Tag:Hilton Armstrong
Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am
 

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

There is no tried and true formula to winning in the NBA.  Most people, my foolish self included, believe in the sanctity of building through the draft and through cost effective moves in free agency to build around those great players you drafted.  However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the most successful formula, is to stack your team to the best of your abilities and then follow by adding in a bunch of older players willing to take a veterans salary to contribute to a championship team (or coattail their way to a championship, if you will).  There’s been no more glaring example of stacking your team than what happened in Miami this offseason.  The Heat stayed away from improving their team through free agency for most of the last two years, traded away players this offseason with the sole hope of free agency and then watched it all pay off as both LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami to form one of the most controversial rosters in NBA history.  Whether or not this pays off is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, teams like Orlando and Atlanta, the division’s two best teams the past two seasons, went the traditional route of building on their success by focusing on player development and keeping the core intact.  Orlando, already possessing one of the best players in the league in all world center Dwight Howard, were exposed in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, and whispers of the team being soft were as loud as ever.  Meanwhile, those whispers against Orlando were shouts against Atlanta, as a second straight season ended in them being swept out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  They’ve now dedicated a ton of money to a roster that many feel have already peaked, and this may be Atlanta’s last year to be seen as contenders in the East. 

Meanwhile, Washington drafted their hopeful superstar this past June in John Wall.  Lucking into the number one overall selection, Washington chose Wall and decided to ask questions later.  It’s still a mystery as to how Wall and Gilbert Arenas will play on the court together and Arenas’ insistence on not being seen as a distraction has already directly caused a distraction for the team.  And Charlotte, after buying big time to make the playoffs last year, got swept in their first postseason appearance in franchise history and kept the team together in hopes that they improve. 

So which method of management is best conducive to an NBA Championship?  We’ve seen both methods in the last few years, but the better bet is on Miami this year.  Ultimately, though, we’ll see come June which blueprint is truly the most successful.


1) Miami Heat
Incoming Players:
Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler, Patrick Beverly, Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Mike Miller
Outgoing Players:
Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Dorell Wright, Yakhouba Diawara, Daequan Cook
Team Analysis:
Easily the most hyped team in recent NBA memory (including the 2008 Boston Celtics), the Heat enter this season as a captivating story, polarizing figures and, most of all, a pretty solid basketball team.  Although not your traditional eight deep, in sync roster that you’d come to expect from many of the league’s greatest, the Heat feature three of the best players in the league in their starting lineup and did so after a humongous free agent coup by Pat Riley this offseason.  When the team did everything from passing up on free agents, trading away draft picks and letting players walk in order to clear the cap space for this summer, it was pretty evident that team president Pat Riley had gone all in and was gambling the franchise’s future on this offseason alone.  But his gambles paid off when Dwyane Wade resigned, Chris Bosh came over in free agency and then two time defending NBA MVP LeBron James, in a not so subtle manner, announced he was taking his talents to South Beach as well.

What sets these guys apart from previous players who teamed up to take over the league is that all of these guys are in their prime.  From a historical standpoint, most fans were upset to see three players in their prime basically take the “easy route” and join up to win championships.  But from a basketball standpoint, it’s a bold move that should pay off for the Heat.  After trading away Michael Beasley in order to resign Udonis Haslem and add Mike Miller in free agency, the Heat had every who’s who of past-their-prime role players knocking on the door to try and get that elusive championship before retirement.  Former all stars Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were among the first to join the team and will probably be among the team’s most important reserves in the frontcourt.  Take that for what it’s worth.

The rest of the roster isn’t shaping up as anything beautiful but, honestly, they don’t need to be incredibly deep.  The talent gap between the third best player on the team and the fourth best player on the team is humongous, and therein lies the question of how this team is really going to perform this season if an injury is to happen, if one of the players struggles in adapting to a limited role or if dare the other starters like Mario Chalmers or Joel Anthony to beat them.  At the end of the day, the Heat will rely heavily on Miller and Haslem to bolster the big three and, if they stay healthy and perform to their capabilities, it could be more than enough for the Heat to reign as champions.  But with players like Wade, Miller and Bosh all having a history with injuries, the room for error is really thin.  There’s no doubt that just as Pat Riley was this offseason, this Heat roster better be all in to win a championship this season, or else the critics will be as loud as ever.

2) Orlando Magic
Incoming Players:
Daniel Orton, Stanley Robinson, Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson
Outgoing Players:
Matt Barnes, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson
Team Analysis:
Lost in some of the hoopla surrounding this offseason was the 2009 Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  After making the NBA Finals in 2009, the team was bounced from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 in convincing fashion by the Boston Celtics.  Although the team had strong performances from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the rest of the team faltered as the Celtics closed out the Magic in six games.  Despite his strong performance, however, all of the criticism remained on Dwight Howard and his inability to will his team to victory.  Due to his frustration with the criticism, with teams playing him very physical and with consistently being in foul trouble during last year’s postseason, Howard is said to be a man on a mission this offseason, working with 2008 Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his still developing offensive repertoire and promising to cut down on the fan friendly, childish actions that most fans have associated him with.  If Howard is able to continue to progress offensively to already meet his fantastic defensive presence and capabilities, then the Magic could soon posses the most dominant player in the league.  But his development is key to how far Orlando goes this season.

Players like Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis struggled with consistency last season after huge years in 2009.  There’s no doubt that the team as a whole performed much better when Nelson played at a high level and struggled when he did, and his attempts to regain his early form of the 2009 season will be huge for Orlando if he’s to reach that level.  However, numerous offseason attempts to move Nelson to improve the roster probably don’t bode well for the team’s hope of him doing so.  Lewis on the other hand is finally being criticized for his ludicrous salary as his production, while never fully meeting his paycheck before, became a detriment to the team last season when his offensive numbers fell across the board.  A move back to his more natural Small Forward position would probably suit Lewis well, but the offense that Orlando runs gels better when Lewis is at the Power Forward spot shooting a high percentage from outside.  The team’s lineup, ultimate success and even fiscal future could depend a lot on how Lewis plays this year.

As far as the role players that surround the team’s most central figures, Quentin Richardson enters after Matt Barnes left to join the Lakers.  He can probably replace Barnes’ offensive production, but he will struggle to match Barnes’ importance on the defensive end.  Therefore, more will be asked of Mickael Pietrus this season in Orlando, and you have to wonder if he’ll be up to the task for a full season and postseason.  The team matched Chicago’s offer sheet for J.J. Redick, giving them three of the highest paid reserves in the league in Redick, Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass.  Bass, who barely played at all last year, is more of a traditional PF and his strong postseason play may result in a more traditional lineup at times for Orlando.  But whether Stan Van Gundy commits to him or Ryan Anderson as the back-up PF depends on whether or not he wants to abandon the system the team has ran the past two seasons.  Whether or not the system they’ve ran has run its course is still to be seen, and will play a large factor into whether or not the team returns to the NBA Finals this season.

3) Washington Wizards
Incoming Players:
John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Hamady N’diaye, Hilton Armstrong, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian

Outgoing Players:
Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto, Cartier Martin, James Singleton, Cedric Jackson, Quinton Ross, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins
Team Analysis:
Two years ago, Washington did very much the same thing that Atlanta did this offseason.  Even though the team had made the postseason four consecutive years, they had only one playoff victory in those four years to show for it and many felt the team had reached its peak.  Instead, the Wizards committed a combined 161 million dollars over 6 and 4 years, respectively, to franchise players Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.  Arenas has played only 34 games in the two seasons since signing that contract while Jamison was traded to Cleveland at last season’s trade deadline in a moment where the Wizards decided to rebuild the roster.  Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were all traded at last season’s deadline, but Arenas’ contract looks immovable, and the team will put him on the court again; at least for this season.  But after committed a huge chunk of cash to what many felt was an above average cast, the Wizards saw injuries and suspensions ruin the team’s reputation and overall winning percentage, as the Wizards have combined for 55 victories in the two seasons that followed that spending spree to keep the team intact.  And although 2009’s 19 win season was ugly, it hit rock bottom last year after Arenas was suspended for supposedly drawing a gun out towards a teammate in an argument over a card game in the team’s locker room.  What followed was a largely upsetting season where the team only won 26 games. 

