Stretching the Field: There's a buzzkill in Charlotte

( - Maybe they should have stuck with the Bobcats moniker.

The Charlotte Hornets have had as much success under their "new" mascot as the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Going back to the roots of the franchise hasn't paid off for the Hornets, and much like a Charles Dickens novel, there were great expectations heading into the 2014-15 season.

It's been more like excretions at the quarter mark of the NBA season.

The team made the playoffs a season ago with a 43-39 record and took advantage of a weak Eastern Conference to bring postseason basketball back to the Tar Heel State. The Hornets are hoping to sneak in again this season.

Al Jefferson did all the heavy lifting to get Charlotte into the tournament with 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in 73 games.

Jefferson got help this offseason in the form of all-purpose guard Lance Stephenson, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal this past summer. The Hornets have taken a step back instead of forward with Stephenson, but he's not solely to blame for a disappointing 4-15 start.

But Stephenson was supposed to get the Hornets over the hump. He's adjusting to new teammates and new surroundings, and maybe the comfort level just isn't there yet. He reportedly turned down a five-year, $44 million offer from the Indiana Pacers after helping them reach the Eastern Conference finals in back- to-back seasons.

The Pacers are struggling and could use Stephenson's services. Stephenson had an NBA-best five triple-doubles last season, and is averaging 10.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists in his new digs. He is shooting just 37.9 percent and making only 17.5 percent from 3-point range.

Stephenson came in believing he was still the star who helped the Pacers succeed and hasn't shown head coach Steve Clifford much.

"To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar," Clifford said last week. "He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years."

Clifford has even benched Stephenson in crunch time.

It's obvious Clifford is trying to light a fire under the one who blew into the ear of superstar LeBron James in last season's playoffs. Stephenson hasn't misbehaved in his short time with the Hornets, who are riding a 10-game losing streak that could reach 16 with New York, Boston, Memphis, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Phoenix on the docket.

"I thought at this point we would be in a much different place than we are," Clifford said recently.

So did many others.

It does take time for players and coaches to be fully integrated and the Hornets are learning that the hard way. Injuries to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gary Neal haven't aided the cause. Charlotte is in trouble if it's relying on Brian Roberts, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo. More help from Gerald Henderson is needed to support Jefferson, Kemba Walker and yes, Stephenson.

"We still have a lot of games left, and while people might not see it, we're actually getting a lot better as a team," Walker said. "Our chemistry is starting to come together and I think we're getting better each and every day."

The record doesn't show it and neither does the exhausting losing streak. However, four of those losses have come by five points or fewer. The Hornets lost to the Bulls, 102-95, on Wednesday, marking the 11th game this season that was decided by seven points or fewer. Charlotte has played 50 games over the past two seasons that have been decided by seven points or fewer.

Those tough losses prove that the Hornets are competitive, but when it doesn't reflect in the standings fingers start to point and questions are asked.

Clifford said some of the games the Hornets are losing are because of little mistakes that can be adjusted. Focus still remains the key to Charlotte's success and Clifford's sanity.

The Hornets are scoring 93.7 points per game and allowing 101.2 ppg. They are allowing opponents to post 43.7 rebounds against them and teams are making almost 40 percent from beyond the arc (36.8).

There is still enough talent to get Charlotte back into the postseason. They just need more of a rhythm and a stronger rapport with each other.

"It'll get worse before it gets better."

That quote, which is one of many classics from Dalton (Patrick Swayze) in the movie "Road House," summarizes what the Hornets can expect in the future.