Al Jefferson Changed the Culture of the Charlotte Hornets

Sep 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson (25) during Media Day at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson (25) during Media Day at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

Even though Al Jefferson‘s time with the Charlotte Hornets was plagued by multiple injuries, his signing put the team back on the map and helped them rebuild their franchise.

If you asked NBA fans and executives who the most poorly ran franchise has been over the past decade or so, many would point directly at the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats organization. The team was consistently at the bottom of the league in wins and their bad draft picks and free agent signings were starting to pile up. It would seem as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Things started to look better when the team made the playoffs for the first time in the 2009-2010 season since returning to Charlotte. That quickly changed when just two years later, they had the worst season in NBA history. Then things suddenly changed again as the team had made a big splash in free agency during the summer of 2013 by signing Al Jefferson.

This was the first big name signing that the team had made in some time. Many would argue that it was the biggest signing in franchise history or at least since the team returned to Charlotte. In more ways than one, Big Al was about to change the landscape of professional basketball in the Queen City.

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The then Bobcats signed Jefferson to a three-year, $40.5 million deal making him the highest paid player on the team. The deal included a player option for the third year that he would eventually end up accepting. Big Al was one of the best offensive big men in the game at the time and after many successful seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz, many were shocked with his move to Charlotte.

Al immediately made a huge impact on the team and success soon followed as they won 43 games in his first season with the franchise and they were able to secure a playoff berth. He averaged a team-high 21.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game during his first season with Charlotte.

After an amazing start to his career with the Hornets, things went downhill from there. Jefferson’s points, rebounds, and games played all went down in the following two seasons. Injuries caught up with him and limited his effectiveness with the team. While he still showed some signs of brilliance, Big Al was ultimately a shell of his former self because of the constantly nagging injuries.

But Jefferson’s impact on the organization and the city went far beyond that of just the court. He completely changed the franchise’s direction. In 2014, the team brought back the Hornets name to Charlotte. They also began to make significant improvements in their quality of play as well as their drafting, trading, and free agent signings.

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The success of the franchise can be seen from this past season as they won 48 games and were tied for the third best record in the Eastern Conference in the 2015-16 season. The Charlotte Hornets’ plans were panning out as their draft picks were developing into quality players and the acquisition of Nicolas Batum was one of the best moves of the offseason.

Now this could be chalked up to great management, a quality front office, or a good owner and general manager but I think the success of the team directly correlates to the singing of Al Jefferson back in 2013. Big Al’s decision to go against the norm and sign with a small market team was a shocking move but it help put Charlotte back on the map. It also led the team to have a winning mentality where they could go out and sign big name players and actually compete for a playoff spot every year.

The Charlotte Hornets have become a small market team that can compete with some big market teams and that is rare in today’s NBA. This league can be difficult for teams like Charlotte but they have found a way to be successful. They are now making smart moves and re-signing players like Nic Batum and Marvin Williams to team friendly deals that are worth less than they could have gotten on the open market.

This is all a credit to not only the organization but to the city, the fans, and the culture that has been created in Charlotte since Jefferson was signed three years ago. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up the success without Jefferson going forward.

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While his time in Charlotte may have been a bit disappointing because of his lack of production at times, Jefferson can be directly linked to the team’s success. Now that Big Al is moving onto another team after singing with the Indiana Pacers this summer, his impact on the Hornets’ franchise can still be felt today. And it will continue to be there for years to come as the team continues to strive for success and improve.