But the team’s luck may eventually be turning around.  After the death of owner Abe Polin last year, the team was successfully sold to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, they scored the number one overall pick in the draft and used it on Kentucky point guard John Wall, and had impressive second half performances from big men Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee after the trade deadline, giving the team a semblance of hope this upcoming season.  In John Wall, the Wizards immediately have a new face of the franchise and cornerstone player around whom the team plans to build.  Wall won almost every collegiate award in his freshman season at Kentucky and hopes to follow in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans’ shoes as point guards under former college coach John Calipari who went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.  Rose and Evans have won the last two respectively.  That would be a welcome change of pace for Washington, who are trying to reunite with their fan base and shake the problems that hurt the team on and off the court the last two seasons. 

Gilbert Arenas has already caused problems.  Most media outlets are talking about his stern expressions, reluctance to give interviews and unwillingness to show any emotion as an act more so than a turning of the leaf, and he’s already been fined by the league for faking an injury to allow guard Nick Young more playing time this preseason.  How he reacts to this year plays a large role in how the team ultimately does.  Blatche performed very well as the go to guy in the second half of last season and McGee had an impressive showing at this year’s summer league and followed it up by being one of the final players cut from the final roster for the USA’s World Championship team.  If those two players team up with Wall to show a consistent production this year, then the Wizards, at the very least, will have something to build around for the future.  They could be one of the surprise teams in the league this year.  But a lot of that depends on whether or not Gilbert Arenas buys into the system, and also whether or not he can regain some of the magic he showed on the court prior to his first knee injury late in the 2008 season.


4) Atlanta Hawks
Incoming Players:
Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas
Outgoing Players:
Randolph Morris, Mario West, Joe Smith,
Team Analysis:
For eight straight seasons, the Atlanta Hawks were a dependable team in terms of NBA Futility.  They routinely finished among the worst teams in the league, underwent numerous head coaching and regime changes and couldn’t convince any star player to capitalize on their infinite cap space.  Joe Johnson changed all that when he left for Atlanta in the middle of that run in 2005, and by his third season with the team, Atlanta had returned to the NBA playoffs and pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round in 2008.  Two Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances followed, but both were convincing sweeps at the hands of Cleveland and Orlando.  Instead of figuring that the roster had reached its peak with those two consecutive embarrassing exits, the Hawks instead figured it to be head coach Mike Woodson, who oversaw a gradual improvement with the Hawks from 13 wins in his first season in 2004 to the 53 wins the team achieved last season.  Stepping into his place will be longtime assistant coach Larry Drew, who wants to run a more motion based offense instead of the isolation game that Woodson preferred.  Fully believing that it was Woodson, and not the roster, that had held the Hawks back, Atlanta committed six years and 129 million dollars to Joe Johnson this offseason in hopes that he can continue to lead the Hawks as they try and improve upon their past success.  Whether or not that contract eventually spells an early fall from grace or an eventual rise to glory is largely debatable. 

But Johnson’s not the only important player on the team.  The Hawks still have hope that Josh Smith, coming off a very impressive season last year, will continue his ascension among the most exciting players in the league.  Graced with natural athleticism and starting to finally develop a better feel for the game, Smith had his best year last year with new head coach Drew working directly with him.  His development could mean wonders for Atlanta.  The team does have two more contract situations to work out.  Reigning sixth man of the year Jamaal Crawford is asking for an extension as is All Star center Al Horford.  As of yet, neither have reached deals and Crawford has asked to be traded if he doesn’t reach an extension with the team.  With rookie Jordan Crawford capable of playing a similar role, there’s a good chance that Jamaal doesn’t finish the year with the team.  But we’ll see with how those contracts are worked whether or not the Hawks are truly committed to keeping this team intact.  And we’ll see in due time if that was the correct decision to make. 

5) Charlotte Bobcats
Incoming Players:
Sherron Collins, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Shaun Livingston, Dominic McGuire, Eduardo Najera
Outgoing Players:
Raymond Felton, Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Stephen Graham, Alexis Ajinca
Team Analysis:
Ever since head coach Larry Brown came to Charlotte in 2008, the team has seen a plethora of bold moves made by team president and eventual team owner Michael Jordan in an attempt to remove Charlotte from the sea of mediocrity it had been in for the majority of its existence.  Those bold moves finally resulted in a playoff appearance last season, although the Bobcats were quickly swept by Orlando in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  But because of the major moves Charlotte made to become winners: namely taking on the contracts of big men DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed, and also taking on the contracts of productive wing players Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats reverted back to seller mode this offseason.  Since Brown came to the team in 2008, only Gerald Wallace remains from the team that Brown inherited, and the team has made so many moves that it reacquired Matt Carroll, a player the team traded in 2009, in an offseason trade that rid themselves of Tyson Chandler’s big salary.  Therefore, it could be said that the Bobcats won’t be afraid to wheel and deal again this season, although early indications would be that the team will be more in seller mode this season.

True to that, the team let Raymond Felton walk in free agency and the biggest question surrounding the Bobcats is who will play the point guard position.  2008 first round draft pick D.J. Augustin looks to be the early favorite, although he’s been pushed by former lottery pick Shaun Livingston for the job.  Neither are Earth shattering candidates to run the point, so we may see a lot of the offense being run through Stephen Jackson.  It’s fair to call Wallace the best player on the Bobcats team, but it’s no coincidence that Jackson’s midseason acquisition coincided with a run that got the team to its first ever playoff appearance.  More may be asked of Jackson this year, who saw his numbers dip a little bit last year after leaving Golden State’s offense.  He and Wallace are easily the team’s best players, and Wallace is still the face of the franchise, having remained with the team since its inception in 2004. 

The Bobcats downgraded the team in terms of talent when they traded disappointing center Tyson Chandler to Dallas for Erick Dampier’s non guaranteed contract and mainly hustle players in Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.  Najera has been a fan favorite wherever he’s gone, but his skill set is better suited for a more talented team.  Carroll had his best years in Charlotte, and may assume a bigger role with the team this season than he had while in Dallas.  Dampier was quickly cut, leaving the center position about as uninspiring as the team’s outlook at point guard, with Diop and Mohammed being the early options at that position.  The Bobcats are a tough team to get a grip on, as they should be looked at as a team on the rise given their first postseason appearance in franchise history occurred last season, but the team is largely made up of veterans, and not all of those veterans are in the peak of their careers anymore.  In fact, it’s arguable that Wallace is the only one still in his peak.  So while the Bobcats built something last year, it’s hard to envision them building on that this season.

Posted on: February 1, 2010 12:21 am
 

Solid Moves By Jeff Bower

With Tuesday's trade of Bobby Brown, the Hornets have now officially limited their payroll to $69.9 million.  What this means is all of the cost cutting moves the Hornets were rumored to have to make (possibly trading Chris Paul, David West, Emeka Okafor) will now no longer have to happen by the February trade deadline.  And with the way the team has played in 2010, they can still continue their push towards the postseason with all of its core players.  Let's look at the moves that were made:

The Hornets saved 8 million dollars by trading Rasual Butler to the Clippers for a 2016 2nd Round Draft pick in the offseason, received cash considerations and a conditional 2016 2nd Round Draft Pick from the Kings for Hilton Armstrong, traded Devin Brown to the Bulls for Aaron Gray and then, today, traded Bobby Brown to the Clippers for a conditional 2014 2nd Round Draft Pick.

The Hornets now have the flexibility to choose what they want to do this trade deadline instead of being forced to be sellers in this market.  Emeka Okafor could still be moved; he still could not.  David West could still be moved; he still could not.  But by pulling off these minor deals, the Hornets avoid the luxury tax and are able to operate freely this season.  Furthermore, all NBA teams under the luxury tax by the offseason are able to receive a $5 million rebate from the league for being so in the offseason.  Also, I know Bulls fans don't like him, but I'd rather have Gray coming off of the bench instead of Sean Marks.  He doesn't do much, but just bringing a huge body off the bench would be a nice, welcomed addition for Hornets fans. 

Their bench is now really thin but the players that were moved, with the exception of Devin Brown obviously, weren't contributing at all recently for the Hornets.  This means an increase in minutes for a fantastic 2nd round find in Marcus Thornton and increased minutes for 1st round draft pick Darren Collison as well. 

