Originally created 05/07/99

Hornets' rally falls short after miserable start



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It began with all the makings of a disastrous season before winding up as a winning one. The Charlotte Hornets, however, remain a work in progress.

Several major questions are pending now that Charlotte has concluded its lockout-shortened schedule with a 26-24 record.

The Hornets headed into the offseason Thursday not knowing who their owner or coach will be when they return this fall to begin preparing for 1999-2000.

Michael Jordan has been negotiating to buy a share of the franchise, but George Shinn is reportedly unwilling to give up anything more than 50 percent.

The uncertainty about the ownership is playing a role in determining the future of Paul Silas, who has worked since March 8 with the tag of interim head coach.

Silas said he wants to stay with the Hornets and the team said it wants to retain him, but so far, there have been no contract talks.

"I'm just hoping that things will work out," Silas said. "I'm by nature a positive person."

The optimism of Silas became infectious in the closing weeks of the season, even though there wasn't much reason for it when he took over following the resignation of Dave Cowens after a 4-11 start.

Silas guided the team to a 22-13 record, including a nine-game winning streak that vaulted the Hornets into playoff contention in the closing weeks of the season. Even though they finished with victories in 14 of their last 17 games, they wound up one game behind the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"In my wildest dreams, I never thought we would win nine straight games," Silas said, "and the way the team came together so quickly, to completely turn it around and just catch fire and not give up, it shows their character. We all kind of got caught up in it, and I think next year it will be even better because we'll have a full year's work."

Silas began the year as an assistant to Cowens, and the Hornets began it without top offensive threat Glen Rice and top rebounder and No. 2 scorer Anthony Mason, both of whom were sidelined with arm surgery.

While Charlotte struggled early, Cowens became disenchanted with Shinn's unwillingness to give him a raise, and he quit.

Rice also was looking for a new contract, and as soon as he was healthy enough to play again, he was shipped to the Lakers in a trade for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell, neither of whom had put up big numbers in Los Angeles.

But both players blossomed with their new teams, Campbell giving Charlotte a presence down low that requires double-teaming from opponents and Jones giving the Hornets one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders.

Good chemistry was evident almost as soon as Campbell and Jones arrived, and once the new players got adjusted to their teammates, Charlotte went on a roll.

"We played very unselfishly," Jones said. "Guys on this team like each other and believe in each other, and you can see that on the floor. This is a good group."

And it's one that's likely to remain largely intact for next season.

The most prominent player without a contract heading into the offseason is role player Chucky Brown, who was used this year as a reserve swing man and part-time starter at forward.

Add in the return of Mason, who is expected to be completely recovered by the start of training camp, and the fact that the Hornets have a first-round pick in this summer's draft, and there is reason for optimism.

"It all sounds pretty good to me," Silas said.

Among the negatives from the season was the team's failure to sell out a single game all year at the 23,799-seat Charlotte Coliseum, a first for a franchise that had perennially been among the NBA attendance leaders. The Hornets attributed much of the dropoff to the lockout and their poor start, and the crowds did pick up late in the season.

"We started from so far back, it was hard," point guard David Wesley said. "We made a good run and gave it a good effort. We didn't make it, but I believe we're a playoff team right now. We'll just have to wait until next year to get there."