The year was 1999. There was much chatter surrounding Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn and his looming sexual assault trial. In the spring of that year, the Hornets missed the playoffs for the first time in two seasons.
Fans were beginning to turn on Shinn. Even though the Hornets went on to make the playoffs in each of their final three seasons in the Queen City, something felt off. That feeling prompted ownership to relocate the NBA franchise to New Orleans. The Hive on Tyvola road would no longer be "alive." In fact, it would be torn down shortly after.
In 2004, the NBA would return to Charlotte. The Charlotte Bobcats played their first game in the new Charlotte Bobcats Arena, right in the heart of downtown.
All sounds fine and dandy right? Well not quite.
The team's colors were orange and blue. Not a terrible combination, but nothing that could compare to the original purple and teal. Even worse than that was the team's name: the Bobcats. Fans didn't love that name, and it didn't take them long to figure out why. Many believe Robert "Bob" Johnson chose to name the team after himself.
The team finished the 2004-2005 season 18-64, but things weren't all that bad in terms of basketball. Gerald Wallace was a promising young player, and Emeka Okafor was named Rookie of the Year.
After many losing seasons under Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam Vincent, the Bobcats hired Larry Brown in April of 2008. Things looked promising. Not only did Charlotte have its coach, but they were gaining more talented on the court. They added to the core of Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton by acquiring Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, and Raja Bell, who was traded a year later for Stephen Jackson.
To top it off, Michael Jordan became the Majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010. All things were pointing in the right direction, and the starting lineup of Felton, Jackson, Wallace, Diaw, and Chandler took the Bobcats to the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Things would once again go down hill from there, as the Bobcats were swept by the Dwight Howard lead Magic. While this wasn't to shocking, many hoped Charlotte could come out with at least its first victory. Later that summer, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler moved on, and the Bobcats were left with a below average roster once again.
After starting the year 9-19, Larry Brown stepped down as head coach. Paul Silas would step in to replace Brown. To make matters even worse, the Bobcats parted ways with the only all-star they had ever had, Gerald Wallace. Even though this move was necessary, it showed the Bobcats were indeed hitting the reset button.
In 2011, the Bobcats added a new General Manager to their team, Rich Cho. That year the team traded away Stephen Jackson and eclipsed the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Quite a first year for Cho. Shortly after the team hired Mike Dunlap as their new head coach. Even though Charlotte improved its win total from 7 to 21 games, that decision turned out to be a mistake. The Bobcats relieved Dunlap of his duties the following year.
The next coach of this struggling franchise would be Steve Clifford, a long time assistant coach in the league. What a decision that turned out to be, as the Bobcats would make the playoffs in 2014. Clifford was assisted by center Al Jefferson, the biggest free agent signing in Bobcats' history. The team was swept by the Miami Heat in the first round.
This time, however, the excitement seemed sustainable. The team was young and talented, and the Hornets name was coming back to the Queen City the following season. To add to the excitement, the Hornets acquired Lance Stephenson in free agency. Stephenson was coming off the best season of his career in Indiana.
Any fan of this franchise knew all this excitement was just too good to be true. They would be right. Stephenson struggled greatly in 2014, and the Hornets were a bust. Perhaps a big reason for the Hornets bad year was the loss of Josh McRoberts, who would be a non factor for much of his time in Miami. Marvin Williams, his replacement, was not very good at all for the Hornets. Things were not looking good.
Charlotte stuck with Clifford and Cho, and that decision paid off. It's well documented that the Hornets have struggled in the draft, but have actually traded quite well. The Hornets pulled off another great trade when they sent Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh to the Trail Blazers in exchange for Nicolas Batum. Many fans were excited about Batum, but realized it might be hard to keep him around after his contract expired the following summer.
No need to fear, Batum just signed a five-year contract to remain with the Hornets. They made the playoffs as the six seed in 2016, and they didn't get swept. In fact, they pushed a historic franchise with a hall of fame player to seven games. Far and away the best season in new era history.
So here we are in 2016 with a stable basketball franchise in the city of Charlotte. While sure there is a lot of work to do, something feels different this time. The Hornets have a top ten coach to accompany their top ten point guard, Kemba Walker. Batum came in last season and helped push Walker from an average player to a fringe all-star.
On top of that, Frank Kaminsky looks to be the most promising Hornets draft pick yet. He had an up and down first season, but ended on a strong note. He performed when his team needed him to in game three of the Heat series, proving he can be a big time player. Behind Williams at power forward, Kaminsky will have another opportunity to improve his game this season.
Speaking of Williams, he took a pay cut to stay in Charlotte. I could be wrong, but I don't thing that would have happened in years past.
Charlotte didn't panic this summer when Lin and Jefferson headed elsewhere. Instead, they acted calmly and acquired similar pieces to fill the void. Thanks to that, the Hornets are in a great position to win their first division title since basketball returned to Charlotte in 2004.
Michael Jordan deserves a ton of credit. He has surrounded himself with good executives and has taken a back seat role. He's great to have as an owner from a publicity standpoint, and he's beginning to build a winner. The Hornets have the best coach, front office, and personnel that they have had in a very long time. With the salary cap climbing again next season, the Hornets will have the opportunity next summer to get a player that could take them to the next level.
Let's sit back, relax, and enjoy watching a stable franchise do its work.
Editor-in-chief of The Charlotte Sports Blog
Lead Hornets Writer: Jonathon Hoppe