I don't think anybody's going to mistake New Orleans for a championship contender, but the playoffs should still be expected and with this team now being under the luxury tax, they can survive until this offseason when, all of a sudden, Peja Stojakovic, Darius Songaila and Morris Peterson's ridiculous salaries becomes an invaluable expiring contracts.  Solid moves by Jeff Bower.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 5:13 pm
 

2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets Midseason Report

Not a whole lot was expected from the Hornets at the beginning of the season.  Fans, onlookers and critics alike took a glance at the roster and saw a good, not great, team that should make the postseason but probably won't do much damage when they get there.  So think of my panic when the team started off getting blown out in almost every game at the beginning of the season.  They had no bench play.  Julian Wright was a flop as a starter.  Tyson Chandler's presence looked missed more and more as each day went on.  The Hornets, only nine games into the season, went into full panic mode and everything seemed lost.  At 3-6, and following a blowout loss on national television to the Phoenix Suns, the Hornets fired Byron Scott and inexplicably hired back Tim Floyd, this time as an assistant coach, and promoted Jeff Bower to the head coaching position.  The Hornets financial problems were well documented in the offseason and even moreso after that firing, so rumors of Chris Paul heading everywhere from Houston to San Antonio came out and the team looked doom for the next few years at least.  But then, the Hornets started winning.  Never blowing anybody out, the Hornets would run off stretches of successive victories by small margins, always finding ways to win basketball games but never really showing any sort of dominance in victory.  However, very slowly, the Hornets have worked their way back into the eighth seed in the playoffs and are ready to make a second half push.  Furthermore, coach and general manager Jeff Bower has improved the team by giving lots of minutes to the bench and has also done wonders in the front office, finding a way to put the Hornets under the luxury tax and allow them to coast into the offseason where they can finally move Peja Stojakovic's and Morris Petereson's then expiring contracts. 

Right now, Hornets fans have to be pleased with how the team is playing but they dug themselves quite a hole at the beginning of the year.  So it's hard to evaluate the season, so far, as a whole.  I want to give the first half of the first half an F and the second half of hte first half somewhere around a high B.  So we'll now evaluate player by player the New Orleans Hornets team as a whole.

PG: # 3 Chris Paul (37 Games, 20.5 PPG, 11.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 86.0 FT Pctg., 41.1 3PT FG Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) - Still holding down the spot as best point guard in the entire league, Chris Paul shook off some early ankle injuries to really play some great ball since his return from injury.  He's developed his jump shot to the point where it's almost automatic if left uncontested, and his fadeaway has become almost unguardable.  Add to the fact that he's shooting a terrific percentage from three point range and Paul's offensive aresenal has greatly improved.  Now more than in recent years, Paul is being looked to to take big shots down the stretch.  When the game's in a tight spot, Paul not only has the ball in his hands to create, Bower's given him the green light to take the shot.  He's really overcome a slow start to pick up his game and, if not for some injuries, a better team record and some early season frustrations, Paul would probably be at an A plus right now.  But instead, we'll leave it where it should be.  Grade: A

# 2 Darren Collison (39 Games, 6.7 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.8 RPG, 87.3 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 41.9 FG Pctg.) - When Collison was taken in the first round, a lot of fans criticized the move as it wasn't (obviously with Paul on the team) a glaring need for the roster.  I, for one, really wanted the Hornets to nab DeJuan Blair but liked the Collison move and have been thoroughly impressed with Collison's play so far this season.  When Chris Paul went down to injury and things looked bleak in New Orleans, the rookie Collison calmly stepped in and led the Hornets to a 4-4 record without Paul and the team was able to stay above water.  Even though Byron Scott was reluctant to play either Collison or Thornton (or any rookie for that matter), after Bower took over Collison's minutes went up significantly.  Now with the trade that sent Devin Brown to the Bulls, Collison will probably be asked to do even more in the second half of the season.  But so far, he's done well in his role as the team's backup point guard.  Grade: B

SG:
# 5 Marcus Thornton (39 Games, 9.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 75.8 FT Pctg., 36.2 3PT FG Pctg., 43.5 FG Pctg.) - Similar to Collison, Thornton didn't see many minutes at the beginning of the season with Scott running the show.  Even though he impressed in the summer league and preseason, the LSU product was a 2nd round rookie and was not expected to do very much.  Instead, Thornton has played so well off the bench that he's started the last two games (and scored 19 and 18 points respectively) after the Hornets traded Devin Brown, and looks like he'll maintain that position for the rest of the season.  Showing off a better three point shot than originally believed, Thornton has stepped into the Hornets lineup and contributed immediately; a fresh face in the same familiar core that's been in New Orleans the past three or four seasons.  I'd like to see his all around game improve as time goes on but he's still a rookie and, as a 2nd Rounder, has exceeded all expectations already.  Grade: A

# 24 Morris Peterson (10 Games, 4.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 100 FT Pctg., 23.5 3PT FG Pctg., 29.6 FG Pctg.) - My how far Peterson has fallen.  Two years ago, he started 76 games for the Hornets as they set a franchise record for wins in a season, won the first division championship in franchise history and went to the conference semifinals.  Now, even after last season's debacle, Peterson was given the starting shooting guard position with this season's team and was given a fresh start.  Instead, Peterson was yanked by the sixth game of the season and wasn't even dressing for the Hornets as the team went with Devin Brown at the starting shooting guard position.  Peterson, to his credit, hasn't sulked or complained about the lack of playing time, but he really can't because when he's been in there he's been awful.  It's a shame to see how quickly he's fallen, especially because when the team brought him I thought he'd really flourish with the Hornets.  Instead, he's largely dissapointed.  But now with Brown off of the roster, Peterson will start to get playing time again and hopefully he does something with it, or else the Hornets thin back court will come back to hurt them.  Grade: F

SF:
# 16 Peja Stojakovic (43 Games, 11.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 89.1 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Even moreso than last season, Stojakovic's game has really declined.  The Hornets tried to use him as instant offense off the bench at the start of the season but that experiment didn't work.  Even though he's played well this season, he's even worse than he was last year (a year in which his game sharply declined) and he's getting older, it seems, every game I watch him.  To his credit, he's got bad knees and a bad back and for a 6'10" swingman those are kryptonite.  He's shooting around the percentage he was shooting last season and he's still good for a couple three point makes a game.  However, he doesn't explode at all like he used to.  He used to be good for at least 10-15 great games a year; he really, aside from a game at Boston, hasn't gone off at all this year.  But he's been steady and I like him so I'll round his grade up a letter.  Grade: C

# 41 James Posey (45 Games, 5.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 85.7 FT Pctg., 34.0 3PT FG Pctg., 37.7 FG Pctg.) - Even though his numbers and shooting percentage are down across the board, Posey has been important for the Hornets this season.  He's hit a couple game winners this season, is usually in the game during crunch time and still brings those intangibles and toughness that help the Hornets win so many close basketball games.  His presence is necessary to this team and I think that's why you don't hear him and his bad contract so often in trade rumors.  He hasn't missed a game this year (although he hurt himself in last night's game at Golden State) and has hit some clutch shots, so even though his numbers are down I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: C

# 32 Julian Wright (34 Games, 3.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 73.3 FT Pctg., 47.1 FG Pctg.) - Oh what was supposed to be.  After showing some flashes as a rookie during that great 2008 year for the Hornets, a lot was expected of Julian Wright moving forward as a franchise.  He's largely dissapointed.  After falling off big time last season, the Hornets were going to force the issue and start the season with Julian Wright getting the starting minutes at the small forward position.  He flopped in that role and by game 7 the team had inserted Peja back into the starting lineup.  After that, Wright didn't even get into the game in most cases and looked to sulk on the bench.  Lord knows what's been done to his confidence level, and unfortunately he may suffer the same fate as Hilton Armstrong did (just a lot of talent that, for whatever reason, never materialized) and may never reach his full potential.  Bower's given him minutes as of late and I really like him so I want to see him crack the rotation again.  But he didn't impress at all when he was given his chances and has to work hard to prove to Bower he deserves more minutes.  Grade: D-

PF:
# 30 David West (44 Games, 17.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 86.4 FT Pctg., 48.8 FG Pctg.) - West's numbers are down across the board at the moment but he's really come on as of late for the Hornets.  A lot is always asked of he and Paul on this team and for the last two years he really delived.  But this season, West's slow start really was replicated in the team's slow start.  He's so crucial in taking pressure off of Paul and creating some offense inside that if he's not doing anything the team will really struggle to opperate as a whole.  He's been solid lately, though, and the team has begun winning as a reuslt.  Hopefully he can keep it up and return to the form that made him a two time NBA All Star.  Grade: C+

