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2014-15 NBA season will mark return of Charlotte Hornets, playoffs

In 2014-15, the Charlotte Bobcats become the Charlotte Hornets. With some luck in the NBA lottery, and improvement of young players, Charlotte also could be back in the playoffs that season.

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Bobcats played their first game Nov. 4, 2004. They lost to Washington by seven. On Nov. 5, they began to rebuild.

They have yet to stop. Since 2004, different owners have passed through Time Warner Cable Arena, different coaches, different players and different philosophies. The team has changed its identity with the ease a model changes clothes.

The project will continue next season. The Bobcats should be better, but they’ll be better without being good. The odds of them winning the NBA championship in 2013-14 are, according to Bovada.lv.com, 500-1.

I wouldn’t take the bet.

But here’s one I like: In 2014-15, Charlotte makes the playoffs, wins the first playoff game in franchise history and, perhaps, its first playoff series.

Maybe I’m desperate and deluded. Maybe I can’t remember what it’s like to write about a local major-league team with more victories than losses.

Anybody want to hear about the 2008 Carolina Panthers? Fine.

For Charlotte to excel in 2014-15, here’s what has to happen:

The Bobcats have to find a keeper in Thursday’s NBA draft. Whether they trade up or down, whether they take Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, Anthony Bennett or Nerlens Noel, the player has to make a difference in 2014-15. If he’s not on the court, fans have to clamor for his return. And if they want to scream at the head coach (which I hope is still Steve Clifford) to put the guy back in, have at it.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist needs to improve as significantly as Kemba Walker has. Kidd-Gilchrist, who won’t turn 20 until September, will have two seasons to do it. By 2014-15 Kidd-Gilchrist will be a better defender and a better shooter (he better be) and he’ll be more adept at going to the basket. He also ought to be a leader in the locker room and on the court.

Bismack Biyombo needs to improve. His won’t be dramatic. His defense and rebounding are solid. If he enhances those skills, and learns to catch and shoot, he’ll be a player fans want on their team.

The Bobcats have to try to retain shooting guard Gerald Henderson, who last season was their best player after Walker. A restricted free agent, Henderson is not worthy of anything close to a maximum contract. But the Bobcats have to offer market value. They can’t let him walk the way they have so many others.

The Bobcats have a few interesting free agents they realistically could pursue this summer. Among them are Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson, Utah forward Paul Millsap and Portland center-forward J.J. Hickson. But how great a difference will the big men make and how important will that difference be next season?

The Bobcats could have three first-round picks in the 2014 draft, a draft that shimmers like the beach house you’d want to spend your vacation. The picks could be as high as No. 1, No. 9 and No. 13.

If the Bobcats wait, if they save their money, plus the money they pick up when they jettison Tyrus Thomas under the amnesty clause, they could spend it next summer.

I know you’re tired of waiting. We’re all tired of waiting. Charlotte’s rebuilding plan could be entitled: “There is no finish line.”

Pyramids have been constructed more quickly, small pyramids, anyway.

But what if, in Charlotte’s 10th season, the plan finally enables the Bobcats to compete?

What if fans fill the arena not because Miami is in town but because they want to watch Kemba Walker and the fellows?

What if fans go to the gym expecting a victory by the home team?

In 2014-15, the Charlotte Bobcats become the Charlotte Hornets. What if the name change is the least of the reasons to cheer?

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