In late January, Rich Cho and the Charlotte Hornets faced their most important decision of the 2014-15 season. Star point guard Kemba Walker had just got done with a knee injury and was expected to miss more than a month. After a horrid start to the season, the Hornets had picked up their play once the New Year began. The offense was still stagnant but Steve Clifford's defense had finally come alive.
Walker's injury was just the latest in a series of mishaps for this team. It seemed like every player on the roster either had been hurt or was hurt. With the combination of a brief renaissance in January and playing in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets were still in the thick of the playoff race when Kemba went down.
The question facing the front office was complicated. With the failure of the Lance Stephenson signing pretty evident even three months into the year and the rash of injuries, was this a lost season? Should the Hornets just play the lottery game and see if they can add a rotational player to a team who's talent was greater than its record? Or, as the trade deadline approached, should they make a deal to continue their playoff push?
After almost a decade of futility as the Bobcats, the last team wearing that moniker provided this basketball community a mixture of hope and excitement. Last season's result likely fueled Cho and the front office's decision to make the playoff push.
On February 10, the Charlotte Hornets traded Gary Neal and a 2019 second-round draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Mo Williams and Troy Daniels.
Williams was acquired in early February and was immediately given the reins to the offense. His first outing for the Hornets, he tallied a 24-point, 12-assist double-double. This fanbase fell in love, and fast.
In his first 10 games in a Charlotte uniform, Mo scored 20 or more points seven times. His 28.8 percent usage rate in his 27 games in Charlotte was the highest of his career.
Mo's peak this season was the first week of March when he earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week. During that March 2 to March 8 timespan, Williams averaged 19.5 points and 10.8 assists with a 43 percent field goal percentage while the Hornets posted a 4-0 record for the week.
Williams scored in double-figures in 22 of his 27 games here, with 10 games of 20 or more and five doubles-doubles.
His play and the city's love for him tailed off as the season went on. Mo finished with averages of 17.2 points, 6.0 assists in 30.8 minutes per game for the Hornets, starting 14 of his 27 contests. His shooting was on point for what this team needed at first but that en fuego style didn't stay, he finished with shooting splits of 39-34-89.
As I mentioned before, Mo Williams was a Hornets heartthrob when he first arrived here. His played tailed off however over the last few weeks of the season. Williams was acquired on February 10 and Kemba Walker returned from his knee injury on March 11. Mo had a month, 10 games to be exact, to have full run of the Hornets offense. These are his averages before and after Kemba's return:
Before: 21.4 PPG, 8.5 APG, 44 FG%, 35.1 MPG; Record: 6-4
After: 14.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 36.2 FG%, 23.0 MPG; Record: 5-12
I point this out because I find it interesting. I'm not advocating for the removal of Kemba Walker or anything like that.
Mo played close to that 35-minute per game mark until March 27, presumably around the time Clifford felt Kemba was ready to be the man again. Mo's play did tail off, that's undeniable.
Was the trade a shot in the arm and it just wore off over time? Fatigue and a troubling knee hurt Williams down the stretch, forcing him to play his last game on April 10, an eight-minute excursion. Were those problems slowly creeping in as Kemba was in the midst of his return?
I probably am guilty of this but I wouldn't look into it too much. I think Mo Williams had a great start but he eventually came back down to Earth and we saw the player he is. He can be a good 3-point shooter, make the helpful pass fairly often in a game, but overall is a streaky, inconsistent shooter who needs the ball in his hands to be effective.
He turns 33 in December, at that point in one's career, how much growth is there left?
I'd go with either this nifty handle and swish...
Or this trey from Matthews that gave us a great Kemba face...
Or you know, a buzzer beater...
When Mo was a high school junior, Al Jefferson was an eighth grader. Al's AAU coach at the time would take him to watch Mo's high school games in Jackson, Mississippi. The story goes that around that time is when they became friends, keeping in touch through Jefferson's high school years when Mo was at Alabama and even more so when they both entered the league. "Our friendship is beyond basketball. He's my best friend and we talk all the time," Mo Williams told the Charlotte Observer after being traded to the Hornets.
Like Al, Mo Williams is a beacon of leadership in the Hornets locker room. Not only is he great at dealing with players and coaches but again like Al, Mo is friendly and engaging with the media. The strength of the Hornets locker room gets pointed out every so often by players, coaches, and media. Mo Williams' acquisition didn't just boost scoring, it also improved an already tight locker room.
When the season ended this April, Williams immediately became an unrestricted free agent. Will the Hornets want to bring him back? Will he want to come back?
He enjoys being around his best friend Al Jefferson. He respects head coach Steve Clifford and all indications are that he enjoyed his 27 games with this organization. After the season he even spoke as if it were a foregone conclusion that he would be back with the team.
"Next year, the goal is the playoffs and [we] got to put together a unit that coexists with each other for one and get it done at a high level," Williams told the Hornets website after the season. "We do have some talent, especially some young talent. They develop the right way, they should be able to help this team."
He'll turn 33 in December but the 2009 All-Star offers the Hornets what they need: outside shooting.
Williams is a career 38 percent 3-point shooter and was top-10 in 3-point field goals from 2008-2010.
Five years later, can he still bring it from the outside? Charlotte will need him to.