Apr 26, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA;Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25) shoots the ball over Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem (40) during the second half in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Heat defeated the Bobcats 98-85. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference Preview: A Look at the Charlotte Hornets

Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential

Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Raptors fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.

Everybody has a chance. Well, mostly everyone does… perhaps omitting Milwaukee from the conversation, but even they must be more excited than last year (but everything is relative, right?). But “mostly everybody” has a strong case for their team. Maybe we should review every team starting with how they finished last year?

This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Raptors.

charlotte logo

Charlotte: Trending upwards for what is perhaps the very first time since the reign of Baron Davis and since the best player in basketball history, Michael Jordan, took over the team in 2010, is the Charlotte basketball franchise. They’re looking up for the first time since, really, they were Hornets. And lo and behold, what is the Charlotte NBA franchise called now? They’re the Hornets! The whole “Bobcats” as the team name? That experiment, yeah, it absolutely didn’t work. However, Charlotte made the playoffs last year. So things were looking up before Charlotte were the Hornets again…

Dec 21, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan unveils the new Charlotte Hornets logo at halftime during the game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 21, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan unveils the new Charlotte Hornets logo at halftime during the game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Topping the Bobcats shouldn’t be difficult though. The Bobcats were 293 wins and 511 losses! That’s dreadful… just a .364 winning percentage, with being swept in the first round twice. If Carolina residents wanted to see wins in basketball, good thing Duke and North Carolina are local teams.

To exit the way-back past, last year was a turnaround year for Charlotte. After a 21 win season in 2012-13, last year they won 43 games, making the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what happened there… they made the dance. Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker were on the cusp of averaging 20 points per game last year. This year, the formidable one-two punch should be in the conversation to be all-stars.

The potential good: Mostly everyone is back… and this young team is one year older (their roster has just one player 30 or older, and who knows if Jannero Pargo and his $915,243 dollar salary, according to espn.com, will actually be there). This team is young, but they were young last year and they made the playoffs. So this year, they will be better. They have to be! And also, they added disgruntled Indiana Pacers cast-off Lance Stephenson, who can be considered an all-star snub after compiling more triple-doubles than anyone else last season (even Chris Paul). Stephenson must gel with this team. If he can, the formidable one-two punch can turn into a one-two-tree punch-kick-POW… and that means a great team. And the number four is Gerald Henderson (bottom, with Harry Neale), a solid player who has averaged 15 points per game the past three seasons.

Nov 27, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson (1) passes the ball while being defended by Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25). They will be teammates this season. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The potential bad: On the other side of coin, this Lance guy (right, pictured as his former team playing his new team) can be considered toxic as well. Indiana held him as the scapegoat for their failures last season… and blowing in LeBron James‘ ear was irrelevant, but it may not have helped. Charlotte is banking on the idea that Stephenson will not rock the chemistry and instead can fit in with the team. Indiana was the best team in the East by far in the first half… and Stephenson was a linchpin in that.

Apr 20, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Bobcats guard Gary Neal (12) talks with Charlotte Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson (9) after a timeout against the Miami Heat during the second half in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 99-88. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

More potential good: I don’t know if anyone heard this, but LeBron James left Miami! So now Charlotte gets to play a team without James (so does everyone else, too, granted… but teams play teams within their own division much more than teams from other divisions, so Southeast Division teams benefit a whole lot more). I’m just not buying the Miami Heat without James. I think they’ll be hard pressed to make the playoffs, actually. That creates a major void in the Southeast Division. While Washington appears to be the clear pick, Charlotte is clearly next in line.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 7th place

This year’s potential pre-season FS rank: 5th place*

*With the injury of Paul George, Charlotte vaults past Indiana, unquestionably

Where do you think Charlotte will finish this season?

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Charlotte has a range of about fourth to eighth place. I think Washington takes the division, probably running away, but the Hornets have the potential talent to steal the vacancy left by Miami and win the division, too. I pick the Hornets 5th and think it’s a good bet, because it may take time to gel and Charlotte will need it. They’re young as it is, so it will take some time. And even when time tells, I don’t think Charlotte has it to top Washington. However, they will be a tough out in the playoffs. This year the former Bobcats will make it farther than they ever have in their franchise history… and could approach as far as Charlotte has gone in their history.

Click here to return to the intro page, which includes links to the rest of the preview series.

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Tags: Lance Stephenson Michael Jordan Toronto Raptors

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