The Hornets are doing something neat Saturday night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the NBA in Charlotte: They’re bringing in the top players in franchise history, based on an Internet vote of fans.
Eight of the 10 chosen will be here when the Hornets play the Philadelphia 76ers at Spectrum Center. Al Jefferson (still playing professionally in China) and Larry Johnson couldn’t make it.
I’ve frequently been asked lately who my picks would be for an all-time Hornets team. I started covering the NBA here when the original Hornets arrived in 1988, so I’ve seen them all. I decided to do this a little differently than the Hornets did: I picked a first, second and third team of five players each, with consideration for positions they played.
When you pick these kind of teams there are always judgment calls: Do you base this solely on the time the players were Hornets? Do you consider their entire careers? How best to compare players of different eras?
Basically, I did a blend: I was striving for the best five-player combinations with positions a factor. This shouldn’t be treated as a ranking of players 1 through 15. For instance, Baron Davis was probably one of the five best Hornets, but because he plays the same position as Kemba Walker, I made him the second-team point guard.
At the suggestion of one of my editors, I also attached a coach to each team. So, here we go...
Center: Alonzo Mourning. Power forward: Larry Johnson. Small forward: Glen Rice. Shooting guard: Dell Curry. Point guard: Kemba Walker.
My thinking: To me, there were three automatics in Mourning, Rice and Walker. I think those three did their jobs here as well as any in franchise history. Mourning is a Hall of Famer. There was a span in Rice’s career when he was just about unstoppable as a scorer. Walker excels at the most important position in this era of pro basketball.
I’m sure many Hornets fans would see Johnson as automatic as well. Another power forward, Anthony Mason, was good enough as a Hornet that you’d at least have to compare them. I picked Johnson because at his best - before his back injury - he was dominant, where Mason was more a high-level complementary player.
I wouldn’t have a problem with those who’d say there were better Hornets shooting guards than Curry. But he was so good for such a long time, and his special skill - 3-point shooting - was valuable then and would be that much more valuable the way the game is played now.
The coach: Paul Silas, who coached in Charlotte in two separate stints (1998-2002 and 2010-12). There are many different skills that go into coaching. Silas was best at managing people, which is important in overcoming the drudgery of 82-game schedules. You could knock him for going 32-88 his second go-around here (replacing Larry Brown at midseason), but his poor record was greatly about decisions above his head, including trading Gerald Wallace. Silas made the best of a total mess.
Center: Al Jefferson. Power forward: Mason. Small forward: Wallace. Shooting guard: Eddie Jones. Point guard: Davis.
My thinking: The last of Davis’ three seasons in Charlotte he reached special, averaging 18.1 points per game. That was not coincidentally when he improved his 3-point shooting to 36 percent. Jefferson had an All-NBA season in Charlotte, which is that much more selective than being an All-Star.
Wallace was quite a rarity: He was a player left unprotected in an expansion draft who went on to be an All-Star. We never really got to see how good he could have been on contending teams until late in his career in Brooklyn and Boston, after some of his rare athleticism had started eroding. Mason, now deceased, had the sort of ball-handling skills for a big man and a physicality that made him a forerunner for the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green.
I was mildly surprised Jones didn’t make the fans’ top 10. He was here only two seasons, but when NBA coaches now speak of the value of “two-way” players - elite both offensively and defensively - Jones epitomized that from another time.
The coach: Steve Clifford. I realize he never won a playoff series and a change made sense after last season. But Clifford inherited a terrible situation in 2013 when Mike Dunlap was fired after one season. He quickly won over the players’ trust and organized them - particularly on defense - into a group more talented teams disliked having to play. Even after back-to-back 36-victory seasons, Clifford left this franchise much better than he found it.
Center: Vlade Divac. Power forward: Armon Gilliam. Small forward: Jamal Mashburn. Shooting guard: Kendall Gill. Point guard: Muggsy Bogues.
My thinking: Bogues is obvious. He was such a connector during the Mourning-Johnson teams. As then-coach Allan Bristow used to say, “Zo and Larry think they eat from Muggsy’s palm.” For some reason, Gilliam is overlooked despite having been such an efficient low-post scorer in two early seasons. Gill was very good, although never quite the third star they hoped they were getting as complement to Mourning and Johnson. Divac was a great teammate in a Marvin Williams way. Mashburn’s scoring kept the Hornets playoff-viable after Rice left.
The coach: Larry Brown. His tactical brilliance made a quick difference, as it has in just about every stop of his career. But Brown’s perfectionist, quirky personality wore thin quickly.
Good, but missed the cut
Stephen Jackson, David Wesley, Jason Richardson, Hersey Hawkins, Emeka Okafor, Elden Campbell.