Michael Jordan struggles for winning formula as Charlotte crash out again
The Charlotte Hornets have now gone 18 NBA seasons without a playoff series win, as a talented but flawed team fails to get off the ground.
The Charlotte Hornets have come unstuck yet again. Once more, they’ve been eliminated from the play-in, having headed into the tournament as 10th seeds. The Hornets remain one of just two NBA teams never to have played a conference finals, and also have the record for the most consecutive seasons without winning a playoff series. Not since 2002, when their roster was led by Baron Davis and they had players such as Jamal Mashburn, David Wesley, Elden Campbell and P.J. Brown. That year, they beat the Orlando Magic 3-1 in the first round, before losing 4-1 to the Brooklyn Nets in the semi-finals. Coached by Paul Silas, they were a daring, fun, versatile and offensive team, and got to the semi-finals in consecutive campaigns, having taken the Milwaukee Bucks to Game 7 in 2001. That’s now but a distant memory for a franchise that trips over the same stone time and time again.
Hornets have struggled for lift-off under Jordan
It’s 18 straight seasons without a playoff series win, rather than 20, because the Hornets disappeared between 2002 and 2004. Since its return, the franchise has never again got that far. As the Charlotte Bobcats, they became the laughing stock of the NBA, putting together a run of several negative seasons until, in 2010, Michael Jordan arrived. Under the ownership of His Airness, who has amassed a fortune of $1.9bn, a new era started. One characterised by financial prowess and on-court failures, as all eyes focused on the Hornets because of their high-profile owner, but the sporting project failed to get off the ground. Even with Kemba Walker on the court and Steve Clifford as head coach.
LaMelo Ball represents the last great hope for Jordan, who cheers his team on without conviction from the front row. Ball will continue to be the face of a project that has again missed out on the playoffs, something that has happened without interruption since 2016, when the Hornets lost a hard-fought first-round series against the Miami Heat. After that, Charlotte brought in James Borrego, a young and promising coach tasked with taking on a team full of talent but lacking in consistency. After the Hornets’ second successive play-in failure, however, it seems that Jordan’s trials and tribulations are going to continue unless there are significant changes ahead of next season. A season in which, once again, much will be expected of the Hornets.
Westbrook tipped to join Hornets
Charlotte urgently need frontcourt strength. And salary space, if they want to offer Ball the kind of extension he’s likely to seek. Gordon Hayward could be included in trade deals (he has two years left on his four-year, $120m contract), as could Terry Rozier (who will average $24m a season over the next four years). And, in what would be a major piece of business, the Hornets could bring in Russell Westbrook, a player Jordan is a known admirer of. For the moment, a period of reflection is underway in Charlotte, ahead of a summer in which Jordan is under pressure to make changes if he wants to improve his reputation as an executive. For now, it’s all rumours. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see.