The Charlotte Hornets’ trajectory and outlook could be similar to that of the Orlando Magic

By Jeremy Grandison

April 5, 2024

Photo: Matt Kelley / AP

Winning in the NBA is not an easy feat. Every year, teams around the league try to predict the ebbs and flows of a season, but the ever-changing conditions keep front offices searching for answers. 

The 2023-24 NBA regular season is coming to an end, and teams on the outside of the playoff/play-in race have started preparing for the draft and offseason. 

The Hornets have experienced some misfortune over the past few years, but they look to bring the buzz and magic of the ‘90s back to the city sooner rather than later. Back to a time when the Hornets sold-out 364 consecutive games at the old Coliseum and made multiple playoff appearances.

A city that was awarded a franchise in the same year as Charlotte, Orlando (although they started a year later), may hold the blueprint for this young Hornets team. 

Charlotte made the play-in tournament in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons after finishing 33-39 and 43-39, respectively. Similarly, the Magic limped into the playoffs in 2019 and 2020, failing to win more than one game in the first round against the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks. 

NBA “no man’s land” takes no prisoners, and this quadrant of the league consists of teams stuck in limbo– too good for a high pick and not good enough to make a serious playoff run. The Magic were at a crossroads in 2021, choosing to move off their beloved aging stars to secure a real chance at acquiring a franchise player and draft capital to build around. 

Knowing when to keep or move off an asset is a vital skill that can affect a team’s winning cycle. Each organization’s goal is to contend for a title, but championship windows can open and close quickly. The Magic understood this, trading their All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round draft picks in March of 2021. One of those picks became NBA All-Rookie First Team player, Franz Wagner.

The Hornets traded Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington Jr., and Gordon Hayward at the deadline, receiving two first-round picks, Grant Williams, Seth Curry, Davis Bertans, Tre Mann and Vasilije Micic in return. 

The modern NBA is dominated by two-way wing players and dynamic scoring guards. The Magic chose the route of two-way wings, drafting Paolo Banchero in the 2022 NBA Draft, cementing Orlando’s young core and defensive identity. Banchero and Wagner feed off and motivate each other. 

“Coming in, we both saw each other and the skill sets we have on both offense and defense. We push each other to be as good as we can be on both sides of the floor. Obviously, we are looked at as the leaders of the team. It starts and ends with us, we know that in order to be where we want to be…it has to be on offense and defense,” Banchero said. 

Banchero also commends the Magic’s front office for bringing in players that fit the team’s defensive identity. 

“That’s a credit to the coaches and front office for the guys they brought in. This is my second year, so all these guys were here before I got here,” Banchero said. “When I got here, I wanted to contribute to the group and bring what I could to the table. Obviously, the coaches stressed defense as being our super power and calling card as a team. That message has echoed throughout the whole locker room.

Charlotte has chosen the route of dynamic scoring guards in LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller to spearhead the offense. Miller has shown great promise being named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for the third-straight month, after averaging 18.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 14 games during March. 

Miller’s stellar play has given the Hornets front office a clear vision for Charlotte’s future, and his confidence matches his level of play. 

“I think I have the ability to score at all three levels. That’s what the NBA game is based on now. Three-level scorers, two-ways, that can sit down and guard on multiple positions. I think that’s one thing that separates some of the great players today,” Miller said. 

Ball on the other hand is the real X-factor for the Hornets’ future. The 22-year-old point guard is known for his creative, push-the-pace style of play, however, a myriad of injuries have prohibited Ball and other key Hornets such as Mark Williams from building on-court chemistry with their fast-ascending teammate, Miller. Ball has played in 184 games during his four-year career so far– that’s just 58.9% of possible games, while Mark Williams has only suited up for 62 games in two seasons (39.2%). 

Orlando dealt with injury troubles of their own in the 2022 and 2023 seasons, ranking atop the league in games missed due to injury. It’s incredibly difficult to evaluate a team when the best players are not on the court, a challenge for new Hornets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Peterson, heading into the offseason. Charlotte has a solid foundation of young talent and veteran leadership. The next step is supplementing the roster with pieces that not only fit, but also enhance the play of the core and improve the defense.

The Hornets and Magic share similarities in front office as well. Orlando promoted Anthony Parker to general manager in July of 2023, succeeding John Hammond, who transitioned to an advisory role for the team. Parker was selected 21st overall in the 1997 draft, spending nine seasons in the NBA. Parker’s pipeline to general manager was similar to Peterson’s, rising through the ranks quickly.


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Charlotte will have their hands full with roster construction this offseason, including a search for a new head coach. Peterson will have a head start in the selection process, after Steve Clifford announced he will be stepping down at this season’s end. The coaching search has no timetable, but Peterson is in lockstep with Co-Chairman Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall. 

“Truth be told, I started the interview process ten years ago. In terms of meeting people, creating relationships, seeing how they interact…it is challenging, but at the same time that won’t be an excuse,” Peterson said during a pregame press conference. “We’re all dealing with the same challenges. I have a lot of confidence that I will be able to figure that out.” 

Successful teams have a healthy blend of youth and experience, and veterans Grant Williams and Miles Bridges have been a revelation for the Hornets this season. The two have served as player-coaches, and instilled a fearless mentality that has spread across the team. Clifford has admired Bridges’ durability.

“Miles has played 82 minutes in two games, people don’t do that in this league. There are so many things to feel good about,” said Clifford when asked about Bridges. 

Williams’ spirited and stouthearted mentality has also reverberated throughout the locker room, and Miller has bought in.

“Having that mindset, not letting anyone run in our territory and take over our home court. I think we’re just trying to get as many wins as we can…We want to play for our home crowd, so that’s the thing…not let anyone come in here and run over us,” Miller said.  

Building a sustainable, winning culture does not happen overnight. Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Miami have set a standard for repeated success, separating from the Eastern Conference pack in recent years. These teams diligently scout and draft players that match their identity and timeline, while making calculated moves in the free agent and trade markets. 

Quick turnarounds are not uncommon in today’s NBA, and despite finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference last season, the Magic are now a top-tier team looking to make a deep playoff run. Their journey back to the postseason was arduous, riddled with injuries and major shifts, both on and off the court. Charlotte currently sits in a similar situation as the Magic last season, and having franchise cornerstone players like Miller and Ball can expedite an organization’s ascension. Starting this offseason, the Hornets will look to be the newest NBA team to turn its fortunes around.

Check out the remaining Charlotte Hornets 2023-24 schedule.

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