Since the Charlotte Hornets (technically Bobcats, #neverforget) returned in 2004, they have mostly disappointed us with losing seasons and uninspiring play. It’s part of the reason there was such nostalgia for the original Hornets — not only were they successful, but they were fun as hell to watch.
But it hasn’t been all bad and uninspiring the past 13 years. A few players, some even from the Bobcats era, managed to shine, and occasionally, they shined in a successful season, at least to this team’s standards. While most of the team’s legacy players are from the original era — think Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues — we fondly remember players like Gerald Wallace and Matt Carroll, the latter of which now works for the team. Because the new iteration of the team isn’t that old, many former players are still bouncing around the league, and a few of them will be free agents this summer. Does it make sense to sign any of them?
Realistically, no. Feeling nostalgic can sway us into irrational ideas and long for things we thought we wanted but actually didn’t, like the fourth season of Arrested Development.
Was bringing back Gerald Wallace ever a good idea? No, but that didn’t stop me from justifying a trade for him when he was sitting on Brooklyn’s bench for $10 million a season.
That said, the current Hornets roster is already shaping up to be a lot of fun, and bringing back a former player or two we fondly remember would only add to that (again, this is the irrational side of me speaking). The prospect of a homecoming is hard to ignore, especially if it means the returning player gets a chance to settle unfinished business. Most former players left on neutral-to-solid terms, which suggests they’d be open to coming back.
So with that said, let’s look back at a few former players who will be looking for work this summer, talk ourselves into why a return home would be a good idea, and/or then talk ourselves out of the idea altogether.
Look, the Hornets need a point guard. They need one with experience, namely playoff experience, and one who’s willing to take the veteran’s minimum to join a team with the playoffs on its mind (and because they don’t have the cap space to pay him a lot of money). That player is Raymond Felton.
Felton has bounced around the league after five seasons in Charlotte, going from slightly above average starting point guard, to fat starting point guard, back to slightly above average starting point guard but in smaller doses, to solid role player. It wasn’t quite the career some would have predicted from the former 5th overall pick, but Felton did manage to play important roles on a number of playoff teams, and did so fairly recently with Dallas two seasons ago.
After seven seasons with five different teams, it would be poetic to return to team that drafted him.
Imagine the parade. Imagine the post he’d write on The Players Tribune:
“A lot of people have believed in me over the years, and because of that I’ve accomplished a lot in my career. I played with the best, I ate with the best, but there’s one thing I never did — win a playoff series with the team that believed in me first.”
There’s a screenplay here waiting to be written.
In all seriousness, Felton wouldn’t be a good option as the team’s backup point guard. He was pretty underwhelming in Los Angeles last season, and the Hornets need their backup point guard to play a major role next season. Felton is undersized, isn’t a great outside shooter, and isn’t distributor the team is looking for. He’d be a great locker room guy, but we’d likely become frustrated with him by season’s end, and our nostalgia for him would disappear.
More than likely, it’s best not to pursue him, but it was fun to think about for a second.
One that got away, Shaun Livingston’s lone season in Charlotte was also the turning point of his career after recovering from a ghastly leg injury years before. Playing in more games than the previous two combined, big Shaun was a steady backup for a Bobcats team on the verge of collapse after Larry Brown wore out his welcome 28 games into the season. Paul Silas took over, but it was clear after the season the Bobcats were ready to start over, and Livingston was no longer in their plans.
Since then, he’s gone on to play for five different teams, but has left his mark with the Golden State Warriors, winning two titles in three seasons. He doesn’t need to ring chase anymore, and a return to Charlotte actually makes sense from a fit stand point. He’s a big guard at 6’7, and fits the “organizer” and “distributor” boxes Steve Clifford emphasized during last Friday’s press conference. He isn’t a great 3-point shooter, but his mid-range game is killer, and the Warriors proved he could be more than useful with enough 3-point shooters around him.
The issue will be money. Livingston doesn’t have to ring chase, but he certainly should be looking to get paid, and Charlotte may not have enough money to pay him. But if we’re talking pipe dreams, Livingston is one, and it would be cool as hell to see him back in Charlotte but with a competent team and coach around him.
Four seasons ago, I fell in love with Anthony Tolliver. He was late signing in free agency, but formed himself an important niche for the Bobcats in 2013-14, providing a deep threat off the bench that was more than reliable (he shot 41.3 percent from deep that season). He was Example A of Steve Clifford’s ability to plug a player into the right system and get the most of out of them. Tolliver turned his only season in Charlotte into a multi-year deal with Phoenix, which ultimately ended in Detroit after being traded. After a season in Sacramento, the Kings cut him earlier this summer.
If we’re talking getting the gang back together, bringing back Tolliver makes sense since he played for Clifford and a good portion of the team’s current core. He could see spot minutes between the 3 and 4 positions, and add another outside shooter to help stretch the floor. If asked purely to shoot spot up 3’s and play defense, Tolliver would thrive, plus, he’d add depth, something the Hornets keep harping on.
But also like Livingston, he may cost too much. He made $8 million last season with the Kings, and he didn’t have a down year statistically (it was actually probably his best since leaving Charlotte). In a 3-point focused league, his services will be sought after.
I saved Mek for last, I had to. He was the team’s first draft pick after the team formed in 2004, and was seen at the time as a franchise building block.
He never built off his rookie of the year season, but Emeka Okafor was a steady presence for the Bobcats before Larry Brown traded him for Tyson Chandler, less than a season after he signed a 6-year, $72 million contract extension.
He is now 35, and hasn’t played since the 2012-13 due to injury, but recent reports state he’s healthy and suggest he is attempting an NBA comeback (yes, I just plugged a Chris Barnewell article. You’re welcome Chris). The Hornets have their center position pretty much set with Dwight Howard and Cody Zeller, but Okafor as the 15th man could be cool, and would give fans a reason to bring out their old metallic-orange Okafor jerseys.
The others (one we liked, one we forgot played for Charlotte, and one that is impossible to forget)
The four listed above make some bit of sense. The ones listed below make little. But again, humor me:
- Chris Douglas-Roberts: Remember how well he played for the 2013-14 Bobcats? We all wanted him back, but the Clippers wooed him out west, and then he never had quite the same impact. If anyone could get what’s left of his game out of him, its Clifford.
- Dante Cunningham: He only played 22 games for the Bobcats in 2010-11, but he was low-key productive, averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He’s been a solid, but limited role player since, and wouldn’t cost a lot.
- Byron Mullens: I kid you not, Air Mullens is still hooping. He played in the United Arab Emirates last season for Al Wasl Dubai, but unfortunately I could not find any statistics on him. I’m sure it was somewhere along the lines of 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, and I’m sure each game, he yammed on someone like this.