Hanging in a closest in Manchester, England is the only Adam Morrison Bobcats jersey in the entire country. It belongs to James Plowright, the only known Charlotte pro basketball fan in the country (I say this with about 90 percent certainty). Years ago while visiting family, James walked into a sports store in Alabama and bought the Morrison jersey over a Lebron James Cavaliers jersey, declaring his fan hood for the team of the little guy over everyone’s favorite star. He regrets that decision every single day (just kidding, it is I who am full of regret).
James is essentially the reason I started blogging. After years of getting mad online at Bobcats Planet (now Hornets Planet, what up Ziggy, Sweed, and Chef), James and I started The Lottery Mafia, a blog dedicated to
covering mobsters who run state lotteries giving more coverage to the NBA’s worst 14 teams. James ran the site for a couple of years, and along the way, swindled his way into NBA London a few times, and using his press access to its maximum potential, got Andre Blatche to introduce our podcast. After handing the site over to me, he headed to Queen City Hoops, covering the Hornets exclusively. A few years later, covering the team from the GMT had run its course, and he now lives the life a fan hoping, like all of us, that better days are ahead.
I caught up with James recently to get his take on how the season went and what they have to do moving forward, how coverage of the NBA has changed in the past few years, and the future of the league in the UK.
Nick Denning: Being five hours ahead, I know you used to watch games early in the morning on replay, but I noticed you dropped in on twitter a few times during a few games. How often did you get to watch them this season?
James Plowright: This was the first time in five years I opted not to purchase League Pass. A mixture of moving jobs and buying my first house left my piggy bank a little empty. However, this didn't stop me from getting my Hornets fix, staying up until 3 a.m. once every couple of weeks to watch some grainy stop/start streams. Luckily, the sound quality was always good so I could always enjoy Dell Curry and Stephanie Ready giving their thoughts.
On the odd occasion, BT Sport, a channel a number of people in the UK get free with their internet, showed Hornets games on a Sunday afternoon. These tip off times were generally at a more civilized time, a particular highlight had to be the 122-100 win over the Pacers in early November.
ND: A lot of us close to the team predicted they would make the playoffs again. Those from a national standpoint weren't so sure. What were your expectations?
JP: I predicted the team would be a playoff team, so much so I even laid down some decent capital on the Hornets over of 39.5 during the pre-season. However, I was never one of the fans projecting the team to be a top four seed, I saw the team taking a slight step back to the 7th/8th spot.
I was very aware that last year Charlotte arguably had 4/5 starters have career years in Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams & Cody Zeller. How many of these players would be able to maintain, or better those years? Very few, and in reality we now see that Kemba and Zeller were the only two to meet the highs of last year.
I was betting on the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist factor, the team had always been an above .500 team when he was on the court, and he looked SO good in the 11 games he returned for last year. Unfortunately, MKG seemed to regress this year with numbers similar to that of his rookie season. On top of that, the short sighted win now move to trade the team's 1st round pick for Marco Belinelli backfired as he had a distinctly average season and now expires at the end of next season. How does Skal Labissiere, Malcom Brogdon or Tyler Ulis or Pat McCaw on a rookie scale contract for a team with no cap space sound now?
ND: What, or who, surprised you?
Walker managed to take another jump and is now a legitimate All Star. All you hear in the draft now is how older prospects have less potential, but Kemba managed to make sizable jumps at the age of 24 and 25 the past two years. He's gone from a low efficiency, shoot first, below average defender to one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA. [Some] Hornets fans will likely take him for granted, they will knock his defense or his assist numbers, but while he's in Charlotte playing at this level he significantly raises this team's floor to at least 30 wins every year, that's not a bad base to start from. We must always remember Charlotte has its second All Star [with Walker], who is locked into a good contract and still has potential to improve in the next few years.
On the other hand, [while] Rich Cho has been the master of finding diamonds in the rough through trades and free agency, he has often been referred to the CHOsen one, his moves this year have raised a number of questions.
- Ramon Sessions as the backup point guard?
- Trading the 22nd pick for Marco Belinelli?
- Signing Roy Hibbert as the defensive game changer?
