To stop being an NBA punchline, here are three things the Charlotte Hornets need to do

We’ve reached that portion of the programming, the part where the Charlotte Hornets inevitably get mentioned by someone, sparking a conversation.

And as usual, it’s not in a positive light.

The organization is constantly being picked on like a little brother, highlighting the job the hierarchy has to do to change the current perception.

Whether it’s Shaquille O’Neal and TNTs “Inside the NBA” crew yucking it up over Aleksej Pokusevski’s inbounds attempt as a nominee for the winner of the Shaqtin’-a-Fool finale or Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro basically quoting rapper Drake while asking how PJ Washington went from Charlotte to the NBA Finals with Dallas, the end result remains the same.

The joke always seems to be on the Hornets. They are a punchline to more than a few.

And that needs to change. Immediately.

There’s a lot of work to do to make the Hornets “the premier franchise in the NBA,” which is the phrase vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson repeated during his introductory press conference in March. At least they’ve started with an overhaul of their facilities, modernizing the Spectrum Center along with building a new practice center across the street.

But it’s going to take much more than that to rid their negative reputation.

Here are three other areas the Hornets must improve so they can get mentioned in a favorable way instead of being the subject of amateur comedian material.

Just win, baby

It’s really that simple.

Heeding the words in that phrase famously uttered by Al Davis, the brash owner of the Oakland Raiders from 1972-2011, will solve the bulk of the Hornets’ issues. The problem, of course, is the organization hasn’t done enough of that, posting just four winning records in the last 20 years and making the postseason only six times since the Y2K craze simmered down.

Boasting the league’s longest playoff drought isn’t the kind of thing you want to be known for and there are few signs at the moment suggesting that number won’t swell past nine and push toward a decade.

Rosters are far from a finished product, but just going off the past season alone, all three teams in the Hornets’ division are better, beginning with the Heat. Orlando went through its own reconstruction from 2020-2023 and rebounded quickly, overtaking the Hawks as the second-best team, and has a bright future behind Duke product Paolo Banchero.

Atlanta could possibly take a step back if it elects to trade Trae Young away and begin a rebuild. But that’s about it.

Consistently punching a postseason ticket is the biggest step to the Hornets shedding the mediocrity tag, though certainly not the first one.

Better player development

It’s become a yearly occurrence.

During almost every recent postseason, optics haven’t been in the Hornets’ favor at all when it comes to a major necessity for a franchise that’s constantly in the lottery: player development.

In 2023, it was Caleb Martin grabbing the spotlight during Miami’s unexpected run to the Finals, with Hornets’ detractors questioned why they waived Martin and instead kept his twin brother Cody. Caleb Martin became a roster casualty when the Hornets signed Kelly Oubre to a two-year free agency deal in 2021, and his emergence with the Heat further ignited the fodder.

Now, with Washington set to take the stage with Dallas in the NBA Finals against Boston — and new Hornets coach Charles Lee — that chatter is only going to increase again. It’s inevitable. So get ready for the virtual bottles and rotten tomatoes to be hurled in Charlotte’s direction over the next couple of weeks.

A quick aside: You also can’t have first-round draft picks being discarded, waiving them without getting any kind of compensation in return. Kai Jones, whom the Hornets traded back into the first round to acquire, was the first to go before training camp last fall and his fellow 2021 draft mate James Bouknight got released after the deadline during a roster crunch. That’s not going to help their cause.

Bringing up the name of Malik Monk causes a huff or two for some Hornets fans, too, understanding that not only is he playing his best basketball heading into free agency with Sacramento, but also knowing there was a distinct possibility the Hornets could have had Donovan Mitchell instead if the decision makers all agreed in 2017. There’s not enough time to delve back into that one.

Which leads us into the final point.

More harmony

Save for their successive seasons losing in the first round of the play-in tournament in 2020 and 2021, the Hornets appear to be in a never-ending rebuild without a definitive direction.

Take a look at the best run organizations in the NBA. The lead executives have typically been in place for a while and they have a common thought process throughout their basketball operations department and medical levels, allowing them to tackle the offseason with a certain purpose.

The Hornets must do that same thing from top to bottom, and it appears co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin are attempting a relative complete makeover of the team’s power structure, and other areas that have been heavily scrutinized — such as the team’s performance staff — could be adding new faces following the evaluation of the organization.

Without everyone being on the same page, the end product won’t be very attractive. Getting that corrected has to be in the Hornets’ immediate best interests.

Factoring all that into the equation and considering their Southeast Division rivals, the Heat, also had their inaugural season in 1988, yet have racked up three NBA titles and 25 playoff appearances, shows how arduous things are for Charlotte. The Hornets have a yeoman’s job ahead of them to stop the rim shots whenever their team name is uttered, and must find a way to establish a new, exciting reality.