In my quest for context with this whole success thing that the Bobcats seem to be having lately, I’ve looked to the other previous franchises in their early existence. I’m really curious to see how we line up. There doesn’t seem to be a blueprint or any type of standard that has been set. No team comes into the league and lights the world on fire out of the gates. Here’s a short synopsis of what I’ve found so far:
1988 Charlotte Hornets – The team we’re all probably most familiar with, except the young guys on the board here. Kelly Tripuka was the instant offense, Mugsey Bogues and Rex Chapman were the stars, then came Kendall Gill but no big win totals even though it was the hugest thing ever for this city with every game selling out for 9 straight seasons and season tickets accounting for about 20k seats a game. It was a different time, first time for this city with any major league professional sport and really, no one knew how bad these guys were. 20 wins, 19 wins, 26, 31 then finally in their, hey wait, it was the 5th year that they broke out onto the scene with their largest win total behind the strong play of Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, then a rookie. The next year, no playoffs but the year after was the best year until Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets went and had the best record in the West. So, lesson there: draft well (Gill, Johnson and Mourning) fill in with role players and you might make the playoffs in the 5th year. Pretty easy to draft well when you hit the lotto once and then get the 2nd overall with Mourning. Notice there’s no mention of coaches, that would probably be because the Hornets didn’t have any to speak of until Bristow and he was a one hit wonder, never to coach again that I know of.
Hornets: first 4 years nothing, 5th year playoffs and a freak first round win.
1988 Miami Heat – Miami had a bit harder go at it. I’m not sure why but they were placed in the Western Conference to start out and their road trips had to be the worst. Rony Seikly was their top rookie the first year and they finished with 15 wins, only to match that last year, the year after winning their championship but I’m skipping ahead. 18 wins the next year and 24 the year after, basically by adding Glen Rice, who coincidentally led the 2nd wave in Charlotte with the Hornets. The 4th year the Heat actually made the playoffs with Rice, Seikly and Steve Smith, who was a rookie that year and also coincidentally came to Charlotte in the expansion draft and then was sent back to Miami to be a part of the Championship team. Playoffs year four, not in year 5 back in year six and they’ve been on the up and up ever since. You could always tell when Miami was good or bad by when Pat Riley was coaching. Things started going bad so he fired himself and put Stan VanGundy in after a 25 win season in 02-03 then when they were good again he took over for VanGundy, then he backed out towards the end of last year when they were really bad and in full tank mode trying to get the first overall pick. I like Miami. They faught throughout the ’90s with the Knicks, that makes you cool to me.
Heat: First 3 years worse than the Hornets but Playoffs in year 4.
1989 – Minnesota Timberwolves – The Wolves have had a pretty hard time. They haven’t had a whole heck of a lot of luck and when they did put some pieces together, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Really, they should have changed their name to bounced in the first. It’s hard to pick on them because they’re the first team we’re looking at in the Western Conference and also because they’ve never done anything. It’s like picking on the chubby kid in gym class. You may like him, but he’s not that good at anything. But you know they’ll hit a high point and maybe they’ll get that one magical day playing hockey or something and score like 5 goals, never to duplicate it again. Minnesota played their first season in the Metrodome, which is huge and I know you’ve seen the piece they do every year before the Final Four about how it throws you off playing in a huge arena. Tony Campbell(?) was their leading scorer and I really couldn’t name any other players except for their horrible drafts where they had to take Christian Latener and they wound up with Isaiah JR Rider somehow. That’s it. Just look at their chart on basketball-reference.com
You can tell where Kevin Garnett came in and thus the first round losses, one good year where they made it to the Western Conference Finals and now they’re bad again.
T-Wolves: NOTHING UNTIL YEAR 8!!!
1989 – Orlando Magic – Other than Charlotte probably the team you know the most about. Orlando got some star power early and played pretty well until Doc Rivers lost them, as he might have in Boston before the never-fail gift of last season. They parlayed that year into Dwight Howard. Anyway, the first few years was basically a whole lot of Nick Anderson, Scott Skiles and a little Sam Vincent and Reggie Theus. I actually read where Sam Vincent was injured and that was part of the reason the second season went a little down hill. How do you like that, the most I’ve heard about him in any capacity than holding back a good team as a coach. Anyway, in the win department they went 18, 31, 21 and then the Diesel came to town. This guy is a big deal, we all know that now. He was the first rookie since MJ to make an All Star game. He tore down entire basket stanchions, he was the most dominant offensive force and back then he even blocked shots. His rookie year he took the Magic to a tie for 8th but they didn’t have a tie-breaker with Indiana, so they didn’t make the playoffs. The next year, they did. The year after: the Finals. I don’t care what they’ve done since Shaq left, they were huge in the early ’90s.
Magic: Sam Vincent, Shaq, Playoffs in year 5(but could have easily been in year 4).
1995 – Toronto Raptors – Joining the Bobcats as a first year franchise with a Rookie of the Year, Damon Stodumire and the Raptors tore their way to a 21 – 61 record. A little better the next year and then crash and burn in year 3. Then Isaiah Thomas left and like always, things got better. I really don’t have much to say about Canada except that they too made the playoffs in year 5.
Raptors: Isaiah Thomas, Damon Stodumire, Camby then they got real in year 5 and made the playoffs.
1995 – Vancouver Grizzlies – Vancouver was horrible, Memphis wasn’t much better, except for the Hubie Brown years. Seriously, Big Country, Sharif Abdu Rahhim and not much else…they didn’t make the playoffs until year 8, and they had 8 wins one year ( the 98-99 strike shortened year ). EIGHT! I don’t know but I can’t think of anything good to say about the Memphis/Vancouver franchise.
Grizzlies – NOTHING UNTIL YEAR 8!!!
So that’s it. 6 teams in my lifetime. Two have done nothing. Two were pretty successful and 2 moved. As to playoff berths, everyone has made it at some point. The only team to make it before the 5th season was Miami. Miami has to be the measuring stick you look at for a “modern” NBA franchise. They’ve had the fewest coaches, they’ve won a championship, and promoted from within. Does the fact that they’re in Miami help? Yeah. Has Pat Riley’s influence helped? Probably. Were their first 5 years as successful as the Bobcats? I don’t know. It depends on what you call success. Attendance, wins, playoff appearances, popular players. I’d say even on playoffs in 5 years (assuming the Bobcats make it this year. HUGE ASSUMPTION). Even on popular players (both teams have developed from within and through drafts). Wins, Charlotte has more. Attendance is no comparison. It was impossible to not sell NBA tickets in the early ’90s especially in new cities. Miami hasn’t always had the best attendance but Charlotte is so far lacking, even the win difference (Charlotte had 14 more after 4 years) is hugely overshadowed by the seeming irrelevance to the team’s home city.
I feel like, as Bobcats fans, we can be happy, not disappointed with the first 5 years of the new Charlotte NBA franchise. They have gotten better every year except for the debacle that was the Ham Biscuit Era. With a little luck and a lot of hard work this team could make the playoffs this year which would be right about on pace with everyone else, except the horrible, hapless Timberwolves and the sorry, sad Grizzlies. That sounds a lot better than the same adjectives before “Charlotte Bobcats.”