Tag:Peja Stojakovic
Posted on: October 21, 2010 11:38 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2010 11:48 pm
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New Orleans Hornets 2010-2011 Season Preview

I called this past offseason for the Hornets one of, if not, the most important offseason in franchise history for the team.  Coming off of a difficult collapse in 2009, injuries to Chris Paul forced the team to fall to 37 wins last season, resulting in the team's first appearance in the lottery in three years, signifying a dramatic fall from grace following the team's 2008 run to the Southwest Division Championship and to a game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.  Just a few years removed from that, the Hornets are at a crossroads, even after this offseason, that will determine where the team goes from this point forward.  Gone from that 2008 season are former coach of the year Byron Scott, long time General Manager and former Executive of the Year Jeff Bower and soon to be gone is the only owner the Hornets have ever known in George Shinn.  The impending sale of the team to Gary Chouest, which may not be finalized until the end of this season, will finally solidify this past offseason of change for the Hornets front office.  When new head coach Monty Williams was hired, followed by the hiring of new General Manager Dell Demps, everyone of the assistant coaches, medical staff, scouting team, etc. were let go.  Some of them had been with the team since its inception in Charlotte.  But desperate to turn a new leaf, the Hornets made their moves with Williams and Demps, and the two are young, promising guys at their respective spots with the right people vouching for their abilities.  That change was followed on the court, as the Hornets engaged in a number of trades that will result in at least eight new players making the roster for this season.  It's still very much up in the air how all of these moves will translate on the court for the Hornets.  The team has seemingly had one of the thinnest front courts in the league for years now, and that will be the same case this season.  The team's ultimate success still depends almost entirely on Chris Paul, and Paul's' reported frustrations with the team are going to loom over the franchise until he's either traded or signs a new contract.  But that's still two years from now, and the Hornets still moved along as a team dedicated to winning now.  With pending cap relief coming up this offseason, how the team performs at the start of the year will depend largely on whether they're buyers or sellers at the trade deadline and will have a huge effect on how the team opperates from here on out.  If this past offseason was one of the most important for the Hornets, this actual season will be no different.  There are no guarantees it will be the most successful, but a lot is hinging on the performance of this team this season.

For the record, new additions will be italicized and rookies will have their college statistics, which will be denoted by an asterisk.

PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of his best season individually in 2009, the frustration Paul was showing at the beginning of last season was quite evident.  He had gotten into on court altercations with Al Harrington, was frequently showing discomfort on the court and was very vocal in his displeasure with Byron Scott being fired going as far as to say the team should have consulted with him before the move.  Two separate injuries followed, including one the day immediately following Scott’s departure, possibly creating the most frustrating season in Paul’s career.  A sprained ankle and a torn meniscus kept Paul out of 37 games, and the Hornets’ win total dropped as a result. 

A lot will be asked of CP3 again this season as he enters clearly as the number one player on the team.  The fact that the team traded Darren Collison, last year’s first round draft pick and Paul’s primary back up, to make attempts in improving the roster brings further emphasis on the importance of a healthy Chris Paul.  Before his injuries last season, he was displaying an improved three point shot and was correcting all of the holes in his offensive game.  Seeing him play a healthy amount of games this season should help the team’s defense improve as well.  Paul’s on court performance is crucial for the team, but he’s in a position where he shouldn’t be asked to do as much as he was in 2009.  How quickly he gels with the new teammates, how well he’s recovered from the knee injury and how well he handles adversity this season all deserve close attention this season.

#33 Willie Green (73 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG, 83.3 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) – Whether Hornets fans like it or not, Green enters this season as the Hornets back-up point guard.  Green, in the final year of his contract, was picked up in a trade with Philadelphia and immediately became the team’s most trustworthy option as a reserve point guard.  Whether or not he’s a true point guard, whether or not he’s efficient enough to run an offense for an extended amount of time and whether or not the team hopes to deploy him in this role all season are questionable.  Even with Green on the roster, the Hornets had Jannero Pargo, Mustafa Shakur, D.J. Strawberry and, eventually, Curtis Jerrells all in training camp to compete for the reserve point guard job.  In my opinion, the team wants one of the young guards to step up and claim the back-up job, but is keeping Green as a safety net.  Green is a capable back-up in this league.  He shoots a decent percentage and he could, at the very least, provide veteran experience as a reserve to start the season.  However, I’d imagine the team truthfully wants Jerrells to claim Green’s spot by December or January.

