Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
“It was all because of that one night,” Kemba Walker thinks. He’s on his knees in the middle of the Spectrum Center court, confetti showering over him as it falls from the ceiling and his teammates celebrate around him. As recently as four months before this moment, he had doubts that they would be in the playoffs at all. Instead he had images constantly swirling through his head about the team reverting to the laughing stock of the division that they were when he joined the squad as a young talent in 2011 and 2012.
As of February, the Hornets were four games back from the Hawks for the division lead and playing miserably. Their play calling out of timeouts was routinely atrocious, team communication even worse, and Walker was shooting a dismal 31 percent from the field. He’d had months like that before, but they usually came while he was settling in at the beginning of the season and weren’t indicative of potentially catastrophic yips. So he tried not to let it get to him.
“Right the ship” he thought at the time, “we can click again and turn this thing around.”
Yet Charlotte couldn’t get things straightened out no matter how hard they tried, which might have been the problem all along. Instead of the team relaxing and continuing the strategy that had worked so well for them early in the season there was too much effort going into every screen, every no-look pass, every questionable shot from just inside the arc. A February stretch found them choking away a probable win to the Clippers on a terrible defensive possession in the last nine seconds, which the team followed up four days later in a near-identical loss to the Raptors.
In between, they barely snuck by a Sixers team that had been enjoying playing spoiler to the borderline playoff teams all winter. If it weren’t for a surprising second half performance from Roy Hibbert (17 points, 3 blocks, and a trio of assists to match) that recalled his early Indiana days, team morale might have been completely shot and thoughts of making the playoffs for the second year in a row a pipe dream.