I know the premise of this article seems kind of silly, but it's a direct response to another article from The Lost Ogle. It's a site which I love and pretty much gets me through my day. They're 10 times funnier than I, and pretty much have the scoop on everything. But I'm not a fan of their NBA columns really, either because they're too basic or just flat out wrong. I wanted to throw out this article to set the record straight on one of the most pointed to moves in NBA history.
The premise of Clark Matthews' latest column is basically this:
I hesitate to say this because no one needs an ego boost less than Kobe Bryant, but without him, the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder never happens. Bear with me: In 1996 Bryant was only the second player in twenty years to enter the NBA draft after his senior year of high school (note: The year before Kevin Garnett started the trend.) Since it was not a common occurrence, the first twelve teams passed on Kobe before he was drafted thirteenth overall by the Charlotte Hornets.
The premise itself is debatable, but I'll leave it until later, because a couple of the "facts" thrown around in the article are just flat-out wrong.
Meanwhile, the Hornets lose Johnson and Mourning, try to replace both of their stars with Glen Rice and become a very ordinary, uninteresting team at the same time that their wonderful owner (George Shinn) starts demanding that Charlotte build him a new arena. The fan base completely disintegrates and Shinn takes the team to New Orleans where it continues to struggle even before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Ordinary and uninteresting, eh? You mean like the two years immediately after the trade involving Bryant and Divac? They won 54 games in 96-97 and 51 in 97-98. The latter year involved a trip to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Not mind-blowing for sure, but they were definitely a legitimate team that had the misfortune of losing to Ewing's Knicks and Jordan's Bulls. All of this was while Glen Rice was their star.
And the fan base disintegrates? You mean while the team averaged 24,000 and 23,000 fans in 96-97 and 97-98? No, the fan base certainly didn't disintegrate then. And they didn't disintegrate because of losing Johnson and Mourning. At least, not specifically. They lost their fan base because of three reasons, all relating to George Shinn.
Below: Three reasons why the Charlotte fan base was lost, three reasons why Bryant wouldn't have made a difference anyway, why the Thunder moved to OKC!
1. George Shinn is a total cheapskate. He traded Glen Rice in 1997 because he was about to enter a contract year. He never re-signed Eddie Jones, whom Glen Rice was traded for. He signed guys like Derrick Coleman and Jamal Mashburn....because they were injury-prone, and thus, cheap.
2. George Shinn was accused of raping a woman. 'Nuff said.
3. He tried to make Charlotte pay for a new arena at no cost to him, which Matthews mentioned.
Because of his [Bryant's] talent, he would have given the Hornets the superstar they needed to build around, Shinn probably would have gotten his arena without alienating his fan base (who rebelled because he let Johnson walk and traded Mourning to leave them with no one marketable).
I doubt that. Again, I maintain that the fan base didn't rebel because of the fact they had no one marketable. Also, they voted the referendum down because of unrelated political issues. I'm not going to act like I know anything about Charlotte politics, but according to the cited Charlotte Hornets Wiki Page, Charlotte city officials actually conspired to build a new arena as long as George Shinn wasn't the owner of the team, and the NBA publicly admitted that Shinn had alienated the fans.
This brings me back to Matthews' initial premise: If the Hornets had kept Kobe Bryant, they would have had a "marketable" star and stayed in Charlotte. Here's why I consider this to be untrue....
1. Again, George Shinn is a total cheapskate. Every single lottery pick the Hornets selected, regardless of how good they were, was not paid beyond their rookie contract. I doubt Kobe would be the exception to this rule. He'd probably have been traded away after three seasons for a couple of okay random guys.
2. Kobe Bryant was pretty good, but not great in his first two seasons. In those seasons on the Lakers, he averaged 8 points and 15 points, respectively. He wouldn't have made much of a difference on a team loaded with swingmen like Dell Curry, Anthony Mason, David Wesley, and Bobby Phills. Not enough of a difference to beat Ewing's Knicks or Jordan's Bulls. Plus, the Hornets would have had Matt Geiger and George Zidek heading up the center position. With Geiger starting the year before AND Larry Johnson, the Hornets were a 41 win team. Divac was a darn good player.
3. Shooting Guard was never a problem position for the Charlotte Hornets. Some of their best players, like Eddie Jones and David Wesley, played there. I'm not saying they were better than Kobe, because they aren't, but they were main components on playoff offenses, and having Kobe there would have only turned them up a notch. They might have been a couple of seeds higher, or moved a round farther. But it still doesn't change the problem George Shinn was facing: He was never willing to pay or keep a true star. He always kept his team from truly rising to the top by making lateral moves for younger guys. He had franchise players as good as Bryant in Charlotte and New Orleans, but he never kept them until Chris Paul.
So, why are the Thunder in Oklahoma City?
Because Oklahoma City built the Ford Center. And Oklahoma City's corporate community served as a solid base for the Hornets to come to Oklahoma City. With that and an exciting young star leading a rag-tag team, it was only a matter of time before another team came in to fill the void. It was unfortunate that the Thunder came through the destruction of the SuperSonics, but so it goes.
Anyway, keep reading the Lost Ogle and Welcome to Loud City. But always remember: one player does not a franchise make.