#0 Curtis Jerrells * (39 Games, 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 77.1 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 42.7 FG Pctg.) – Although last year was Jerrell’s first year in the league, he spent the majority of the season in the NBA’s D-League and therefore retains rookie eligibility in this season, his first with the Hornets.  Jerrells went undrafted in 2009 and spent last season for the D-League’s Austin Toros, which happened to be the team that Demps GMed while he was working for the Spurs organization.  About a week ago, the Hornets acquired Jerrells for a second round draft pick from the Spurs and he figures to be in the team’s future plans.  Former coach Greg Popovich has gone on record as saying Jerrells is a “real NBA point guard” and the team is high on him as well.  Whether or not he reciprocates those expectations right away remains to be seen, but there are high hopes for Jerrells in terms of his future as a reserve for the team behind Chris Paul.  His progression is something to keep an eye on. 

SG: #8 Marco Belinelli (66 Games, 7.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 83.5 FT Pctg., 38.0 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.) – No member of the Hornets roster is having as productive a preseason campaign as Belinelli.  Acquired from Toronto for the frustrating unproductive Julian Wright, Belinelli has also struggled with expectations throughout his career and really disappointed in Toronto last season.  But the team planned for Thornton to come off of the bench all along, and Belinelli has gone through a lot of the sets with the first team.  He’s shooting the ball really effectively from beyond the arc in the preseason and is showing capabilities as a ball handler that people expected of him when he was a lottery pick in 2007.  He unquestionably now enters the season as the Hornets starting shooting guard and can develop into a real wild card for the team.  If he builds off of his promise early, then the Hornets can have a surprisingly efficient starting five with an explosive Marcus Thornton as a change of pace reserve for the second unit.  At worst, Belinelli figures to be a three point specialist for the team, but all hopes are for Belinelli to remain as the team’s starting shooting guard for the duration of the season. 

#5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) – Contrary to Belinelli, Thornton is having one of the most disappointing preseason campaigns for the Hornets.  Coming off of a surprising rookie season where the Hornets saw him emerge from second round draft pick to solid reserve to key contributor down the stretch, the team hopes to deploy him in a sixth man role similar to that of Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford’s.  All hopes should, and most likely are, for Thornton to finish games for the Hornets but the team wants to use his playmaking and explosiveness to spearhead the second unit.  Thornton has struggled with his shot all preseason, and questions are already rising about the shin injury that forced him to leave the Summer League early.  But still, the team will take its chances with Thornton as the season approaches and his efficient shooting from last season will be expected and should truly benefit the team moving forward.  At only 23, Thornton is still in the team’s future plans.  He’s been vocal about his struggles with the team moving Collison to Indiana in an offseason trade, but I wouldn’t attribute that with his early season struggles.  He seems erratic out there and may be struggling with the added expectations.  I expect him to settle into his new role this season after a few games.

SF: #1 Trevor Ariza (72 Games, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 64.9 FT Pctg., 33.4 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of a season where he was a key member of a Lakers starting line-up that won the 2009 NBA Championship, Ariza was handsomely compensated by the Houston Rockets last season and, with the injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, was quickly given the role of the go-to guy on the team.  Ariza struggled in that role, however, as his efficiency and his shooting percentages decreased across the board.  The Hornets still see his potential as a defensive specialist and fast break partner with Paul to trade All-Rookie First Teamer Darren Collison to acquire Ariza.  In doing so, the Hornets assume the remaining four years on Ariza’s contract and are vocal about him being in the team’s future plans.  In New Orleans, Ariza can return to being the third or fourth option on a team, a role he’s probably better suited for, and should be able to prepare for the shots to come to him as opposed to looking for them.  He may never shoot at that consistent three point rate that he did in the 2009 postseason, but he’s still a capable player behind the arc who the team can feel comfortable enough with to help spread out a defense.  Ariza is the big acquisition for the Hornets this past offseason and a lot is expected of him.  He’s shown before that he’s capable of playing off of a great player, and if he does so at a more efficient rate than he did with Houston last year, the Hornets will benefit greatly because of it. 

#16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) – Signed to a five year, 65 million dollar contract in 2005, Peja has seen his points per game average and a lot of his percentages decline every year of his contract with the team.  The Hornets see his expiring 15 million dollar deal as a huge trading piece should the team find another franchise desperate for cap relief, but also see his importance as a three point specialist with the squad.  Even with his declining numbers, the Hornets are a better team with Peja on the court.  Last year’s 14-23 record without Chris Paul should be viewed with an asterisk.  The team was 9-8 without Paul on the court while Peja was still in the lineup.  When Peja missed the final 20 games of the season, the team went 5-15.  He’s still a very important player for this team.  Peja was tried as a reserve last year when the team unsuccessfully attempted to make Julian Wright the starting small forward.  He was still efficient enough in his reserve role where the team should feel comfortable deploying him in that same spot this season, but his back still brings questions about how well he can come into a game and be effective after extended periods of rest.  Whether or not he’s a key contributor or nothing more than an expiring contract to either be traded or absorbed internally this season depends largely on how well he starts the season.  He’s played a sufficient amount of minutes this preseason and is still showing his range, but nothing is a guarantee in terms of his longevity of health. 

