Tom Sorensen

How do the Hornets become a playoff team? Fans might not like this honest answer.

The Charlotte Hornets are not a playoff team. So: What do they do to become one? If results are all that matter, they trade their most valuable commodity – point guard Kemba Walker.
The Charlotte Hornets are not a playoff team. So: What do they do to become one? If results are all that matter, they trade their most valuable commodity – point guard Kemba Walker. AP

I’m an NBA fan. I can watch the Charlotte Hornets play the New York Knicks and think, “I will enjoy this.” The Knicks lacked their best player at Spectrum Center Monday – big man Kristaps Porzingis. He’s part of the league’s mobile big-man renaissance and is as entertaining as his peers. I enjoyed the game anyway.

In a rare development, the Hornets blew out New York. In a rare development, the Hornets won. They won this one 109-91.

Three Charlotte players scored in double figures, and four scored nine points. Point guard Kemba Walker was one of the latter. He needed 13 field goal attempts to collect his nine points. On this night, the Hornets were better than their best player.

The victory pushed the Hornets to 11-19, good for 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. The season has been incredibly frustrating for those of us who chose to believe.

So far, 2017 has been a series of moments. Center Dwight Howard has had a few. He’s been a fine addition. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will never be a sweet shooting forward, but he offers other qualities, and if he hits double figures that will be enough. Maybe Nic Batum will find his shot, his health and his role.

But the Hornets are not a playoff team. So: What do they do to become one?

If results are all that matter, they trade their most valuable commodity. Kemba has an All-Star game and a journeyman’s contract. He will make a decent team better and a good team very good.

The Hornets, meanwhile, will probably sink in the standings. Bad teams, of course, get good draft choices, and good draft choices are how you improve, provided the picks aren’t all invested on tall men from the Big Ten.

But man do I hate to envision the Hornets without Kemba. Although the victory Monday was a blowout, I still watched primarily to see Kemba (and, yeah, Malik Monk). Kemba’s side to side – is he going left or right, to the hoop or back beyond the line for a 3? – is a joy.

Charlotte took Kemba ninth in the 2011 draft. That same year, the Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton first. Kemba led Connecticut to the NCAA basketball championship, and Newton did the same in football with Auburn. Kemba was the best player on his sport’s best team, Newton the best in his.

It’s interesting that they arrived the same season. It’s enjoyable that they’re both still here.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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