After four consecutive losing seasons, the Charlotte Hornets will seek their first playoff berth since 2016 in the upcoming season, whenever that season may begin.
The Hornets finished 10th in the Eastern Conference and missed the cut for the league’s bubble restart in 2019-20. Charlotte has made the playoffs 10 times since its debut in the 1988-89 season, but only three times since 2004.
Ownership, Scandal, and the Hornets Name
In 2004, the Hornets team was moved to New Orleans after scandal and subsequent outrage arose toward then-owner George Shinn. The owner was accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 28-year-old Charlotte woman in 1997 and was later exonerated. Shinn continued to own the New Orleans Hornets until selling the team in 2010.
New Orleans maintained the Hornets name until 2013 when new owner Tom Benson officially changed the name to the Pelicans. Subsequently, the Charlotte Bobcats became the Hornets in 2014, returning the mascot to the Queen City after 12 years.
The Charlotte Bobcats were founded by Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET). Chicago Bulls great and University of North Carolina legend Michael Jordan became a minority owner in 2006. Jordan then became the majority owner in 2010 after purchasing the team for $275 million.
Notable Players and History
PG Kemba Walker is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 12,009 points and all-time leader in three-pointers made with 1,283. Walker was drafted ninth overall in the 2012 draft after leading UConn to a National Championship. He is regarded as the greatest player in franchise history and his statistics support it.
Dell Curry scored 9,838 points in a Hornets uniform while registering 929 threes. He earned Sixth-Man of the Year honors in 1994 and was routinely near the top of the league in free throw percentage. In a time when the mid-range game was more crucial than it is now, few did it better than him. Curry was the longest-tenured Hornet, having played 701 games for Charlotte. He is now settled into a broadcasting position for the team.
The Charlotte Bobcats first-ever draft pick Emeka Okafor was drafted second overall in 2004, also out of UConn, and is the franchise leader in rebounds with 3,516. Larry Johnson had 3,479 rebounds between 1992-96 and Gerald Wallace grabbed 3,398 between 2005-11.
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues is Charlotte’s assist leader with 5,557, followed by Walker with 3,308 and Raymond Felton with 2,573.
Bogues, Larry Johnson, and Alonzo Mourning were the cornerstones to the most iconic and beloved Charlotte Hornets teams of the early ’90s. The trio’s tenure together was short-lived, as Mourning requested a trade in 1995 after rejecting a contract extension. In return, Charlotte received Glen Rice and Matt Geiger. Rice would go on to become an All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Team in 1997.
One season after the departure of Mourning, Larry Johnson was traded to the New York Knicks. After making a name for himself as a new breed of player, combining size and strength with ball-handling, shooting, and speed, the second part of Johnson’s career was plagued by back injuries.
Of the 10 playoff appearances in Charlotte Hornets’ history, the team has only reached the conference semi-finals four times, most recently in 2001-02. The team’s first playoff appearance was in 1992-93, where Hornets defeated the Boston Celtics in the first round behind an overtime game-winner from rookie Mourning. The team lost 4-1 to the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks in the semis.
The Charlotte Hornets were led in scoring by a breakout season from second-year guard Devonte’ Graham. The former Kansas Jayhawk saw an uptick in minutes, jumping from 13.7 per game in his rookie year to 35.1 in his sophomore campaign. Graham scored 18.2 ppg on 38.2 percent shooting at 37.3 percent from three, and his performance earned him an invitation to the 2020 All-Star Game’s Three-Point Shootout held at the United Center in Chicago. Graham also led the team in assists per game with 7.5.
Graham’s backcourt mate Terry Rozier posted 18 ppg, shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three. Rozier’s effectiveness on the court may have been slightly higher than Graham’s, but came at a much steeper cost. Scary Terry has the largest cap hit on the books with more than $56 million guaranteed. Where Rozier separates himself from Graham is on the defensive end. He is known as one of the more tenacious perimeter defenders in the league since making a name for himself in the playoffs as a Boston Celtic.
Miles Bridges also saw a significant uptick in his minutes and production in his sophomore season, averaging 13 points in more than 30 minutes. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Bridges plays much larger than his frame would suggest. His outrageous leaping ability earned him an invite to the dunk contest this season. His strength and explosiveness are signs of potential as an offensive threat and a versatile defender, but he’s yet to fully realize his ability on either end. He has improved only slightly as a ball-handler and shooter since entering the league. Year three will be telling as to whether he can be a foundational piece for the Hornets moving forward.
Rookie P.J. Washington played a big role in his first season. Drafted 12th overall out of Kentucky, Washington played 30.3 minutes per game and scored 12.2 ppg with 5.4 rebounds (1st among rookies), playing very good defense for a rookie. He burst onto the scene with a 27-point outing on opening night against Chicago, which ended up being his season-high.
Guard Malik Monk has yet to find his footing in the NBA. A promising scorer, the Kentucky product’s season was derailed by an indefinite suspension due to a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. He was reinstated in June and is under contract through next season. Monk has shown flashes as a scorer and shooter, though he’s lacked consistency. He could find himself as a trading chip if the Hornets choose to move up in the upcoming draft.
Cody Zeller paced the team with 7.1 rpg. Bismack Biyombo had 5.8 rpg and Bridges tallied 5.6. Biyombo’s contract expires at the end of the current season. If Charlotte goes big with the third pick in the draft, it is unlikely Biyombo will return. The Hornets may also explore trading up in the draft if sold on a specific player.
In February, Charlotte bought out the contracts of Forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams, allowing both to become free agents. The moves helped push the team an estimated $25 million below the projected salary cap, opening the team up for roster moves later. Charlotte is an unlikely destination for top tier free agents but should be able to acquire some of the veteran help it will be looking for.
The Hornets are led by General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Head Coach James Borrego.