2022 Orlando Magic Playoff Lessons: Charlotte Hornets’ clock is ticking to change

The Charlotte Hornets have made the Play-In Tournament twice now without making the playoffs. LaMelo Ball is a budding star who has their clock ticking. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
The Charlotte Hornets have made the Play-In Tournament twice now without making the playoffs. LaMelo Ball is a budding star who has their clock ticking. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The clock is always ticking in the NBA.

If there is ever one truth it is that there is no such thing as standing still. Teams are improving and changing constantly. And the teams that are not doing something to keep up are the ones that get caught left behind.

That clock only increases its pressure when a star is involved. Teams know once a star emerges, their time is running out to convince that star to stay in the modern NBA world where players are super close and empowered to find greener pastures together.

The clock is always ticking in the NBA. It ticks louder once a star emerges and a team starts to stagnate. Like the Orlando Magic in 2020, the Charlotte Hornets are there trying to find a way forward.

The Charlotte Hornets were eager to get back into the playoff picture but they did not see the rocket ship they were attached to when they won the third pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

LaMelo Ball completely transformed the franchise. Yes, the Hornets had already made big expenditures to sign Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward. But Ball is the force that took the team over the top and got the team into the play-in tournament last year.

In his second year, Ball became an All-Star and one of the most dynamic players in the league. He was a revelation.

But the Hornets remained in the same spot. They were hungry all offseason following a blowout loss in their Play-In Tournament game against the Indiana Pacers in 2021. They are left wondering what comes next after the Atlanta Hawks defeated them 132-103 in the Play-In Tournament once again.

The Hornets saw their promising young player get better. But the team has stood largely still. And that has only raised questions as the Hornets plot out their future. The clock is ticking. It is always ticking. And now everyone is feeling the pressure.

The Charlotte Hornets have their star. They now need to find their way forward yet again.

The team certainly has an identity.

The Hornets are a break-neck fast-break offense. The team finished eighth in the league in offensive rating at 113.6 points per 100 possessions and fifth in the league in pace at 100.5 possessions per 48 minutes.

That is all powered by Ball, who averaged 20.1 points per game and 7.6 assists per game this year in making his first All-Star team. He certainly still had the excesses of a young player, but Ball has arrived as a centerpiece.

The team stayed relatively the same from last year, hoping to build off the team’s surprise run to the Play-In Tournament (the team fell back to earth in terms of clutch record, which suggests perhaps that some progress was made).

But undoubtedly, with an All-Star in tow, the Hornets should feel like they should do more than make the Play-In Tournament. And now comes the challenge of improving the team.

Charlotte is expected to be one of the most active teams in the trade market this offseason. They will also have a big free-agent decision to make with leading scorer Miles Bridges. This is all because the Hornets know that window is opening. And the Hornets have some money to move — not to mention the enticement of playing for Michael Jordan and absorbing whatever knowledge he is willing to share.

Standing still is a sore subject among Orlando fans.

The Magic felt like the 2021 Hornets following the Magic’s 2019 playoff run. They had a young(ish) team that broke through and a first-time All-Star in Nikola Vucevic. The Magic, and its fan base, were celebrating the end of a long playoff drought.

Certainly, Charlotte has more optimism about its future because Ball is so young and still under rookie contract control for two more years, giving the team significantly more cap flexibility to go out and find the right supporting players.

But they are in much the same space as the Magic were exiting the 2020 season. They made two major changes to their roster — swapping Cody Zeller for Mason Plumlee as the starting center and adding Kelly Oubre for extra shooting off the bench (they would later add Montrezl Harrell at the trade deadline).

Like the 2020 Magic, the Hornets also faced injuries too with Gordon Hayward playing in only 49 games.

Related Story. Why the Charlotte Hornets must re-sign Miles Bridges. light

And like the Magic, the Hornets still ended up with the same result. They were still in the Play-In Tournament and they were still unable to make the playoff field proper.

If there is a lesson the Hornets should take from the Magic then, it is that running the same roster back three years in a row after low playoff seedings is not going to get them anywhere. Now is the time to push some chips in and make a change.

That is what the Magic failed to do in 2021 — or better, decided not to do, setting themselves up for the floor to drop on them and likely for the conference to pass them even if they were healthy in 2021.

Orlando was waiting on internal development to take hold, but Aaron Gordon stagnated and yearned for something new, Evan Fournier’s contract ran out and Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz missed almost the whole season with injuries.

In hindsight, the Magic ran out of time to wait. They were wrong if that was the team they were willing to ride with for three seasons. Only time will tell if biding all that time was worth it by how successful Jeff Weltman’s rebuild project will be.

The Russell Westbrook deals that may or may not have been on the table could be a sliding doors moment for the Magic for good or worse.

The situation is not so dire for the Hornets. They have some time — and the ability to give Ball the largest max allowed under the CBA will buy them additional four years. They have six seasons left to build the best team around Ball.

But the Magic’s experience should teach them there is no time to waste. The Eastern Conference is a lot more competitive than it was even three years ago now. The Hornets have

Orlando should take that lesson too, especially as the team continues to collect young players on their rookie contracts.

The Orlando Magic are hoping to strike it big with a player who can provide the same kind of spark to their franchise that LaMelo Ball has done for the Charlotte Hornets or Ja Morant has done for the Memphis Grizzlies or Luka Doncic has done for the Dallas Mavericks or Trae Young has done for the Atlanta Hawks (one of those players may not be like the others).

But that also comes with the clock ticking.

The Mavericks are already feeling pressure to surround Doncic with a championship-capable roster after two first-round exits. And their four-seed is still not considered a huge success — and their first plan to pair Luka Doncic with Kristaps Porzingis fell flat.

The Hornets may start to feel that pressure too if they stick with what they have. They cannot stand still. They have their star, now they have to figure out how to add players who complement him and help cover his flaws — especially on defense where the whole team struggles.

Charlotte’s clock is ticking. The fact that the team failed to progress with such a young group and a budding star only makes that clock tick louder — especially in coach James Borrego’s ear to start.

Terrence Ross appears ready to move on from Orlando Magic. dark. Next

The Hornets know this and that may spur them to action quicker than usual.