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The NBA draft is always full of hyperbole. Pundits are quick to say that this player is the next Luka Doncic or Draymond Green, or that pick will take a team from the lottery to the NBA Finals. We know to take these pronouncements with a grain of salt. However, when a first-round pick compares his new team’s roster to the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, we know it’s time to pump the breaks.

That is exactly what the No. 19 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft did, though, in his introductory press conference with his new team. While the comparison is ridiculous at face value, the player’s point — that his new organization is building a nice young core — isn’t that outrageous at all.

The Showtime Lakers are one of the best NBA teams of all time

“Showtime” is an era of Los Angeles Lakers basketball that coincides with the NBA career of one Ervin “Magic” Johnson. The Lakers picked the 6-foot-9 point guard out of Michigan State in the 1979 NBA Draft, the same year Dr. Jerry Buss bought the team from Jack Kent Cooke.

The moniker came from the run-and-gun, fastbreak style that Magic and the 1980s Lakers played with, as well as the fact they did it in Hollywood.

The era ended suddenly when Johnson stunningly announced he was HIV positive in 1991. In the decade-plus that the Showtime Lakers existed, though, they made nine trips to the NBA Finals and won five championships.

Legendary coach Pat Riley led the team through the 1980s, and, in addition to Magic, the team featured Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. A host of iconic role players also contributed to Showtime. This list includes A.C. Green, Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, and Mychal Thompson.

The Showtime Lakers are quite simply one of the best teams in NBA history. There is an argument to be made that they are on par or better than any NBA dynasty. This includes Bill Russell’s 1960s Boston Celtics, Larry Bird’s ’80s teams, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs, or Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors.

Charlotte Hornets first-round NBA draft pick Kai Jones thinks the team will be like the Showtime Lakers

Kai Jones is interviewed at the NBA draft after being drafted by the New York Knicks during the 2021 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on July 29, 2021 in New York City.
Kai Jones | Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets picked No. 11 in the 2021 NBA Draft. Many mock drafts had athletic Texas big Kai Jones going at that spot. When the time came, however, the team was surprised that UConn guard James Bouknight was still available.

The Hornets took Bouknight at No. 11. When pick No. 19 rolled around and Jones was still on the board, general manager Mitch Kupchak (who also played for the Showtime Lakers) traded a future first-round pick to the New York Knicks and took his man, Jones.

At the introductory press conference for the two rookies, Jones didn’t hide his excitement about his new team and their potential. He told reporters, per WCNC Charlotte: “This team is on the rise, they’ve got lots of good young players that can pass the ball, like LaMelo. They like to run, and I like to run too. And I know James likes to run. … It’s going to be Showtime.”

Bouknight sounded equally thrilled to be in the Queen City and just as hyped about the Hornets prospects.

“We’re going to be one of the most exciting young teams in the league, and I say that confidently,” Bouknight asserted. “We’re going to be a team that’s must-see TV.”

We’ll see how Bouknight and Jones develop on the court, but at least we already know neither suffers from a crisis of confidence.

The Hornets may not be Showtime, but they are a team on the rise 

You can excuse Jones for evoking the word most associated with Magic Johnson’s great teams. Both he and Bouknight weren’t born until a decade after the Showtime Lakers took their last bow at the LA Forum.

While the two youngsters’ enthusiasm may be a bit premature, there is no denying that Hornets governor Michael Jordan and Kupchak — who also built the Shaq/Kobe Lakers — know a thing or two about assembling great teams.

The Hornets haven’t been to the NBA Playoffs since 2015 but are on their way back to respectability. Last year’s No. 3 overall pick, LaMelo Ball, won Rookie of the Year in 2020-21, and the franchise’s Gordon Hayward signing could be incredible if the former Butler Bulldog could ever stay healthy.  

Adding Jones and Bouknight to Ball and Hayward, as well as a host of young, talented role players like Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and Devonte’ Graham, gives the Hornets a scary young nucleus that should be a player in the East for years to come.

They may never become the “Showtime Hornets,” but with the smart moves in the last two years, Charlotte is undoubtedly a squad to keep an eye on for the long haul.

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