- Not putting Batum's salary on a decreasing scale which could have saved future cap room
- Trading for Miles Plumlee
- Trading for Miles Plumlee (This deserves to go in twice)
I was expecting Cho to make similar moves to the Gary Neal/Jeremy Lamb trades, Marvin Williams/Jeremy Lin signings, instead it took a turn for the worse. Any GM will tell you that they can't get every decision right, but I would argue the last good move Cho made was resigning Nic/Marvin, and some may argue that wasn't that successful at all. Cho has to have a successful summer, but with limited cap space, average trade assets and likely a late lottery pick, he might find it difficult to really turn the franchise around.
ND: So it sounds like you didn’t like the Plumlee trade.
JP: [It was] terrible, one of the worst trades I've seen since the infamous Tyrus Thomas trade, what were Cho and Clifford thinking? For a team already struggling for cap space this summer it made little sense to lock yourself into $11 million per year injury prone, athleticism reliant, 28 year old backup center who has never showed he could be the shot blocker or rebounder Charlotte needed. I mean after the Roy Hibbert miss (which to be honest I was on board with initially), it appears Cho doubled down on disappointing big men.
ND: What should the team do in the draft, assuming they end up with the 11th pick?
JP: I really liked Miles Bridges, but he's decided to return to Michigan State so he'll have to be one for next year. I'm a big fan of Dennis Smith, but I'm unsure if he'll be there at 11, but if he is he'd be one heck of a backup to Kemba. I also have my eye on Frank Ntilinka, just because we would be the first NBA team to have two Franks. But seriously, he's a bigger combo guard who could lead the second unit or play with Kemba, plus having a fellow French player in Batum on the team would help his adjustment. Finally, Jonathan Isaac is another interesting guy, super long, super athletic and has a better jump shot than you'd think.
As I mentioned before I think the talent drops off after 9, so if none of those or any of the others slotted in the top 9 don't drop it might be worth trading the pick. I wouldn't trade out the draft altogether, especially with Charlotte's CAP situation, but maybe packaging anyone outside of Kemba with the pick to move up would be a good move.
ND: Is there a growing interest for the NBA in the United Kingdom, and do you think the prospect of a team in England is possible?
JP: I think if the NBA ever decides to have a franchise outside of [North America], London will be first on the list due to location and market size. The NBA will watch the NFL closely as I think an NFL franchise will be in London before an NBA one. I think interest in the NBA has increased in the last two years as BT Sport is now carrying more games than ever has been on U.K. TV before.
The big issue [remaining] in the country is the national governing body for the sport of basketball (Basketball England) have next to no funding from the U.K. Government or private investors. Due to this lack of funding, participation is not growing as it should, meaning that less people are interested in the game. There are also no real high profile NBA players representing Great Britain anymore as Joel Freeland is out the league and Luol Deng has unofficially retired. On a funny note, former Hornet Ben Gordon recently got Great Britian eligibility and has been playing for Team GB for the last 12 months. Now if only they could take advantage of Byron Mullens’ English mother.
ND: I think you told me this before, but what NBA teams are most popular in the UK?
JP: Whoever is good. [The] Cavaliers and Warriors at the moment, the Rockets and Thunder due to Westbrook and Harden, and then the Bulls/Heat/Celtics/Knicks always have fans due to history of the franchise and former stars.
ND: It sounds similar to how most US soccer fans adopt the big clubs like Machester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, City, etc.
ND: Finally, you started TLM for, among other reasons, because you felt teams like the Hornets (then the Bobcats) weren't getting enough coverage. Do you think that's changed?
JP: I think coverage of the lottery teams has massively improved since I founded TLM all those years ago. I remember the old go to place for NBA information was ESPN or NBA.com, but now there are so many places to find good information. Whether it's SB Nation, The Ringer, CBS Sports, The Vertical or even one of many quality NBA podcasts which are out there such as the Locked On Network. To think six years ago there was going to be a daily Hornets podcast, I mean that was just unthinkable.
On the contrary, I would argue to some extent now there is so much content the good quality stuff can get lost. We are now in a day and age where there is a demand for daily hot takes, I find the lack of patience from fans and media is frustrating, but that's the day and age we live in.
You can follow James on Twitter @JPlowright11