No doubt. The Hornets had an amazing season. But as I put away some of the Hornets stuff laying around the house, I flip through the ticket book that the team sent us for the playoffs. You see, when ticktock and I re-upped our season tickets for next year, we guaranteed ourselves our seats for the entire Playoff run, no matter how long that might have been. And so yes, we are proud holders of Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals tickets that are as valuable as “Hornets: Western Conference Finals” t-shirts, part of the annual tragedy of pre-emptive merchandising, destined to lay in the gutters of eBay could-have-been memorabilia.
But at the same time, I feel strangely hopeful. Despite the sour taste that the end of this season left in my mouth, I don’t feel as if my hopes and dreams have been crushed in the sense of, “wow, this was our last shot–we’ll never get back here.” Quite the opposite. I can only imagine the feeling I have now is a lot like what Lakers fans felt the last year Kobe and Shaq got bumped from the Playoffs before tearing through the league for 3 straight rings.
This team is good. And I only expect them to get better in the offseason. Our core is under contract (CP, DX, TC, Mo, and Peja). We have guys that came to the team late with tons of talent, and with a full offseason and training camp behind them, look to contribute in big ways (Bird, Mike James, and maybe Bonzi). Not to the two young bucks that are looking for breakout seasons (Hilton and Ju-Ju). Obviously we need to decide out of these 10 if still want Bonzi and Bird back, whose contracts have expired. Bowen and Ely are similarly past contract, and questions remain about what role they would play next season, if any.
Of course this leaves questions about two players. The big name unmentioned is JP. He has a player option. Will he opt out? Will he stay? And if he opts out will he look to come back? What about Rasual “mmm-bob” Butler? He’s locked down for 2 more years at an average of $3.8 million per. Will he regain his shooting touch? Will he get out of Byron’s doghouse? Will they look to shop him? As a bonus, the salaries of Arvydas Macijauskas, Bernard Robinson, and Mile Ilic finally fall off the salary cap (freeing up almost $4.5 million).
One thing we do know, is that Byron is coming back, and that is huge. He is obviously one of the best coaches in the league. But who will the Hornets take with the 27th pick in the draft? Will he make the team? Will he make an impact? Will they have any interest in bringing back either Marcus Vinicius (a.k.a Marquinhos) or Adam Haluska? Obviously AH never got a shot here, but is exactly what this team needs: a 2-guard dead-on shooter. What about free agency at-large? Who’s available? Who can we afford? Who do we want?
I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are. But I know one thing. I’m hopeful. Even without any big moves, I love our core. They’re not just great players, but they’re great men. They’re great friends. They’re a great team. They’re only going to get better and so are the guys around them. Everyone can clearly see the goal now. It’s not just about scrabbling out way to the top 8 in the West, it’s championship or bust. And without resorting to the unabashed bluster and hype for which this blog is best known, I think I can simply say that I honestly, truly, in the deepest recesses of my heart or soul or whatever organ or ephemeral entrail encompasses that part of us that can hope, dream, pray, or imagine: I believe.
I know someday I’ll see that golden trophy in our guys’ hands. I really do. It’s like deja vu, but it hasn’t happened yet. So maybe I should say, I remember. The Hornets. Winning. A. Championship.