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The Late 90's Hornets - What Could Have Been

In November of 1995, the Charlotte Hornets traded 25 year old Alonzo Mourning to the Miami Heat for 28 year old Glen Rice and a '96 1st round pick. After winning 50 games the year before, the Hornets finished at .500 with a 41-41 record. Rice and Larry Johnson led the Hornets offensively, both scoring 20 points per game. 

That offseason, the Hornets drafted Kobe Bryant (13th overall) and Tony Delk (16th overall, Heat pick they acquired in Zo deal). Kobe was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.

The NBA landscape would look VERY different had Kobe and Alonzo stayed in Charlotte.  No 6 time champion Michael Jordan.  No 11 rings for the Zen Master, Phil Jackson.  And maybe just 1 or 2 Rings for Kobe.

Also, where would Shaq sign in the summer of 1996 if Bryant wasn't playing in Hollywood and Divas was still on the Lakers?  The Magic were the third best team in the NBA with 60 wins during the '95-'96 season and made back to back Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Would he have stayed with Anfernee Hardaway and Dennis Scott in Orlando?  

Would Kobe Bryant/Alonzo Mourning in Charlotte have won all those Championships Kobe/Shaquille O'Neal did in LA?

That same summer, the Hornets dealt Larry Johnson to the New York Knicks in exchange for Anthony Mason. The moves showed immediate return with the Hornets winning 54 games that year. Rice scored 26.8 points per game, Mason averaged 16/11/5 and Divac put up 12/9 and 2 blocks per night.

However, LJ would come back to haunt them in the playoffs, as the Knicks swept the Hornets in a 5 game series. Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and John Starks shot a ridiculous 58.9% from the floor over the 3 games! LJ owned a .746 TS%, which for comparison is higher than Kyle Korver's 2015-16 TS%! 

The Hornets did not have a draft pick that offseason, as they traded the pick back in 1994 for a 34 year old Frank Brickowski.  The pick was made by Minnesota Timberwolves and with the 20th pick they drafted Paul Grant.  Grant played just 16 games over his NBA career and was part of the Stephon Marbury deal that sent him to the New Jersey Nets.  3 years later they dealt "Star"-bury to the Phoenix Suns and the Jason Kidd/Vince Carter/Richard Jefferson era of basketball was born.  

Oddly enough, Alonzo Mourning was part of the deal that sent Carter to NJ from Toronto.

Back to the Hornets, they would win 51 games in the '97-98 season, and won a playoff matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, before losing to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the eventual NBA Champion Chicago Bulls.  

Divac would sign with the Sacramento Kings that offseason.  He played in just 145 games for Charlotte. Kobe Bryant is playing in his 18th NBA season.

The Hornets drafted Ricky Davis with the 21st pick in the 1998 NBA Draft.  The '98-'99 season lasted just 50 games, thanks to a lockout and the Hornets won 26 of them.

The Knicks (8th seed) went on to the NBA Finals and lost to 22 year old Tim Duncan, 33 year old David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs.

Moving up 10 spots in the NBA Lottery, the Charlotte Hornets drafted Baron Davis with the 3rd pick in the 1999 NBA Draft.  The young star saw limited playing time that season, but veterans Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason, David Wesley, Elden CampbellDerrick Coleman and Bobby Phills led the Hornets to a 49-33 season, before losing to Allen Iverson and the Philadephia 76ers in the first round. 

By the 2002-03 NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets had moved to New Orleans.  They would not have a losing season until 2004-05, when Byron Scott took over and the team won just 18 games.  Baron Davis was traded at the NBA trade deadline to the Los Angeles Clipper that season for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis, and would later be traded with a 1st round pick (Kyrie Irving) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams.

From 1992 until 2004, the Hornets franchise did not have a losing record.  However, they were knocked out of the 1st round five times, and the Eastern Conference Semifinals four times.