# 9 Darius Songaila (45 Games, 7.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 52.2 FG Pctg.) - Songaila has been the most stable and consistent player off the Hornets bench the entire season.  Take that as you want as the team's bench has largely underproduced, but the fact of the matter remains that Songaila has been the one staple the team has looked to off the bench and that's good, because he's all they have off the bench in the frontcourt.  Given that Songaila is really being asked to do more than I think he's capable of, I've been impressed with his production and ability to play solid minutes night in and night out.  He's never going to wow you or blow you away, but he's been steady and without him the Hornets wouldn't be in the mix for the postseason as they are right now.  Grade: B

# 1 Ike Diogu (Has Not Played Due To Injury) - Coming off of a fantastic last couple games at the end of last season with Sacramento, Diogu's pick up at the end of the offseason was looked at very optimistically by Hornets fans.  Given the team's thin frontcourt and struggle to produce any offense off of the bench in that area, he was to be expected to assume some of that role.  Instead, Diogu never played in the preseason or the regular season due to a knee injury, and back in December decided to undergo microfracture knee surgery to fix the problem.  The front office and the team as a whole seems to really like him but, when and if he heals from the knee injury, I couldn't care one way or the other if he returns or not next season.  Grade: Incomplete

C:
# 50 Emeka Okafor (45 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 60.0 FT Pctg., 52.9 FG Pctg.) - After the Hornets traded the ultra popular (among teammates and fans) Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for Okafor, the move was met with optimism again by Hornets fans.  Okafor was looked at as a better all around player with a shorter contract (for this season, the season the Hornets were going to struggle financiallly) and it looked like a win/win.  While Okafor has put up solid numbers and has produced this season for the Hornets, he hasn't really blown anybody away on either side of the court.  He puts up a lot of quiet numbers and sort of dissapears down the stretch.  However, he's been important to the Hornets, playing in every game and bringing a stability to the center position that a lot of teams across the league would love to have.  He could still be moved before the trade deadline, and I don't think Hornets fans would feel strongly one way or the other about seeing him go.  Grade: B-

# 4 Sean Marks (9 Games, .7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 50.0 FT Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Sean Marks has a soft spot among Hornets fans.  We like him, sure, but didn't like it when we had to watch him play 60 games last season and get heavy minutes.  He's gotten spot duty this year while battling an ankle injury and this is about the role I've always wanted to see him play on the team.  He plays hard when he gets in the game and always brings a lot of energy to the court.  He's just not talented enough to be a regular in a rotation for a successful team.  But he always brings it in practice and plays hard when given the minutes, so since he won't match last season's 60 game total and career high in minutes per game, I'm going to give Marks a great grade so long as he doesn't crack the rotation regularly again.  Grade: A

# 34 Aaron Gray (Has Not Played Yet With the Hornets) - Gray was brought in from Chicago in the Devin Brown trade and may or may not be asked to do a lot in New Orleans.  Because of the short term memories of all fans, we all remember Marks when he got into the game and therefore anyone will suffice at the moment.  Gray's a big, untalented body who won't be asked to do much but could maybe give Okafor rest for 5-10 minutes a game.  However, if he starts making me wish that Marks was on the floor instead, I'll ask for his head on a stick.  Grade: Incomplete

And I haven't forgotten about all of the other players who put on that very illustrious and exclusive Hornets jersey this season.

G # 23 Devin Brown (39 Games, 9.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 80.2 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) - Being a San Antonio resident and a UTSA student, I've always had a soft spot for the UTSA alumn Devin Brown.  When the Hornets brought him back last season, I had huge hopes for him off the bench because of what he did for the Hornets when the team was depleted due to injuries in their last season in Oklahoma City.  After a forgettable year in Cleveland, Brown came back to the Hornets and really helped off the bench at the point guard and shooting guard for the Hornets and eventually took Morris Peterson's starting job this season.  He had some huge games, including a career high 30 points in a game at Utah, helping the Hornets win there for the first time in 4 years.  Brown is an infinitely better player than Gray so the trade is kind of tough to swallow, but the 100 thousand dollar difference in contracts is just enough to get the Hornets under the luxury tax.  So it had to be made.  I'll miss his stability on the team and wish him well in Chicago.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: B

G # 6 Bobby Brown (22 Games, 6.6 PPG, 2.1 APG, 100 FT Pctg., 25.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.5 FG Pctg.) - Bobby came over in the Darius Songaila trade in the offseason and I really didn't think he'd make the roster.  Because of Byron Scott's stubborness with rookies, Brown got a lot of minutes at the start of the season over Darren Collison.  He didn't play bad and, in fact, helped win them a couple games at the start of the season off the bench.  But he only served as a stopgap until it was time to put Collison into the fray.  He was invaluable as a backup whenever Paul went down due to injury, but now that Paul is back and getting a lot of minutes, he really had no place on the team.  After being traded to the Clippers, he's now their back up point guard and I, again, wish him the best of luck.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

F/C # 12 Hilton Armstrong (18 Games, 2.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 46.4 FT Pctg., 38.0 FG Pctg.) - Much like Julian Wright, I look at Hilton Armstrong and shake my head.  He has the physical tools, he's shown glimpses of putting it together, and was given chances to succeed.  I'm dissapointed that he never did.  Armstrong played soft out on the court and really just never worked out in New Orleans.  He'll be given minutes in Sacramento and I hope to see him succeed, as he said his confidence was just shot here with the Hornets.  However, he has no one to blame but himself for never working out here with the team.  Even with all that said, I'd rather have him on the roster than either Marks or Gray.  But I understand that Armstrong's rookie contract as a first round lottery draft pick is more than either of there's.  So I understand, again, why this move had to be made.  Wish you could have worked out, Hilton!  Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

Coaches:
Byron Scott (3-6) - I loved Byron Scott as the head coach in New Orleans.  He put in place a system and used that as stability for the Hornets franchise when they went into rebuilding in 2004.  He was a proven player in the league, had won two Eastern Conference Championships with the New Jersey Nets and won the 2008 Coach of the Year here in New Orleans leading the team to the Southwest Division Title.  However, over time last season and definitely coming into the season, he lost this roster.  When they won, they would win close but when they lost, they would lose big.  We're talking huge lapses of time where the team would struggle and just get destroyed in games.  It was evident in last season's postseason, which was highlighted by a 58 point loss at home in a crucial game 4 to the Nuggets, and in so many games this year at San Antonio, at home against Toronto, at the Lakers, at Phoenix, etc.  They weren't even exhibiting an ounce of effort.  So when he was fired it was met with a lot of backlash, but it was something the team needed to do.  Would I have prefered a better coach to take the reigns?  Most definitely.  But the team, although very slowly, has responded well to Bower and are playing competitive basketball as a result.  They're not winning every game, but they're giving themselves chances to win and that's all you can ask of your coach is for them to put you in position to win basketball games.  Scott wasn't doing it.  Therefore, his Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

Jeff Bower (22-14) - Who would have thought that the pudgy general manager who was criticized and blamed for Scott's firing would be the one who got this team back on track?  His very first game as interim coach, Chris Paul went down to injury and it was immediately time to press the panic button.  However, Bower put a rookie who was ten games into his professional career at the point guard position and the team went .500 until Paul came back.  Even when the team started to play better, I never got excited about them like I have the past couple of weeks, really feeling like this team can win basketball games and make a run in the postseason.  I still would like to see a different coach be brought in but I'd love to see Bower be retained as general manager and I wouldn't even mind Tim Floyd remaining as an assistant.  I just don't want him to be the head coach.  But Bower's done a great job at the helm since he was given that spot, and so his Grade for time as the Hornets coach: A

Overall:
The team has really played to their level this season.  When they started slow, a lot of people criticized that they were underachieving and were huge dissapointments, but those same people picked them to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff seedings and I told everyone to be patient, that's probably where they would end up.  It looks more and more like they'll finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs if they continue to play as they have, but in the wild Western Conference a bad stretch of games is liable to knock the Hornets back out and have them struggling to get back in.  But I'd rather have them control their own destiny.  With the injuries, individual underachievement and with the team's financial problems and changing a head coach during the season, you'd probably expect them to be a lot worse than 25-20.  Instead, there they are above .500 and in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.  This still isn't a great year by any means, but this team has responded well to all adversity that's come their way and they've shown a great deal of resilience and heart to win as many close games as they have.  They're still not where they can be and there's always room for improvement, but I couldn't expect much more than what I've gotten from them this year.  Grade: B
Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:27 pm
 