#20 Quincy Pondexter(36 Games, 19.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 82.7 FT Pctg., 35.3 3PT FG Pctg., 52.8 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a draft night trade along with Craig Brackins for the draft rights to Cole Aldrich, Pondexter was supposed to enter this season with Brackins as two young, capable players in a new Hornets rotation.  Brackins was traded in the Willie Green trade with Philadelphia, and the Hornets soon acquired Trevor Ariza, halting Pondexter’s quick ascension to an everyday status.  Pondexter is still a capable player.  He can run the floor really well, is a good enough playmaker at his position and is a capable jump shooter.  The team also has high hopes in his defensive ability.  He showed a lot of potential in the summer league, especially with his playmaking and defense, and will be brought along slowly for the Hornets.  With Peja most likely gone either before the end of this season or by the end of this season, Pondexter figures into the Hornets future plans.  Monty Williams has had success with SF projects before during his tenure in Portland, and Pondexter will be exactly that for most of this season.

PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) – The Hornets longest tenured player (he’s the only player on the team that was with the franchise before the temporary two year relocation to Oklahoma City and who was with the Hornets when they still played in the Eastern Conference), West returns this season still as the Hornets second option.  For the past five seasons, Paul and West have been the go-to guys for setting the tone on offense and the same will be expected this season.  Despite a second consecutive season in terms of a decrease in his points per game and rebounds per game averages, West assumed a bigger role in the offensive execution once Paul went down to injury last season.  As a result, West saw a career high in assists.  Whether or not his game is ready for a steep decline is up for debate, and this being basically a contract year for West (he has a 7 million dollar player option for next season), one could assume that West will be at his best for one last pay day for his career.  West is still an efficient option in the offense.  He shot at a 50 percent rate last season and still has plenty of range on his jump shot.  His defense on the ball struggled big time last season and a lot of that probably had to do with Collison and Thornton’s inexperience on defense allowing so many easy drives to the basket last year.  But if West can hold his ground defensively in the paint, it would set the tone for the rest of the team.  A lot will be expected of West, again, this season.  I wouldn’t be so concerned with his missing games this preseason (Monty is said to be caution with minutes to his starters in the preseason) and I wouldn’t say he’s ready for a decline in production just yet. 

#14 Jason Smith (56 Games, 3.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 69.0 FT Pctg., 43.1 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a trade that sent Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila to Philadelphia, Smith was seen as a disappointing first round project in Philadelphia but has been given new life in New Orleans.  He’s surprised many fans with his strong play in the preseason, showing a very unexpected rebounding rate per minute and still showing a good enough mid range game that the team touted when he was acquired.  Whether or not that carries over into the regular season is huge for the Hornets, as Smith is basically the only option as a reserve power forward.  His position on the team is very creaky for the Hornets, as he’s not done a lot to calm worries about his consistency and reliability in his two years with the league.  But the front office is praising Smith for his work this preseason and he’ll at least be given a clean slate in New Orleans this year.  If he struggles, the team will be left without many options for the front court, and could be forced to move Stojakovic for another option.  Whether or not Smith can prevent the team from having to go to those measures remains to be seen. 

#44 Pops Mensah-Bonsu (20 Games, 1.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 54.2 FT Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – With the team on a non guaranteed contract, Mensah-Bonsu will probably be retained due to the team’s thin options at the power forward spot.  Another D-League player for the Austin Toros, Pops has played well enough in the preseason to at least get a look in the regular season.  He’s struggled to stick with any of the teams he’s played with for his career but has shown signs of being a viable reserve big man.  Whether or not he can parlay that into a consistent run or even a consistent season with New Orleans is questionable at best and realistically unexpected.  But because Jason Smith is the only other option as a reserve power forward, I’d expect Mensah-Bonsu to make the roster and at least get a chance to establish himself in the team’s rotation.

