Unless Tom Brady is your quarterback, LeBron James is your power forward or Stephen Curry is the point guard for your brilliant team, you are unlikely to contend for a championship every season. Realistic fans understand this.
They also understand that their team does not owe them a title. But it does owe them. It owes them hope.
If your team was a bottom-feeder last season and is likely to be a bottom-feeder again, the team has to share with fans its plan. It has to give them a reason to care.
The Philadelphia 76ers just finished a rebuilding decade. But look at the talent on that roster. Although they aren’t going to win a title next season, they have a shot at the playoffs and should be among the league’s most entertaining teams.
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The Charlotte Hornets also aren’t going to win a title next season. But they are coming off a fine, fine two-week run. First they traded for center Dwight Howard. And then they drafted Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon.
I’d been pushing for big man Harry Giles. I’d say I was on the bandwagon, but a smart car built like a size-16 shoe provided all the space I needed. Until the week of the draft I never thought guard Malik Monk would be available at No. 11, which is when the Charlotte Hornets made their pick.
There was no way the Hornets could or should pass on him. Monk is fearless and his gifts are such that he can take over a game.
As excited as Charlotte is about Howard, let’s be realistic. Howard offers immense value as a rebounder and defender who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. But need has nothing to do with it.
Howard wants the ball. You’ve seen him become forlorn and ever so sad when he doesn’t get it. A big man is like a wide receiver in that he must depend on the quarterback to throw the ball his way.
Howard is 31. In 2004, the then Charlotte Bobcats made the first pick in Bobcats’ history. With the second pick, they selected Emeka Okafor. With the first pick the Orlando Magic had selected Howard. Okafor, 34, last played in 2012-13.
So Howard has some miles on him. But late in a player’s career, with his legacy dangling, he sometimes will stop being what he wants to be and become what his team wants him to be. After the trade, Howard talked by phone with Hornets owner Michael Jordan. When Jordan tells you he wants you, how do you not try to impress him?
Howard makes the team more interesting. A few years ago a friend sitting in the front row at then Time-Warner Cable Arena yelled at Howard every time he ran past. During a break, Howard paused, briefly lingered in front of the man and began to talk to the man’s girlfriend.
A player I’ll be curious to watch is forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist can do everything but shoot. I thought he was tentative last season, his first after two debilitating injuries. As hard as he works, and as hard as he has worked on his shot, he has much to offer.
He has time. Although the Hornets selected him in the 2012 draft, Kidd-Gilchrist is somehow only 23.
The new optimism the team has created also means new pressure. We saw Monk at Kentucky. We’ve seen Howard for more than a decade. The rotation is suddenly full of possibilities.