Making The Argument For Jeff Bower

Right now, it's pretty tumultous to be a fan of the New Orleans Hornets.  As I stated in yesterday's little post, things around the franchise are hectic in all areas.  From management to players to ownership, the Hornets are in a critical point in the franchise's history.  So with that being said, you have to be confident that you have someone who can turn the ship around.  Now I know a lot of people are blaming the current state of the Horents on Jeff Bower and you very well can, but let's evaluate his moves as a general manager from a whole.  He's not looking too well now, but we all know that basketball is circumstantial.  The Hornets have the 12th highest payroll in the league, but they don't have money like the Lakers and Knicks to throw around at players (and I know throwing money did not work for the Knicks so I'm not saying it's always an advantage), but when you want to commit to winning a championship it's difficult to do so as a small market team.  Teams like the Spurs are the exception to the rule.  They routinely have terrific drafts regardless of where they're drafting and find cheap, yet productive, free agents who really can impact a team (Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, etc.).  But this is why the NBA has such a small fan base compared to baseball and football, because there is no parody in the league.  Actually, that's why football is the biggest sport in the nation.  Because every year, going into the season, you can have hope for your team in football.  Teams routinely make 5th and 6th round draft choices that produce right away.  A great head coach can be hired and turn things around in only one season.  You've had the Panthers go from nowhere to a Super Bowl and never be the same again.  Some would look at that as a bad thing, I think it keeps fans of all teams interested.  Here, even teams like the 76ers who have been above average the past few seasons won't get anyone to show up for their games, because even though the team will win 41 games and make the postseason, they'll do nothing when they get there.  So what do you do in the case of the Hornets, who have always been around average or above average but have never broke the barrier as a small market team?  They came close in 2008 and took big chances to build upon that and win immediately.  That chance backfired in a really bad way and now the team is paying the consequences.  But had they stood pat that offseason and not gone after anyone, people would have criticized management for not taking chances when they were so close.  So overall, fans are fickle and management is in a no lose situation.  But I'm here to tell you that Jeff Bower has done a good job as the general manager of the Hornets and I'm going to argue for him to stay on board in New Orleans.

The most often criticized move of the Jeff Bower regime, currently, is the contract given to Peja Stojakovic.  At the time of the signing, in the 2006 offseason, Peja Stojakovic was a consistent 20 point threat and was one of the deadliest shooters in the league.  When you're a team that's playing out of town in Oklahoma City and as a team that's never been an attractive destination for players, you're kind of forced to overpay to get above average talent to your team.  Peja Stojakovic probably was a smarter investment at near the 9-11 million dollar a year range at that time, but the Hornets gave him 65 million and 5 years to convince any kind of big name to come and play for them.  Again, that's management attempting to build a winner regardless of the restrictions.  It didn't pay off immediately as he missed 69 games in his first year of the deal (and if that injury had happened prior to him becoming a free agent it's safe to say the Hornets would not have made that kind of investment to Peja).  However, the next year paid off really well for the Hornets and Peja.  He wasn't scoring at the rate he used to, but he shot over 40 percent from three point range and made countless clutch shots for the Hornets and became one of the most popular players amongst fans.  As a three point catalyst, he was crucial to the Hornets winning the Southwest Division and making it to game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2008.  The very next year his back injuries reemerged and he hasn't been the same player since, so in only that sense is it a bad contract.  Had Bower had a miraculous crystal ball and could have predicted the injuries that would emerge with Peja, I seriously doubt the team would have made that kind of investment with Peja.  However, with the contract in place, the Hornets can't do anything to distance themselves from Peja.  I'm sure they tried to move him in the offseason, but with that price tag, the only way they could have moved would have been to add the relatively cheap David West to the package and if they had done that, fans and players would have accused the franchise of cost cutting and would have bashed Bower.  So again, in a no win situation, Bower is forced to put Peja out on the floor.

The signings of Morris Peterson and James Posey go hand in hand.  Neither are as expensive as Peja's, but both were brought in as complimentary swingmen who could really add unspoken intangibles to a team on the rise.  The signings were a year apart, so I'll argue Peterson's first.  When Peterson was brought in, he and Rasual Butler were supposed to provide a formidable pair at the two guard position.  Peterson never has emerged as the player the Hornets thought he would be when they first brought him in.  They gave him a 4 year, 28 million dollar deal (again overpaying) to get him to start at shooting guard.  For years, Peterson had been regarded as a fan favorite who hustled, played defense and knocked down shots.  He was viewed by many as one of the more unheralded players in the NBA and the Hornets really took a chance on him and gave him the starting shooting guard position.  He's never materialized and I'll never know why.  However, 9 out of 10 general managers would have done the same thing that Bower did.  Again, maybe not at that price tag, but in order to convince players to come over you have to give them the best deal.  Which brings me to James Posey.  Is Posey a 4 year, 24 million dollar player?  Not at all.  He wasn't even when he was in Boston, playing on a one year contract with the Celtics and proving invaluable during the Celtics 2008 championship run.  As one of those clutch, defensive role players that every championship team needs, the Hornets felt he was just the man to help get this team over the top.  The Hornets had Julian Wright emerging as a backup small forward and he was entering his second year, so Posey was not a necessary signing, but it was an aggressive move to show that the team was still committed to brining a title to New Orleans.  The Hornets were already spending a lot of money at that point, and with the contract extension given to Chris Paul ready to kick in in the 2009 offseason, they made a huge risk by bringing in Posey.  A lot of teams were interested in Posey, but nobody wanted to offer 4 years.  So the Hornets decided to do so to ensure that he would sign, and he did.  James Posey is the same player he was when the Hornets brought him in.  He'll give you around 9 points a game and play hard defense, bring the intangibles; the whole nine yards.  But his efforts go unnoticed because the Hornets are struggling.  He's not a saviour to a team.  He's more of a complimentary player whose efforts would be better appreciated on a championship team (as they were in Boston).  His contract is no different to the one the Spurs gave Malik Rose.  Malik Rose was a huge crowd favorite in San Antonio and was a hustle guy/role player.  The Spurs gave him a 7 year, 42 million dollar deal at his peak and he didn't change his style of play.  The Pistons just did this with Jason Maxiell.  These players aren't anything more than what they are on the court.  But you make an investment in a player because you want them to stay.  When they first pop on the scene, the market for them is huge and you want to do anything to keep the player on your squad.  This may happen with the Jazz and Paul Millsap as well, but that's the risk you take when you invest your money into role players.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with contracts like Luke Walton sitting on the bench.  The Hornets really can't afford to do so and that's why the Posey deal is killing them right now.

But Bower has made countless great moves to bring the Hornets back to the forefront.  As an assistant coach to both Paul Silas and Tim Floyd, Bower's been with the Hornets organization in various roles since 1996.  After being given the general managers position in 2005, he oversaw a complete turnaround of the Hornets franchise.  He was given a team that was starting the season with four starters (Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, Jamaal Magloire and David Wesley) on the injured list.  The team had a lot of money invested in those players and a few others on the bench.  That wasn't going to work.  The team won 17 games his first season as general manager, but he oversaw the dismantling of that underachieving, often injured bunch (sound familiar to this year's squad?) and made key moves in putting the Hornets future together.  As the team's primary talent scout, he played a huge role in drafting David West in 2003 at the 18th pick and drafting J.R. Smith the very next season at the same spot.  Also, in the 2004 offseason, the Hornets moved from the Eastern Conference to the deadly Western Conference.  Knowing that you couldn't win with the roster he had, he got rid of everybody.  Darrell Armstrong and his salary were sent to Dallas for Dan Dickau: an expiring contract.  David Wesley was sent to Houston for Jim Jackson and Bostjan Nachbar, Nachbar being a promising young player and Jackson being an expiring contract.  Baron Davis was sent to Golden State for Speedy Claxton and an expiring contract in Dale Davis in a move that looked horrible at first, but freed up the space to eventually sign Peja and lock up David West longterm.  He brought in Bryon Scott to lead the bunch and endured a very tough 17 win season.  In the offseason, just by being apart of the deal that brought Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams to the Heat for the 2005-2006 season, the Hornets were given Rasual Butler and Kirk Snyder.  Those two players played hard for the Hornets in the first season in Oklahoma City and they were huge steals for Bower.