C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) – Acquired last offseason from Charlotte, Okafor came into New Orleans with a lot of expectations and didn’t deliver on any of them.  Whether it be because of injuries keeping him from training camp reps with the roster, him missing the entire preseason, him never developing a rapport with Paul, him being in and out of Jeff Bower’s rotations or any combination of those things, Okafor saw a career low 29 minutes per game last year and his production dropped as a result of it.  This offseason, however, Monty has said to be committing to getting Okafor the ball at a more consistent rate.  He’s still not going to blow anyone away as a low post option, but he’s durable and strong enough to where he can hold his own down in the paint and also be a viable defender around the rim.  He’ll never live up to his paycheck, but he is still an efficient enough option at the center position in the league and is arguably a top ten player at his position.  With Williams’ dedication to getting Okafor involved more with the team, we should see a more lively Okafor and, certainly, a more productive Okafor on the court for the Hornets.  A big season from him could make all the difference from this team being a fringe playoff contender to a very good Western Conference squad. 

#34 Aaron Gray (32 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 71.4 FT Pctg., 51.2 FG Pctg.) – Acquired from Chicago during last season for Devin Brown, the White Panther (as he’s affectionately known amongst Hornets fans), became the team’s best option as a reserve center immediately and did a fine enough job in that role to be given a new one year deal to keep the same position this year with the Hornets.  Gray is, at the very least, a big body down in the paint, although his lack of speed still allows elite centers that extra burst to the basket more often than not.  He lost a lot of weight this offseason (rumored around 30 pounds) and is still light on his feet and is good enough at holding his position around the basket, but Monty has been vocal in his desire for Gray to be quicker up and down the court.  Whether or not he can really change something like his speed remains to be seen, but Gray is still a good, if not very good, back-up center for the team.

#28 D.J. Mbenga (49 Games, 2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 47.4 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) – Recently signed to a one year contract for this season, Congo Cash (the name his former Lakers teammates gave him), steps in as competition for Gray for the reserve center job.  Mbenga has had his cup of tea in the league.  He’s mainly a hustle guy, has never been a consistent player in a rotation, but at least has two championships with the Lakers to show for his stay in the league.  He’s 7 foot and he’s a decent rebounder, but I’m not sure how successful the team will be with Mbenga consistently getting heavy minutes.  At the very least, he’s a body to push Gray and keep him staying in shape and keep him competitive.  He’s another big body on the team, giving them three 7 footers on the bench.  Only problem is, none of the three seven footers are all that incredibly talented.

Head Coach: Monty Williams (First Head Coaching Job) – Monty Williams is the youngest head coach in the league.  While that’s pretty cool in terms of the potential stability he can bring to the team, realistically you have to expect some growing pains from a guy in his first year on the job.  He’s got an impressive pedigree.  After retiring as a player, Greg Popovich himself sought out Monty to be an assistant, and Monty won a ring as a member of the coaching staff for the 2005 Spurs team.  He’s done fantastic in terms of player development and defense for the past couple of years in Portland, and he’s a very young, very hungry, very promising head coach.  All things considered, he seems like a very good guy for the job.  He’ll have to deal with Chris Paul’s ego, he’ll have to deal with a roster that’s fairly young and inexperienced, and he’ll have to do it in his first year.  However, if everybody comes together really early, it’s nothing but a huge sign moving forward for the potential of this team.  I have faith in Monty’s abilities as the head coach.  But, being that it’s his first job, you still don’t really know what to expect.  Here’s to a promising first season.

Overall: The Hornets are bringing in eight new players this season.  Chemistry may be a very tough problem in the early stages of this season, but the team is young and talented enough to get past that.  If they hit a prolonged rough patch, we’ll see if anyone starts pouting, if Williams becomes inconsistent with his rotations, etc.  There are a lot of question marks with this team.  But the potential is there.  The way it’s assembled, this team isn’t a championship squad.  They simply don’t have the length to compete with the best teams in the league.  But they’re athletic enough to hustle on defense, talented enough to get the ball in the basket and, if healthy, they could really surprise teams this year.  People always write the Hornets off as some kind of one year fluke.  It should be noted that the only year the Hornets have not had any major injury problems in the past five years was that 2008 season.  Maybe that does or doesn’t mean that the team competes for the division title again, but there’s no reason that can’t be a realistic goal.  The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are obviously sexier choices for the division title, but the Hornets have the bodies to compete with any of them, and they have the best individual player out of any of those teams on their roster.  Paul’s attitude and commitment are huge, as is Monty’s ability to handle all of the new players on the roster.  But if this team gets off to a huge start, they could really do some damage.  Probably no more than a 5 seed or so, but definitely a playoff team none the less.  They’re most likely another year away from being serious threats, but that’s no reason that the team can’t be really good this year.
Posted on: July 2, 2010 5:59 pm
 

Chris Paul Trade Rumors: Laughable

Chris Paul trade rumors; well they are just that: rumors.  As defined by the Macquarie dictionary:

n. 1. a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts
n. 2. unconfirmed gossip.

