Is it a spoiler alert to admit that your 2019-2020 Charlotte Hornets season will not end in a playoff berth? Even with the Nets letting Kevin Durant lick his wounds for the year, and the uncertainty of the new line-ups in Miami (Jimmy Butler) and Boston (He who shall not be named), there’s a plethora of teams who will vie for a playoff spot above Charlotte. Without googling it I assume the playoff hopefuls will be; Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, and then fill in the next two spots with the likes of the Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons.
Now, why name half the Eastern Conference in the playoff race and not include the Charlotte Hornets? Because they are not and should not be at the level of even the lowliest of these teams. The Hornets lost the best player in franchise history in 2019. They are left with overpaid veterans and unproven young players. These are horrible conditions for winning games, but if handled correctly, can set a franchise up for the next chapter.
Building draft capital by trading valuable players and playing unprepared talent is a treacherous path to step. When a young player is relied on too much it can take them out of their game, ask Malik Monk. Instead of having a set of responsibilities that are chosen based on the players talent, a la the Popovich system, the young player may find the team on their shoulders.
This can cause two opposite reactions. On even a competent team, the opportunity to rise to leadership may spark a revelation for a rising leader. They grow into the role of captain as the team grows into success. Think about Victor Oladipo in Indiana, or Donovan Mitchell in Utah. The vacuum of leadership on those teams allowed these young players to take the reins.
However, on teams where there’s little hope of in-season success, that freedom of role and team responsibility can find a player overreaching, calling out teammates, and developing a culture of stats first team second.
This all leads me to say, that it is incumbent on the Charlotte Hornets to do two things simultaneously. First, they must build draft capital this year. Whether it be by trading expiring contracts or losing games, the time to rebuild is now. But second and equally as important, is allowing the young talent on this team to grow while staving off a culture of loss.
Even the best of front offices and team management struggle with navigating this tight rope. Think of Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia. Yes, seasons of losing did result in draft talent, but a multitude of players were unhappy and wanted off those teams. Even Hinkie himself was hoisted by his own petard and fired before he could see his plans come to fruition. There’s a hard road ahead and Miles Bridges before we rest. (Here come the puns, here come the puns) Can Jordan and Co. pull it off? Though we’ve seen his Airness do the impossible on the court, We’ve not seen the same magic in front of it.