One thing that cannot be underappreciated by Bower was his ability to keep the team together and afloat when they had to relocate to Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina.  With the help of Byron Scott, the Hornets kept a solid, promising team together and always put a competitive team on the court when it could have been very easy to look at the situation as a loss cause and completely collapse (see how the Saints handled being away from New Orleans after Katrina).  In that same offseason that the Hornets had to go to OKC, they drafted Chris Paul.  He and J.R. Smitih were supposed to be the tandem of the future for New Orleans, but once Smith started to undermine Byron Scott and regressed his second season, the Hornets turned a negative into a positive and moved him to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Tyson Chandler would develop immediate chemistry with Chris Paul and would start for three seasons witih the Hornets.  The next two drafts brought Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright to New Orleans and both players have showed promise sparingly.  They've never capitalized and it's safe to say Hilton never will, but one bad draft pick in five or six years isn't a reason to fire the general manager.  Especially when you picked both of them around the 13-15 range. 

So let's look back at it all, he was able to trade J.R. Smith for Tyson Chandler, was able to trade Chandler for Emeka Okafor which allowed the team to still be able to compete this year while giving them minor salary cap relief (a move most general managers would not have been able to pull off, in fact he almost didn't pull it off when he sent Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox).  He worked with his limitations and brought in Darius Songaila and Ike Diogu to try and shore up a thin frontcourt, things just haven't materialized.  But they haven't been bad moves.  Had George Shinn not wanted to pony up 2 million dollars to the salary cap to keep Rasual Butler, the lack of a true shooting guard would not be a problem right now for the Hornets.  Bower has someone to answer to and he has a limit to what he can spend, and he's still put out a team that most people are upset hasn't won a championship yet.  He's still put out a team that expects to win.  That's big for a small market general manager.  He continued to build the franchise even when they were in Oklahoma City and throught drafts, trades and signings put together a great team for the 2008 season.  Did the spending go a little overboard with the James Posey acquisition?  Sure it did.  But the fact that the franchise attempted to go for it all when they were close to a championship shows that it's a team trying to win.  At the same time, there's a reason the same teams were able to go after big name players this offseason and the same teams had to cut costs and try and be competitive.  Because the NBA salary cap sucks.  It puts a lot of small market teams at a disadvantage.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with having huge contracts on their team because they'll make it all back with TV deals, ticket sales and overall revenue based off of Kobe Bryant's jersey sales alone.  So it's easy to say, as IP did, that "Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers."  The Lakers have always been good.  That's why Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers.  The Lakers are a gifted franchise who should always be competitive with any kind of competent management. 

Do I want to accept losing and do I want to make excuses for Jeff Bower?  No.  But I understand the situation and I know why the team made the moves they did.  So I can't, in the same breath, sit and blame Bower for the same team that he was praised for a few years ago.  He tried to shake things up and keep the team competitive even though the franchise was over the luxury tax this offseason.  He still may; you never know.  As the interim coach now, it's basically his chance to win with the players he put together or bring in a big time coach who can win (Tim Floyd is not the answer and if he hires him as Head Coach I demad that this post be stricken from the records and I will personally call for Bower's termintation).  I still have hope in the Hornets and if the franchise decides to strip it bare and build it back up again, I would like Bower to still be the general manager of the team.  Why?  Because he's oversaw a rebuilding process that resulted in a big turnaround before.  There's reason for me to believe he could do it again.
Posted on: November 12, 2009 3:43 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2009 3:51 pm
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Posted on: September 24, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2009 2:20 pm
 

Outlook For The 2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets

When I did this preview last season, I mentioned that the Hornets entered the season with serious championship aspirations.  Never before had I been so excited for a season to come as I was for last year's Hornets squad.  In the first game of the season, Peja Stojakovic injured his back and a trend was started.  Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, David West, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic missed a combined 22 games when the Hornets shocked the league by winning the Southwest Division and making it to the Conference Semifinals.  Last year, those five starters missed a combined 107 games.  The Hornets lost Jannero Pargo from that 2008 season but added James Posey.  The loss of Pargo proved to be substantial as the Hornets simply had no backcourt depth at all.  Posey also struggled with injuries last season and suffered an unfortunate elbow injury late in the season.  Quite frankly, injuries ruined any chances the Hornets had of improving on 2008's success.  The Hornets also lost a ton of money last season and their financial woes became a story in the league.  Reports about the Hornets being too expensive for the city of New Orleans were released.  At the deadline, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for perennial bench players Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.  The trade was rescinded due to Chandler's toe injury, and the Hornets responded with a nice stretch of success when Chandler was moved back to the team.  But Chandler's injuries resurfaced and the rescinded trade only brought to light how bad the Hornets were in terms of financial standing. 

In 2008, George Shinn invested a lot into that squad.  He got an emberassing return as the Hornets were humiliated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets and entered an offseason of uncertainty.  But then one of the most unheralded general managers in the game, Jeff Bower, put the wheels into motion and eventually turned out a solid offseason.  Gone from last season are key contributors Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler and Antonio Daniels.  Arriving are Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.  Given his strict limitations, Bower made talent upgrades and cost effective decisions at the same time and was able to field a competitive team for this season without killing Shinn's checkbook.  He and Byron Scott still don't have the most talented team in the league, but they're solid at every position and have a nice mix of young, core players and contributing veterans on the squad.

 PG: #3 Chris Paul (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Returning this season, hopefully fully healthy, is the unquestioned leader of this squad in point guard Chris Paul.  Paul's 2009 season was quietly one of the best in the league.  He again led the league in assists and also led the league in steals and triple doubles.  Paul, however, simply became a victim of having to do everything for this squad all of last season.  By the end of the season, he was ailed by knee and groin injuries and his performance in the postseason against Chauncey Billups really had him looking inferior.  But Paul is still the best point guard in this league and is still the guy who the Hornets have attached the hitch to.  He enters this season with a rapidly improving jump shot and three point shot and is almost unguardable when on his game.  Paul still may become a victim of having to do too much this season as well, but he shouldn't be called on to do everything for the squad. 

#2 Darren Collison (35 Games, 14.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 39.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.9 FG Pctg.)* - Collison enters this season as the Hornets first draft pick in two years.  Collison manned down the point guard position for the UCLA Bruins for four seasons and went to three Final Fours with the Bruins.  Collison is an ideal fit to backup Chris Paul and may become the Jannero Pargo hybrid guard that was missed last season.  Collison is tenacious on defense, can hit the three point shot and is incredibly fast.  His lack of size may have been a factor in why he dropped as late as he did in the draft, but Collison was a great find for the Hornets at 21.  At the time, the pick was criticized because of the team's lack of frontcourt depth.  But it has since grown on Hornets fans and Collison is a big reason for optimism around the fanbase and organization.  He may be bullied a bit because of his size and also will have the mandatory rookie learning curve, but he's learning from one of the best in the league and should fit in nicely backing up CP3.

 SG: #9 Morris Peterson (43 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 63.2 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - With the departure of Rasual Butler, it looks as if Byron Scott will have no other option than to turn to Peterson to start once again this season.  That's not really a bad thing; Peterson did start on the Southwest Division Champion team in 2008.  But Peterson, even that season, hasn't truly delivered on that four year contract that the Hornets gave him to come and start at the shooting guard position.  Injuries and inconsistency forced Scott to push Peterson down to the end of the bench and he hardly played any factor in the stretch run for New Orleans.  Given his contract and his previous production as a starter, it looks as if Peterson will regain the job he lost last year.  But with rookie Marcus Thornton breathing down his neck, there won't be that much room for error for Peterson. 

#23 Devin Brown (63 Games, 5.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 78.0 FT Pctg., 28.9 3PT FG Pctg., 35.5 FG Pctg.) - Brown exercised his player option and is now set to return for  his third year in the last four with the Hornets.  Brown never really got into a rhythym last year and Byron Scott never seemed to trust him as he did during the Hornets last season in Oklahoma City.  Brown is versatile and can really play either the 1, 2 or 3 spot on the floor for the Hornets.  He improved his three point shot last season but seemed to shoot it too much.  But with the thin frontcourt depth for the Hornets, Brown will really be looked upon to contribute at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.  Given that it's a contract year as well, Brown will really have to impress to guarantee a job for the following season.

