When was the Charlotte Hornets best chance at a championship?

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 13: Baron Davis
CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 13: Baron Davis /

The Charlotte Hornets don’t look to be contending anytime soon. As a matter of fact, in their entire existence since 1988, they’ve never made a Conference Finals.

That’s not for a lack of good teams, or even for a lack of decent chances. So with that being said, which season was the Charlotte Hornets‘ best chance at an NBA title? Keep in mind this is just the season where they had their best chance, not that they actually should’ve been expected to win it.  

There are quite a few seasons to choose from. The team has made the Conference Semifinals four times, and have had three 50+ win seasons. The biggest issue with two of the 50+ win seasons is that they came during Michael Jordan’s reign over the league, so those seasons are out.

The other season came in 1994-1995 when the Hornets went 50-32. In that postseason the Hornets were bounced in the first round by the Scottie Pippen-led Chicago Bulls 3-1. Despite one loss coming in OT and another coming by one-point, the Hornets wouldn’t have gone much further in the playoffs. That Bulls team ran into Shaq and the Orlando Magic in the second round and were dispatched in six games. Even if a couple close games went the Hornets way, their fate would have most likely fared the same way as the Bulls’. So, that season was also not the Hornets best chance.

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In 1992-1993 the Hornets reached the second round for the first time in their franchise history. They fell to the New York Knicks in five games, but all of the games were decided by six points or less. So if a couple of games swing their way, maybe Zo, LJ, Mugsy, and Dell get their chance at an ECF. However, no, I didn’t forget, this was also during the Bulls championship reign and the Hornets would not have gotten past the Bulls.  

Fast forward to Eastern Conference Semis of the 2001-2002 season when the Hornets squared off with the New Jersey Nets. Even though the Nets couldn’t stop the Los Angeles Lakers three-peat from happening they were still a great team led by Jason Kidd. While the Hornets weren’t completely blown out by the Nets in five games, they were clearly dominated and outmatched. So once again, this was not the year. I promise I will get there eventually.

Lastly, before I get to what I believe was the Hornets best chance at playing for the title, I want to address a couple of years ago. In the 2015-2016 the Hornets did NOT have a shot at winning the title. However, they did have a great shot at getting to the conference finals. The Miami Heat, who defeated them in that first round series took the second-seeded Toronto Raptors to seven games in the second round.  

If the Hornets had been able to close the Heat out at home when they were up 3-2 (which they should’ve, thank you purple shirt guy), they would’ve gotten to face off with a Raptors team that is known for having postseason struggles. Had the Hornets been able to pull it off they would’ve finally advanced to their first ever ECF. Obviously, they would’ve been lucky to even take one or two games from the Cavs, but it still would’ve been a great team accomplishment. That ‘15-’16 team was the best team in Charlotte since the NBA came back in 2004, so they deserve some recognition.

Alright, now on to the team that had the best chance of getting the franchise its first Larry O’Brien Trophy. They may not have had a good chance, but it was their best chance ever nonetheless.  

The 2000-2001 team.

On paper, the team was not fantastic or elite by any means. They finished 46-36, so slightly above average. They ranked 24th out of 29 in scoring, but they also ranked fourth in opponent scoring. The formula for this team was similar to the ‘13-’14 team in that regard. Even though the team had flaws on offense, they just seemed to find ways to win.

They headed into the postseason as the six seed in the East but were able to sweep the third-seeded Heat with ease. All three games of the series were won by 15 or more points.

Next, it was onto Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and the second-seeded Bucks. In the first two games of the series on the road, the Hornets fell behind 2-0. Just like the 2016 Miami series, the Hornets bounced back at home and stole Game Five on the road.

The Hornets had all the chances in the world to take either Game Six or Seven but lost both games by seven points and nine points, respectively. In each of those two games, the Hornets had the lead at halftime. During Game Six they were leading 53-43 at the half, but an 18 point third quarter and a second half where they shot just a little over 36% from the field doomed them in the end. In Game Seven they took a three-point lead into the half, but it was then a 17 point third quarter that led to their elimination.

The Eastern Conference Finals matchup was then the Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a back and forth series that went seven games, but in the end, the league’s MVP Allen Iverson was just too much and scored 44 in the closeout game.  

We all know what then happened when the Sixers advanced to the Finals. AI had his legendary step over of Ty Lue in a Game One win, but then they lost the next four games and the Lakers completed their three-peat.  

Even though they were able to win the East as the top seed, the Sixers weren’t exactly an elite overall team. Iverson arguably had the weakest supporting cast ever for a Finals team, rivaled by only LeBron’s 2007 Cavs team. This may be the main reason I think this was the year the Hornets had a shot at contending.

The team that they were a couple third quarter collapses away from defeat in the East Semis, took the East Champs to seven games. If Charlotte could contend with Milwaukee, they certainly would’ve contended with Philly. Containing Allen Iverson was no easy task by any means, but if Baron Davis or David Wesley could have found any way to slow him down they would’ve had a puncher’s chance.

Now onto the Lakers, yeah I don’t think Charlotte could’ve beaten the Lakers. A prime Shaq and a young Kobe one year removed from their first title would be pretty difficult to beat. As a matter of fact, this was the best version of those early 2000’s Lakers. If the Trailblazers hadn’t blown a huge fourth-quarter lead in Game Seven of the WCF in 2000, the Lakers would’ve been eliminated. In 2002, the Kings gave the Lakers all they could handle. In 2001, the only game the Lakers lost the entire postseason was in that Game One OT loss.

After winning Game One the Sixers lost the next two games by single digits. By the time Games Four and Five rolled around, they were just too burnt out and lost handily to the Lakers. The same thing would’ve most likely happened to the Hornets. They could’ve tried to hang with the Lakers the first two or three games, but couldn’t have kept it up and would’ve fallen in five or so games.  

Next: Reason to have hope for the Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets have never really had a realistic chance at winning a title. The 2001 team was not their best team ever, but in 2001 they had a chance at making the Finals, therefore, that was their best chance at winning a Finals. Who knows what even making an ECF could’ve done to help develop a winning culture in Charlotte?