CHARLOTTE — It’s amazing to think that just two short years ago, the then-Charlotte Bobcats were coming off a season where they had just put together the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Now, the rebranded Charlotte Hornets are fresh off a season with a winning record and a trip to the playoffs, while season ticket sales are far exceeding expectations and are expected to surpass 10,000.
As for future roster upgrades, the Hornets own two first-round draft picks — Nos. 9 and 24 — and will have at minimum $13 million in salary cap space to sign free agents. Yes, things are definitely looking up.
"This year we’ve got a lot of flexibility and I’ve been speaking of that over the last three to four years," team owner Michael Jordan said. "Flexibility is very important and we’re going to utilize every resource to try and better the team. I don’t think that’s going to change this summer."
While all the extra salary cap money is nice, the question has always been whether or not Charlotte is a place top-level free agents want to come play. Center Al Jefferson was the franchise’s first big free agent signing. He went on to become third-team All-NBA. Jordan believes signing star free agents like Jefferson will become the norm rather than the exception.
"I’ve always felt like Charlotte was a good destination," he said. "I think Big Al has proven that you can come here and make a big difference. Hopefully we can look at that and attract some other superstars."
Should the Hornets be able to land another big fish, it should put them in real contention for one of the top four spots in the Eastern Conference, which means having the homecourt advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs.
"I think we can make a big difference," Jordan said. "I think that we did last year with Big Al and some of the acquisitions. I don’t anticipate this being any different. I think we’re just going to try and improve on what we did last year, which I’m very proud of what the team did last year. The guys came out and they took the initiative from Coach (Steve Clifford), and he was able to bond and put together a real good effort from the team.
" … We’ve just to continue to find people that want to come and play here. I think the coach will continue to try and improve our young talent, because we have a bunch of young talent that we’re still trying to nourish into better basketball players. The summer is when we have to make our big leap. But we’ll know at the beginning of the season if Jeff Taylor has gotten better, if (Michael Kidd-Gilcrhist) has gotten better, Cody Zeller’s gotten better. Kemba has shown he can get better. And Big Al comes back with another power season."
The Hornets have been on an incredible high, which seems to have captured this city’s attention after 12 years of being nearly irrelevant.
It was a long time coming for Jordan and the franchise, and the overwhelming response of the name change has even caught the team off guard.
"Obviously the city loves the name change." Jordan said. "We knew it was going to be something like this because of the survey that we did, but we just didn’t think that it was going to be to this magnitude. I think this is something positive and we can build on this. And I think it’s just going to continue to get better and better."