When ‘pretty good’ isn’t good enough

Published 3:04 pm Sunday, July 7, 2019

I held my breath through NBA free agency this past Sunday. So much so I could’ve turned blue. Well, maybe teal. That would’ve been in homage to the Charlotte Hornets.

While I hoped against hope that they would re-sign point guard Kemba Walker to a super-max contract, a part of me felt they would blow it again.

Seems like with these things, they always do.

The Hornets haven’t won since, I don’t know, pick one of these numbers:

2002: The year Bob Johnson, the nation’s first black billionaire, bought the team, and brought Charlotte back the NBA franchise they lost when former owner George Shinn skedaddled south to the Big Easy and the then-Hornets eventually became the New Orleans Pelicans. Everyone thought the smart money was when Johnson named native son Michael Jordan to run the team; and five years later, Larry Brown to coach it.

2010: A cash-strapped Johnson has to sell the team and up steps Jordan, who got a $275 million pro team for $30 million in cash and the assumption of Johnson’s debt. On Johnson’s way out, the team makes the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.

2014: The Bobcats are ‘re-born’ as the Hornets – again!

2016: Jordan becomes majority owner.

And they haven’t done diddley since.

Now, they alienate their fans by managing to mismanage the Walker situation so completely.

But they did do Walker a favor.

It had to be easier for Walker to walk out of Charlotte and get on a plane to Boston and join the Celtics knowing that the Hornets didn’t do all they could to keep him. When you’ve got one hand on the door already – and Walker likely did, because he wants to win and the Hornets don’t – it makes it a lot easier to turn the knob when the folks trying to keep you lowball you on a contract.

Your first All-Star since the Alonzo Mourning-Larry Johnson era and you offer $160 million over five years!?! While it sounds ludicrous to say $32 million a year is insulting; by NBA standards, the Hornets could have gone up to $221 million.

Instead the ‘Luck o’ the Irish’ Celtics swooped in, offered Walker a higher average per year ($141 million over four years, which works out to $35.25 million per season) and got him. Now Walker actually will get to play for a team that will make the playoffs and perhaps contend for the Eastern Conference title next season, just like he has always wanted.

As for owner Jordan and fellow Carolina alum, general manager Mitch Kupchak – a wunderkind with the Lakers – well, they’ve got some serious explaining to do. Especially when you sign former Celtic Terry Rozier to the ‘amazing’ sum of $58 million over three years!?!

If you are letting your best player go, why are you immediately spending almost $20 million guaranteed per season on another point guard who’s obviously nowhere near as good as Walker?

But before we talk about what’s next for what is shaping up to be a horrible Hornets season since Jeremy Lamb (who almost single-handedly got them in the playoffs during their late-season push last April) and Frank ‘The Tank’ Kaminsky are also gone, give Walker some props one last time. He did something dazzling three or four times a night that made you gasp. And he was no Rae Carruth the way he behaved off the court either.

Now I’m left pulling for a team hamstrung by horrendous drafting and over-the-top contracts that, under Jordan, have been handed out like he once dished assists to Scottie Pippen.

Less than three months after Kupchak called Walker a “once-in-a-generation kind of player”, Walker’s now wearing Kelly Green, I’m blue (no, teal, remember!), and the Hornets have gone from bad to worse.

It’s not worth shaking my head over, but I’m a fan. I’ll keep watching…and cry over what might have been.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at: gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.