- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

Every member of the Charlotte Hornets knows this almost certainly is the last season for the team in Charlotte. However the players, who have lived through an inordinate amount of turbulence, are not letting anything faze them.
"I really don't care, I couldn't care less," emerging star Baron Davis said last week. "My focus is on New Jersey and the next round of the playoffs."
After vanquishing Orlando 3-1 in the first round of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hornets will open their conference semifinal with top-seeded New Jersey today. Thursday, the Hornets all but had their move to New Orleans next season cleared thanks to the NBA relocation committee that voted unanimously to allow the move.
The proposed move will become a reality Friday if 15 of the league's 29 owners cast ballots for relocation. NBA commissioner David Stern, who is against relocation, admitted the move is all but inevitable.
"I'm obviously disappointed that we've come to the respective end of the Hornets' run in Charlotte," Stern said. "On the other hand, we're excited about the possibilities of going to New Orleans. I fully expect a positive vote from our owners welcoming them to New Orleans."
The inevitable move is the result of three turbulent seasons in Charlotte.
Coach Paul Silas replaced Dave Cowens in March of 1999 after management refused to give Cowens, one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league, a raise. In January of 2000 the team lost a cherished member of the Charlotte community when guard Bobby Phills was killed in a horrific automobile accident less than a mile from the arena. And then there was team owner George Shinn getting sued for sexual assault by a former employee. Shinn eventually won the suit.
During all this, attendance at the cavernous Charlotte Coliseum which was built during the 1980s without luxury boxes plummeted to the point where home crowds averaged 11,304 this season, the worst in the league. In their two home playoff games against Orlando, the Hornets drew 9,550 and 10,323 respectively, paltry totals for a building that holds more than 23,000.
"It's hard to blame our fans for not coming out," said starting guard David Wesley. "I mean, look at what's been going on with this team. We have die-hard fans back home, but who could blame them for staying away?"
Silas has seen a lot of heartache since taking over for Cowens he was very close to Phils and last year had a very public feud with former player Derrick Coleman but not knowing about the team's future has been the hardest.
"I think this year has been the toughest I've had with the Hornets," Silas said. "With all the injures and the uncertainty of where we're going to be, it's just been tough.
"It had such a significant role in everybody's mind. It's just worn on everybody. Every day, it seemed there was something new. And then there are the questions. For out-of-town reporters, that's all they've wanted to talk about this season."
Lost in the will-they or won't-they story line has been the stellar coaching job by Silas. He is a strong candidate for coach of the year.
The coach lost star forward Jamal Mashburn for 42 regular season games because of an abdominal injury. Mashburn played just two quarters in the Orlando series before succumbing to an intestinal virus and a vitamin deficiency. He is unlikely to play in today's opener in New Jersey. George Lynch, acquired in a trade for Coleman, was expected to be a key reserve but missed 37 games, and nagging injuries forced Wesley to miss 15 games.
"[Silas] has been our leader through a lot of rough times and some unusual circumstances," Davis said. "I don't think there are a lot of guys who could have gone through what he's been through and stayed focused like him."
And yet despite all the problems, the Hornets managed to finish with a 44-38 record and, not surprisingly, played better on the road (23-18) than at home (21-20).
"We respond better when there are more people in the stands," Davis joked.
Always in coaching mode, Silas deflects the credit for his team's success and points to his players.
"These guys are character guys, professionals," Silas says. "Let's be clear. Everybody couldn't deal with this. But we have dealt with it and we're still playing basketball in the spring."

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