#5 Marcus Thornton (35 Games, 21.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 74.5 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - Thornton is the Hornets second round draft pick and is a local product coming out of LSU.  The Hornets spent a 2nd round pick on another LSU product a few years back, Brandon Bass, and simply let him go to become a more productive player for a rival squad.  The Hornets seem to really love Thornton's ability and he's an extremely talented player.  He can score from all areas of the floor and is adept at attacking the basket.  However, there's not much to his game that separates him from your typical shooting guard and that's why he fell as late as he did in the draft.  With the short depth at the shooting guard position, Thornton will see minutes that Byron Scott normally wouldn't give to such a raw rookie.  That can either make or break him and it's crucial that he stay dedicated to his trade.  Thornton can be a really good player for the Hornets or just another forgotten player in a couple of seasons.

# Bobby Brown (68 Games, 5.3 PPG, 79.1 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 39.2 FG Pctg.) - Brown was acquired in the Darius Songaila trade and also spent some time with the Hornets summer camp team back in 2008.  Brown had an OK season last year splitting time with Sacramento and Memphis.  He can score the basketball but may not be able to do much else for the Hornets.  Even though frontcourt depth is thin, it doesn't make much sense to carry four shooting guards and therefore I'm uncertain whether or not Brown will make the final squad.

 SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (61 Games, 13.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 89.4 FT Pctg., 37.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - Coming off an impressive 2008 season, Stojakovic came into the season last year with more than a few expectations.  He bombed miserably last year with injuries and an inconsistent shot really hurting the team.  Also, given the fact that Scott is insistent on man to man defense, Stojakovic routinely got pushed around by the bigger, better wing men of the league.  As a result, a lot of people jumped to bash the same guy they cheered for a year earlier, but that's sports for you.  Stojakovic had an offseason to rest following his back injury last season, but this is a repeated problem for Stojakovic.  You start to wonder at his age and height, whether or not a back injury will ever fully heal.  He'll be the starter by default again, but I'm not certain he can regain his 2008 form and whether or not he can stay healthy again this season.

#41 James Posey (75 Games, 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 82.2 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 41.2 FG Pctg.) - Posey's acquisition last season was met with much fanfare.  Given that he was a player with championship pedigree, a tough, clutch and gritty player of his caliber was supposed to help turn the inexperienced Hornets into a team with a swagger.  That never did happen last season and it really wasn't because of any kind of complacency from Posey.  He really tried last year but I think too much was expected from a player of his caliber because of the 24 million dollar pricetag that he came in with.  Posey will again be the primary backup this season off of the bench for the Hornets and should come in motivated to silence critics of his performance last season.

#32 Julian Wright (54 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 56.7 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) - Julian Wright had an extremely promising 2008 season and a lot was expected of last season.  But with the acquisition of Posey, Wright seemed to be the odd man out at the small forward position and, as a result, really dissapointed last season (which seems to be a recurring theme for the team and its players).  Wright showed some promise late in the season when Stojakovic got hurt and he started at the small forward position.  But his jump shot faltered last season and he found himself in and out of the rotation.  Unless Stojakovic gets hurt, Wright may have trouble cracking the lineup again but he has to show more when given game time anyways.  If his jumpshot improves enough, there's a possibility he could play at shooting guard given the lack of depth.  But Wright's increased minutes will have to come with dedication and improvement.  No matter what Hornets fans say, Byron Scott should not give this guy anything.  Wright should earn all of his time.

 PF: #30 David West (76 Games, 21.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 88.4 FT Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - David West showed that his 2008 season was not a fluke last year, as he and Chris Paul really made the Hornets a two man squad late last season.  He again wore down at the end of the year and really dissapointed against Kenyon Martin in the postseason.  But West is still the second option here in New Orleans and is a welcome face for fans.  In the offseason, some people felt that the only way the Hornets could get rid of either Peja or Tyson Chandler's contract would be if they packaged the relatively cheap West with them.  But Bower found a way to move Chandler without moving West and West remains the power forward for the Hornets.  West's jump shot went from being an asset to a crutch last season and his FG Pctg. suffered as a result.  However, it was revealed that West never fully recovered from the back injury that hindered him in 2008.  So that will obviously deter you from mixing it up down in the paint.  With the acquisition of Okafor, West may be not be asked to go down to the paint so much, but his game could become too soft if he does nothing but shoot jumpers.  So the Hornets need more muscle and grit from West this year.

# Darius Songaila (77 Games, 7.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 88.9 FT Pctg., 53.2 FG Pctg.) - Picked up in a trade with the Timberwolves for Antonio Daniels, Songaila is kind of expensive for a player of his talents but is still a solid bench player for the Hornets.  His size, grit, and effort has made him a fan favorite everywhere he's been and I expect much of the same here in New Orleans.  He immediately becomes the team's primary backup in the frontcourt and can really help speed the game up when he's on the floor.  Songaila isn't going to blow you away much on a game to game basis, but he rarely dissapoints either.  You know what you're going to get from him, and consistency is something that would be valued coming off the bench in New Orleans.

#1 Ike Diogu (29 Games, 4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 80.4 FT Pctg., 50.1 FG Pctg.) - Coming on the heels of the Okafor trade, Diogu was quietly signed to shore up the frontcourt by New Orleans.  Diogu has always been an interesting prospect.  He can really score the basketball and showed that in college.  As a lottery pick by the Warriors, Diogu was considered a good acquisition by the Pacers but dissapointed in Indiana.  He sat on the bench last year for the Trail Blazers and Kings last year, but right at the end of the year finished with back to back games scoring 32 and 28 points respectively.  The Hornets picked him up and this is another chance to prove himself for Diogu.  If he can score, he'll see a huge increase in minutes because nobody on the Hornets bench can really light up the scoreboard.  So if Diogu shows that kind of capability, we'll see what happens.  If not, we'll hardly see him at all.

 C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 13.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Here is the Hornets biggest acquisition this offseason.  Okafor steps in immediately and starts for the departed Tyson Chandler.  Given that he started in all 82 games last season and is every bit of, if not better, the defender that Tyson Chandler is, this is a great move for the Hornets.  A healthy player at the center position will be a welcome change of pace for New Orleans.  Okafor is a good athlete for his position but his love for the game was questioned in Charlotte.  Player with Chris Paul should help all of that for Okafor and should also do wonders for his points production.  The defense, blocked shots and rebounding will be welcomed in New Orleans.  He still may be undersized at the center position, but he's penciled in there for New Orleans for this year most definitely.

# 12 Hilton Armstrong (70 Games, 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 63.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Armstrong, a former lottery pick for the Hornets, has largely dissapointed in his three seasons with the organization.  But now is the time for Armstrong to step up and prove that he's a capable center for the Hornets.  He's shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity and last season was the biggest mixed bag of all.  As a result of his mediocritiy, Armstrong routinely lost minutes and his spot in the rotation.  But he's the more talented of the two backups at center and will be given another chance to prove his worth.  Armstrong can be one of the best backup big men in this league if he showed any kind of effort or dedication but too often dissapears on the court.  An aggressive side and dedication can be taught, but there's no guarantee it will stick with Armstrong.

#4 Sean Marks (60 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 68.2 FT Pctg., 48.5 FG Pctg.) - The polar opposite of Armstrong, Marks was brought onto the squad last season as a good locker room guy to shore up the roster and show off his championship ring.  But with injuries and Scott's reluctance to play Arstrong and Melvin Ely, Marks found himself as a regular in Scott's rotation.  His hustle, effort and hard nosed play were welcome on the court but Marks simply isn't talented enough to be taken seriously as a backup big man in this league.  But, because of his cheap price tag and because of the good impression he made with the team last year, he finds himself back in the locker room this season.  Hopefully, we don't see too much of Marks, because that will mean that Armstrong has finally lived up to his potential. 

Coach: Byron Scott - Scott's job came into question last year after the 58 point home loss in game four of the first round against the Nuggets.  But Scott, the 2008 NBA Coach of the Year, returns to New Orleans and I'm happy about that.  He's been to two NBA Finals and lead a really impressive turnaround in New Orleans in his first four seasons, but really made questionable moves last year.  Hornets fans were impatient with his reluctance to give minutes to Julian Wright and his insistence of putting Sean Marks on the floor for substantial minutes.  But people need to understand that Scott played with the hand he was dealt last year.  If you look at last year's squad, production, and the amount of injuries that the Hornets suffered, a 47 win season and a postseason apperance were not dissapointments in New Orleans.  A lot was expected, but you can hardly blame Scott for last season's dissapointment.  But he's on shaky ground now so if the Hornets struggle again, critics may start chirping again.  Scott's confidence can come across as being stubborn and arrogant, but he's a proven player and coach and shouldn't be blamed for last season's dissapointment.  But we all know this is a business and that coaches get fired all the time.  I just hope it doesn't happen here in New Orleans.

