Are the Charlotte Hornets Destined For Mediocrity?

May 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (right) greets Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum (left) after game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 106-73. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (right) greets Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum (left) after game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 106-73. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

In the cycle of the NBA, there are always a few true title contenders, a couple dumpster fires, and a lot of mediocre teams in between. What can we realistically expect from the current Charlotte Hornets?

The Hornets are a well-performing team. They’re trendy, owned by Michael Jordan, and dressed in the sickest threads in the league. They’re exciting to watch and possess quality players and assets that put them well into playoff contention. But what is their ceiling? Just how far can the Charlotte Hornets expect to go before they collapse? Can we avoid mediocrity?

The Road So Far

Charlotte completed the 2015-16 season with a 48 win season, for a four-way tie for the third best record in the Eastern Conference. Because of tie-breakers, Charlotte was dealt the sixth seed and lost to Miami in seven hard-fought games. This offseason, the Hornets retained key FA’s Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams. Unfortunately, 6th man of the year candidate Jeremy Lin, center Al Jefferson, and Courtney Lee have all departed. Despite additions such as Ramon Sessions and Roy Hibbert, it would not be out of the question to say Charlotte has stagnated or even regressed.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be returning after just seven games last season, and if his production can match that small sample size, he’d be a viable weapon for Charlotte. But we can’t assume a poor career jump shooter will maintain averages of 54.1% FG and 42.9% three-point percentage throughout the season. Best case scenario, MKG maintains his percentages and Charlotte does not regress but rather improves to a top four seed. Worst case scenario, the Hornets new additions are worse than their predecessors and the team misses out on the playoffs.

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How Charlotte Matches Up With the East

The Hornets are better than most on paper, but nowhere near the kind of monster the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs, or even the Los Angeles Clippers are. Let’s take a look at just the Eastern Conference though. The Boston Celtics, the Indiana Pacers, and the New York Knicks all took steps forward in skill level this offseason. Boston had the same record as Charlotte last season, but retained nearly every free agent as well as signing star center Al Horford.

Indiana added All-Star Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, and our own Al Jefferson to complement their preexisting superstar Paul George. New York is tricky, adding injury prone veterans Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. However they still possess future cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis, current superstar Carmelo Anthony, and former Hornet Courtney Lee. There are at least five teams with the potential to supersede Charlotte once the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland enter the fray.

It is worth noting that playoff contenders from the past season such as Miami and the Atlanta Hawks can be seen as weakened. Miami lost key players in Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson while Atlanta has unproven guard Dennis Schroder and lost Al Horford who was replaced by a declining Dwight Howard. Again, Charlotte certainly is a good team, but it’s worth asking what they can realistically accomplish when the Eastern Conference is not the weak garbage pile it used to be.

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The Really Big Picture

Now let’s say everything goes right. The Charlotte Hornets have fought valiantly throughout the 2016-17 season. With all players in good health, they’ve managed to capture a top four seed in the Eastern Conference. Where do we go from here? Well, let’s take a look at the past 69 NBA champions. Out of 69 champions, only 2 teams have not been a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd seed. A 4th seed and 6th seed has won just once, the 1969 Boston Celtics and the 1995 Houston Rockets respectively. A 5th, 7th, and 8th seed have never won an NBA championship.

Long story short, the chances of the Hornets winning a championship with their current roster is less than likely. Even with every cylinder firing, Charlotte is unlikely to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, much less the the actual Finals. So where do we go from here?

What are our options?

So what can the Hornets do from here on? Well we have three choices. We can choose to do what most do. Stay the same, adding minimal free agents, avoiding risky trades, and holding onto our best players in an attempt to remain relevant. Is that really what you want though? Are you okay with being a 4-6 seed for the next few years, constantly losing in the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs? Being so close but so far until our stars leave for greener pastures? Well I’m not.

I say we take the less beaten path. We pool our assets and make a trade for a star player that will elevate the games of Kemba Walker, Nicholas Batum, and anyone else on the roster. Charlotte has all its draft picks for the foreseeable future. Either an established superstar or an up and coming prospect who has a real shot at becoming something in this league.

No team has ever won a championship without at least one All-Star on their team. Currently our best bet is Kemba, but considering the depth at the point guard position around the league, it might not be wise to expect an All-Star selection for our beloved floor general. We need to trade our picks, young prospects like Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, and even MKG for viable competitive talent. But what if nobody bites? What if no other team wants what we’re shopping around?

Some Men Just Want To Watch the World Burn

We become a dumpster fire. We trade all our players for secondary role players and an arsenal draft picks large enough to make Danny Ainge jealous. In other words, we pull a Philadelphia 76ers and trade away our beloved collection of players in the hopes that one of the young prospects in the future becomes a superstar in the footsteps of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, or James Harden that can lead us in the future for championships.

Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Kemba, Batum, and especially Frank the Tank, but it might be necessary to avoid becoming a stagnant team. I don’t want to be the next Memphis Grizzlies or Toronto Raptors. I want to be the next Jordan era Chicago Bulls, the next San Antonio Spurs, the next Showtime Lakers.

Mediocrity to Garbage to Championships

Now let’s say Michael Jordan and Rich Cho get crazy enough to actually go through with that rebuilding process. Don’t get confused, it’s going to be painful. I mean, straight up impossible to watch without groaning in sadness. For the Hornets to become what we want them to be, they’re going to have to struggle and tank harder than anyone’s ever tanked. We’re going to have to relive the days of 2011-12 Bobcats. Go ahead and throw up in the garbage can before you come back to read. It might take three or even five years to finish this rebuilding process.

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However what can come of this pain? A franchise superstar that could take Charlotte to places we’ve never been before. For a team that’s never even been to the Eastern Conference Finals, I think it’s about time we take some risks. No one ever won a championship by playing it safe.