The Hornets and Knicks look like the biggest losers in free agency.
Surely, the Charlotte Hornets have an excuse. A good franchise has never become a great franchise because it plays second fiddle to college basketball in this state. And, like the Panthers of the NFL proved, robust fan support isn’t coming your way until you win.
The Knicks are a different story, a franchise with tradition in the greatest city in world, fading into relative obscurity from a filthy rich and deathly dysfunctional front office led by billionaire boomer James Dolan. The Knicks lost out on free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Nets in Brooklyn, which adds insult to injury.
Kemba Walker wrote a beautiful piece in the Players’ Tribune, thanking the Hornets organization, and owner Michael Jordan, and the fans he will cherish for the rest of his career. But at 29, Walker wants to win an NBA championship, and the former UConn Huskie chose the tradition-rich Celtics. Walker’s hometown is The Bronx, but unfortunately he’s not Yankees material.
Walker was a terrific Hornet, nee Bobcat, and will be even better as a Celtic, surrounded by all-NBA caliber players. Hoops analysts are already saying he will replace Kyrie, and more, because he’s less selfish than the moody ex-Dukie. Charlotte’s loss is Boston’s gain in Kemba’s sterling scoring, rebound and assist averages.
Ironically, San Antonio, Cleveland and now Toronto have proven that other-market teams can win a title if they carefully construct their rosters and have great coaching to maximize their potential. Jordan may be a billionaire, and GM Mitch Kupchak is a savvied general manager, but the Hornets are still seen as a small-market team without the pizazz to truly become Buzz City.
Before Kupchak arrived, Charlotte squandered so many early first-round draft picks that losing teams get every year. Walker was the best in the last nine years, but he never had the supporting cast to take them beyond two first-round losses in the playoffs.
Walker clearly loved his time in the Queen City. And while the stupid money and max contracts have made this free-agent market wilder than ever, winning rings is something that ticks with the players’ biological clocks. And while he still had bargaining power, the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer and minute man headed back to New England, even though he left his heart in North Carolina.