Charlotte Hornets: Four Key Decisions that Changed the Course of the Franchise

Charlotte Hornets Cody Zeller. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Charlotte Hornets Cody Zeller. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
2 of 5
Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets Kobe Bryant. (Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Trading Kobe Bryant

This situation has been talked about ad nauseam. It has even been broken down in publications that have discussed the biggest ‘what ifs’ in league history. Undoubtedly, Hornets nation is over and done with discussing this trade on a surface level.

It has been said many times before that the Lower Merion High School product staying would’ve completely rewritten the franchise’s history. Adding Bryant to a team that won 54 games may have put them over the top. While these outcomes have all been postulated before, perhaps it deserves a deeper dive.

To the untrained eye, it’s reasonable to assume that this was the Hornets’ blunder through and through. After all, Charlotte did keep Bryant for 15 days after the draft. However, an argument can be made for why he was never destined to be a Hornet.

More from Swarm and Sting

Most evidently, Hornets head scout at the time, Bill Branch has said that Bryant was never heading to Charlotte. In fact, he even went as far as to say that the ultimate trade was agreed to in principle before the draft, and Jerry West was actually the one who told Charlotte to make the pick.

A Vlade Divac protest of the trade is the only reason why it wasn’t done sooner, according to this account. Treating this story as gospel, Dave Cowens and company shouldn’t be blamed for dealing away a top 15 player of all-time.

There is also a multitude of evidence that suggests the 17-year-old was quite particular about which team drafted him. The all-mighty, West run Lakers truly forced Bryant to Los Angeles, affecting several teams throughout the pre-draft process.

The New Jersey Nets, in particular, are often cited as another loser in the Black Mamba’s power play. The Nets and new head coach John Calipari were ready to take the guard with the eighth pick in the 1996 draft.

However, with a rumored trade his preferred team already on the table, all Bryant’s camp had to do was convince the Nets that he did not wish to play in New Jersey. A threat to forego the draft and play overseas later, Bryant found himself in Los Angeles, spurning two teams along the way.

While trading a first-ballot ‘Hall of Famer’ is certainly an applicable ‘what if,’ stories would indicate that the situation was out of Charlotte’s hands. If the team was never going to get Bryant, there are undoubtedly worse plan B’s then receiving a starting center who would produce consistently.