg. Bogues was top 5 in assists as the shortest player to ever play in the NBA.
This is the team people in their 30s remember from their childhood and had potential until Charlotte’s current owner decided to dominate the basketball world again, making the Bulls better than their 5 seed record would indicate.
The Hornets got a bad hand in the first round, and subsequently went home. Of note Alonzo was offered a contract extension after this season that he turned down, and he ended up being traded to Miami for Glen Rice along with some other pieces.
Also, watch this video and tell me who Charlotte has today that can do this:
The Case for the 1996-1997 Hornets:
After Alonzo left, a theme developed from George Shinn in that he was willing to trade someone instead of paying to keep them. Larry Johnson was traded for Anthony Mason. Kobe Bryant was drafted and then traded for Vlade Divac, which totally made sense at the time.
This team had the highest winning percentage in Charlotte history. At 54-28 they were the 6 seed in the playoffs. When people talk about the Eastern Conference being down in recent years, this is why. In 2014, 54 wins was what Miami had to get the 2 seed. The 1997 Hornets featured Glen Rice, Anthony Mason, Vlade Divac, and Muggsy. Rice was 3rd in ppg in the league at 26.8, was 2nd team All-NBA and was in the All-Star game. Mason was 3rd team All-NBA and 2nd team All-Defense. Divac was a fantasy basketball stud: 12.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, 9 rbg, 1.3 steals, 2.2 blocks. See? That trade made sense at the time!
That team with all those accolades got swept in the 1st round by the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks that also had Larry Johnson and Allan Houston. In another year this Hornets team makes the conference finals, but there were too many other good teams in 1997.
The Case for the 1997-1998 Hornets:
51-31 regular season that led to being the 4 seed, defeated Atlanta in the 1st round 3-1 and lost to MJ’s Bulls in the 2nd round 4-1.
Muggsy was traded 2 games into the season along with Tony Delk to Golden State for B.J. Armstrong. The starters were Mason, Divac, David Wesley, Bobby Phills, and Glen Rice. This is the team that would let the starting PF Anthony Mason bring the ball up the floor to throw defenses off after trading Muggsy.
This team was still led by Rice and Mason, though the advanced stats suggest that Vlade Divac and Matt Geiger were two of the better players. They both averaged less than 30 minutes a game and had the highest two PERs on the team (which suggests the problem with PER, though it is a useful stat). But they played well and complimented each other down low.
Rice was 3rd team All-NBA and made the All-Star game again. Charlotte topped out again in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Any team facing Chicago was going to lose that year, they were on a mission to three-peat. The Hornets may have been able to beat Indiana after winning the regular season series 3-1. They lost the regular season series to NY, the other final 4 Eastern team, 1-3.
And just in case you forgot, here’s how that season ended:
The Case for the 2000-2001 Hornets:
This was a deep team with Baron Davis, Wesley, Hawkins, Jamal Mashburn, Derrick Coleman, Elden Campbell, P.J. Brown, Jamal Magloire, Burrell, and Eddie Robinson. This team went 46-36 and swept the Miami Heat in the 1st round before losing to Ray Allen and Milwaukee in 7 games.
This season was the one after Bobby Phills died in a car accident leaving practice one day. The team was also losing popularity because of owner George Shinn’s legal problems, with attendance falling to 21st in the league after leading the NBA for many years in the 90s.
This was a good team that did as well as any Hornets team has done in the playoffs. They did not have an All-Star on the team, it was more the collective efforts of all the players listed above plus more that led them to the 2nd round. This team was more about potential because if they actually had the home court advantage the Larry Johnson era Hornets had this team could have been a force.
To remind you how good Baron Davis was:
Based on all the information above, the team that I will be considering the best in Charlotte history is the 1997-1998 team. 51 wins is the second most in team history and they made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They were led by an All-Star and 3rd team All-NBA player in Glen Rice, and had 6 players that averaged double figure points.
While I admit my favorite of the group was the LJ/Zo team, the Glen Rice era was more successful. We’ll spend the remaining parts of this series further determining if the 2014-2015 team can become the best in Charlotte history.
Sound off in the comments section, which team do you think was the best in Hornets’ history?
Tags: Charlotte Hornets