All things considered, the Hornets have a solid bunch heading into this season.  With one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul leading the way, the Hornets are almost guaranteed to make the postseason.  A southwest division championship wouldn't be farfetched, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy may be.  The Hornets have a talented squad but really don't have the depth to make a true run at a title.  Too many people will be looked at to "step it up" and not enough will be asked to "keep it up".  There's a lot of unproven talent on the bench and the Hornets need to find a way to make those guys into stars if they want to win a championship.  But this team will not fall victim to the mediocre and complacent ways of last season.  This is a bunch designed to play hard and dedicate themselves to victory every game.  That's a great attitude to have going forward, but they still need more talent.

Prediction: 49-33

* Denotes college statistics
Posted on: April 8, 2009 3:16 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: New Orleans Hornets

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team, after some heroics last night, clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season: the New Orleans Hornets.

Strengths
When you speak of the Hornets, the first thing that comes to mind (and rightfully so) is starting point guard Chris Paul.  Paul has been the motor for the Hornets the past two seasons, and as a result of his performance they're in the playoffs for the second straight season.  Paul has always been the quintessential point guard, making the right play for a teammate in the right position and ensuring involvement from all in the offense.  Coach Byron Scott, a coach who has been to the NBA finals before, knows to let Paul control the offense, and Paul does so very effeciently.  This year, Paul has improved on both his jump shot and also on the defensive end of the court.  Along with Paul's emergence as a defender, and also the acquisition of good team defenders with championship experience in James Posey, Antonio Daniels and Devin Brown has been the Hornets emergence as a defensive force in the NBA.

This year, the Hornets have elevated their status as a defensive team, and are in the top five in the league in terms of points allowed.  Byron Scott knows what it takes to win a championship, having won three as a player with the Lakers.  The Hornets have been criticized for slowing the game down a lot this year, and some say playing away from their strengths, but when games slow down in the playoffs this year the Hornets will be adept at playing that style and won't look as desperate as they did last year when the games slowed down and got more physical.  One thing that's most important to the half court offense is effecient jump shooters and the Hornets have plenty of those in fellow All Star David West and capable three point shooters in Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and Paul.  Also, because of their style of play, the Hornets have shown that they can win anywhere in the NBA, boasting a 21-17 road record.

Weaknesses
Because the Hornets go as Paul goes, it's no secret that the Hornets have an uncanny overreliance on Chris Paul when they're on the floor.  In moments where Paul goes to the bench, the offense looks stagnant, predictable and boring and it shows in the Hornets 2nd quarter point totals.  David West is capable of masking Paul's absence on the court, but his back injury has limited his effectiveness in the paint this year and he seems to have fallen in love with the jump shot that was merely a weapon last year.  West's infatuation with the 20 foot jump shot is the prime example of a Hornets squad that simply cannot score in the paint.  They have players that can finish around the basket, but aside from West and the rarely used Melvin Ely, Sean Marks, Hilton Armstrong, and Ryan Bowen aren't going to become focuses of the defense with their back to the basket game.

One of the biggest reasons why the Hornets struggle so much in the paint is because of the absence of Tyson Chandler for the majority of this season.  The Hornets record when Chandler plays is strikingly better than that with him out of the lineup, but unfortunately his injury looks like it will prevent him from playing in the postseason, or playing effectively in the playoffs, this season.  A big reason for the Hornets surge last year was health, and this year has been the complete opposite.  Paul's nursing an injured groin, West is nursing an injured back, Chandler an ankle, Stojakovic a back, and Peterson has barely played this year with a bad leg.  Last season's starters have missed a total of 101 games this season, as opposed to 22 being missed between the five last season.  Posey's recent elbow troubles have also highlighted a huge problem for the Hornets, a serious lack of depth.  None of the second unit players are very reliable scoring the basketball aside from Posey, and he's not necessarily in the game to score.  They have great defensive depth, but they don't have anyone who can score off of the bench.

Why They Will Win It
The Hornets go as far as Chris Paul brings them, and he's one of the most consistent and effecient players in the game.  He and David West have been incredibly reliable this year and really have carried this squad to where it is.  The ressurection of Rasual Butler this year gives the Hornets a shooting guard that can play huge minutes and who is a more reliable option offensive and defensively than Morris Peterson was last season.  Also, this is a team that has experience from last season's squad, and also the addition of players like Posey, Daniels, Brown, Marks and Ely who have all previously won championships as well.  In addition to having a coach who has succeeded as both a player and at his current position, the Hornets are a disciplined, dedicated squad and they give themselves a chance to win every game. 

Why They Won't Win It
As reliable as Paul and West are, there isn't a third player on this team that is reliable at all.  To win a championship, you need at least a handful of players that are playing great basketball in order to carry you through four rounds of the postseason.  Injuries may have prevented the Hornets from developing any kind of groove and probably is the biggest reason why the squad has no consistent third option, seeing as how Peja was that player last year.  A lack of depth and a lack of frontcourt players can't be masked in the postseason and the Hornets have to work extra hard to make up for that. 

Conclusion
The Hornets are a team that's built for the postseason.  If Chandler does come back, they have a squad that plays great defense, is effecient shooting the basketball and has one of the best players in the game in Chris Paul and a player who never shies away from the big shots in David West.  However, a lack of depth and consistency has plagued the Hornets all season long, and there's not enough time to get everyone back and develop any kind of chemistry this season.  Injuries really hurt this team, and it's arguable that Scott and Paul have done a better job this year than they did last season.  However, it isn't conceivable that the Hornets can win a championship this year at less than full strength.  They're a team that can win a few playoff series, but just like last year, they're going to wear down and a lack of options is going to do this team in.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 12:59 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 10 Review

"We get to the point where we're not playing real well, things aren't going our way and we just buckle down." Byron Scott always seems to know what I'm thinking when I watch the Hornets. It was a very successful, yet pretty quiet week this week in Hornets land. Save for a Tyson Chandler forearm to the face of Joel Przybilla, the week lacked a little but of punch. It was successful, though. The Hornets won two of the three games this week (and in the process had a four game winning streak snapped at Denver on Saturday night) and Chris Paul turned in, probably, his best week of basketball this season. That's saying something.

Even in the ridiculously awful two and a half quarter performance against the Nuggets, Hilton Armstrong looked fantastic and Peja Stojakovic, for the first time since his return from injury, seemed like the player he was last season. But going down 26 points in the 3rd quarter to a good team is unacceptable. They have to have better showings than those against great teams if you want to be taken with a bit of legitimacy. Even while the team came back to take the lead in that game with just over 2 minutes remaining, they exerted so much to gain that first lead that they had nothing to offer once it was obtained. All in all though, you can't be dissapointed.

The team toyed around too much with the Wizards but were able to eventually take advantage of a team that they robbed Antonio Daniels from. Seeing Mike James return was nice, especially when he received that technical for not being able to stay in front of Chris Paul. Losing Bobby Jackson for him wasn't all that bad, he did give us a viable backup point guard. Then, seeing the team recover and perform the way that they did once Tyson Chandler got ejected from the Portland game was awesome. With or without Brandon Roy, they played at Portland against a Trail Blazers team that had just upended the Celtics earlier in the week. It was no easy task. The defense as a collective unit has been tremendous this year and that, along with having Chris Paul and a steady David West as options in the clutch, will give the Hornets many opportunities in critical games.

Upcoming for the Hornets this week is another critical test against the Lakers (maybe they can try not to lose by double digits) and a visit to the hated Jazz in Salt Lake City. They finish up the week with a home game against the Clippers. All in all, this week is important for the Hornets. They've looked good against good teams and bad against good teams. It's important they build a sense of confidence before the postseason so that they can remain a legitimate threat for all teams. At the moment, you're going to get good wins and bad losses with this squad. They need confidence, they need an identity and they need legitimacy. This week is huge in building both. Until next week.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com