Charlotte’s Conundrum

George Shinn, an entrepreneur from North Carolina, was awarded the 24th franchise in the NBA’s rapidly expanding league on April 5th, 1987. The city of Charlotte suddenly had a professional basketball team after decades of being known as a hotbed for college basketball. After the community made a vote of it, the Charlotte Hornets were born, and began play in time for the 1988-89 season.

Fast forward to 2002, past seven playoff berths and not much else, and Shinn is attempting to relocate the franchise to New Orleans amongst scathing publicity. In 1999, Shinn was heading to trial for the kidnapping and rape of a young woman that he did deny, but ended up admitting that he fathered children outside of his own marriage. The team were perennial first round losers, and the fans were vocal in their displeasure with the yearly postseason exits, and owner’s controversial court case. Just before they were eliminated from the 2002 playoffs, Shinn struck a deal that would allow his franchise to relocate to New Orleans, leaving the Hornets history behind with the fans.

Charlotte was told to wait two seasons, and they would have another team, the Bobcats. I won’t discuss that iteration of the franchise, because not only is there not much to discuss, but because this was originally a completely separate franchise from the then New Orleans Hornets. Both franchises were not viewed as relocation, but as expansion.

It wasn’t until the New Orleans Hornets decided to rebrand as the New Orleans Pelicans that the Bobcats and new majority owner Michael Jordan decided to get the Hornets name and history back. In the 2013-14 season, New Orleans rebranded, and the following season, the Hornets were back in Charlotte. Everything worked itself out and fell into place perfectly, and now this team has decided to trade for Dwight Howard.

Let me preface this sentence by saying the Hornets franchise has never been too particularly successful. No conference titles, no division titles, they haven’t even had a 50-win season since 1997-98; what will adding Dwight Howard realistically do for them? Kemba Walker pick and rolls will be deadlier with Howard as the roll man, and the team’s defense and rebounding may improve, but what does it really do for them?

Dwight Howard is the Groundhog Day of basketball players. Whatever team he finds himself on has success, less lately than in previous seasons, but successful nonetheless. Howard hasn’t been on a team that’s missed the playoffs since the 2005-06 season, where a 20-year-old Howard put up a 15.8, 12.5, 1.5 stat line while shooting 53% from the field on a slightly underachieving 36-46 Orlando Magic squad led by Grant Hill. The next season he put up a 17.6, 12.3, 1.9 stat line on 60% shooting, and his career has been stuck in neutral ever since.

I don’t care about the controversial, and oftentimes idiotic statements Howard continues to generate. I do not care that he left Orlando to go play for the bright lights of L.A., and I don’t care that he left after one season because he couldn’t handle the pressures of being a Laker. What I do care about is the results of his tenure for each franchise he’s been on, and how the Hawks properly gauged his value and decided it was better to be off without him than with him.

See, Dwight only cares for Dwight. Everyone knows this, but I don’t think people quite understand just how devastating this man is to a locker room’s chemistry. A franchise has to be prepared to accommodate his fragile ego and outrageous demands that he be the centerpiece of the team. Grabbing rebounds, playing tough defense, all that stuff is fine when you’re not paying top dollar for a big man who doesn’t space the floor in any way whatsoever, but when you’re the franchise player, there needs to be more to your game then that. Dwight’s never proved he can do anything beyond what Stan Van Gundy was able to draw up for him and a floor full of shooters in Orlando.

So congratulations Charlotte, you traded nearly nothing to land an aging stat-stuffer who doesn’t add value to your team. Never mind you already had a center in Cody Zeller who runs the break well, rebounds, and actually provides wins for this club. Say what you will about Howard’s incredible athleticism, his size, strength, or even how great of a defender he is, but the fact of the matter is his presence alone often limits a team’s offensive output and slows them down, which isn’t exactly the type of offense that teams run anymore. It’s the same thing every year with Dwight Howard, why are franchises still falling for the same tricks?

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