What’s an NBA team to do when the calendar hits January and there seem to be only two choices — to tank or not to tank? For the Charlotte Hornets and their 13-23 record so far this season, a decision needs to be made soon.
To the casual NBA follower, the obvious answer would be to tank. They’ve seen what happens when teams are stubborn enough to stick with the plan they entered the season with. Franchises get dubbed “treadmill” teams, not good enough to compete for a title and, at the same time, not bad enough to get a top 5 pick.
So why should the Hornets keep the core together when the team is built more for a title run in 2008 instead of 2018, its best player is 5’11, and there’s only one man on the roster shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range? The answer is devastatingly simple in that the damage done long-term from tanking might sour the Charlotte area off the NBA entirely.
Charlotte and the NBA have a sordid yet interesting history. Live in the area enough and one of the locals will tell you about their brief dalliance with the Charlotte Hornets of the late 80s through the 2002 season. The team was the first professional franchise in the city with the rabid fanbase acting as something similar to what Thunder and, to a lesser extent, what Warriors fans are like in the present. So, what changed?
The answer is George Shinn, and the acrimonious, bitter split between the city of Charlotte that saw this franchise uproot itself and park itself in New Orleans. So the blood, sweat, and tears that fans invested in this team for nearly 15 years were gone in an instant. Fans refused to support a team that had prime Baron Davis as a centerpiece. In that last playoff run in 2002, the team couldn’t draw flies, much less fans to support the product at the end.
So when it was announced on Dec. 18, 2004 that the NBA would be officially returning to Charlotte spearheaded by an ownership group led by Bob Johnson, fans would flock back to the NBA in droves, right? Not exactly, as mistakes were made on multiple fronts. First, the city gave the franchise an arena that residents didn’t want to give to Shinn, much less a new group that wouldn’t carry the name of the team that broke the city’s heart.
Then comes the unfortunate draft luck that’s associated with the Bobcats name — Emeka Okafor instead of Dwight Howard, Raymond Felton and Sean May instead of Chris Paul or Deron Williams, Adam Morrison instead of Brandon Roy. With every failed draft pick comes a diminished level of trust in the franchise to do the right thing and build a contender.