These are all, in my view, plain speculation fueled by a free agent frenzy that the beloved ESPN media has created.  Fact is, this free agent period has been quite anti-climactic.  And with only four viable big name free agents, many teams looking to contend look elsewhere and that is where Chris Paul comes in.  All these Magic, Trail Blazers, Knicks, Nets and other fans really need a reality check when proposing any trade for Chris Paul.

For many teams and their fans there is a generalization that is reached and a certain false perception on New Orleans.

"The team is in a small market, therefore they cannot win championships."

That's pretty false.  We've seen it a lot in football, and we've seen it happen some in basketball as well (Spurs and Pistons, anyone?).  Just because certain NBA teams are always at the top doesn't mean that we shouldn't hold out hope that our own basketball team can crack the system and make it eventually.  If that's the case, why even have a 30 team league?  And if that's the case, wouldn't there be a problem with the NBA system if the same teams are always winning?  Not to David Stern, I guess, but that's a different argument for a different time.  Furthermore, if you're arguing that the Hornets need to trade Chris Paul because they can't win, what sense does it make to trade him to the Nets and Knicks, who have two championships between them (both from New York) and that was in 1973, and who had a combined 41 wins between them, just above the Hornets 37, which they won with Chris Paul only playing in 45 games this season?

"The Hornets are bleeding money."

Again, that's false.  It's true that the ownership transition has reached a stand still, mainly because of prospective owner Gary Chouest's financial revenue coming from the oil industry in the gulf while we all know that's not very profitable at the moment, but by no means does that mean the organization is scrambling to make ends meet.  I figured the Morris Peterson trade would shut up a lot of those meaningless trade rumors but I guess I was wrong.  The Hornets are, at this very moment, at the luxury tax line, so it kind of puts to rest these implications of the so called "Hornets salary debacle."

"The Hornets need expiring contracts."

Wrong again.  The Hornets already have several expiring deals in Peja Stojakovic (15.3 million), Darius Songaila (4.8 million) and David West's opt out clause could be considered one as well (8.3 million).  The free agent clear out by teams like the Knicks, Heat, Nets, etc. has already been done well before this offseason so if the Hornets want expirings for a free agent class next year that's very less promising, it makes little sense.

"The Hornets are going to be in trouble with the new CBA."

False again.  If you look at point 3, the Hornets salary will be below the estimated 61 million hard cap in upcoming seasons so that puts those theories to rest.  A hard cap is most certainly going to be instituted and will raise the salary cap from 58 million but will lower the soft cap from 70 odd million. 

"Chris Paul doesn't want to be in New Orleans.  He wants to play with his best friend LeBron James."

False about Chris Paul wanting out of New Orleans.  He has never said he wants to leave New Orleans.  The only time he mentioned the possibility of him leaving was if the Hornets organizational direction was not one headed for a championship.  As for Paul wanting to play with LeBron, I'm sure it's true.  However, who's to say LeBron doesn't resign with the Cavaliers and keeps plugging along with them?  As well, I don't necessarily think Paul and LeBron would work well together as both demand the ball. 

"Take Jameer Nelson, this pack of pokemon cards and a 30 dollar wal mart gift card for Chris Paul!  It's entirely fair!"

Sorry, guys.  You're not going to severely short change the Hornets in a deal like that.  There's no chance the Hornets get equal value for a top five player in this league.  Therefore, it's not only a dumb business move to do so when he still has two years, at least, committed to the Hornets, it's a dumb basketball move as well. 

Chris Paul is the best poitn guard in the game and it seems to me that many fans are severely undervaluing Paul's worth if they believe they can get rid of a bunch of old, no potential, expiring players.  Going into this offseason, I thought there would be more Darren Collison rumors than Chris Paul, but the devine and infinite wisdom of ESPN has intervened and cited no sources to back up any of their information in their wheelings and dealings. 

Unfortunately, it's their audience that buys into any of the speculation they spew out and it becomes a snowball effect where it just gets bigger and bigger.  The only way to stop it is one of three things:

1. The front office plainly states they are not trading Chris Paul.
2. The ownership of Gary Chouest is officially announced.
3. Winning.

Point one has already kind of happened with Shinn coming out and saying in plain Englisih that the Hornets are not trading Paul.  This hasn't deterred any of the large media outlets from continuing to dribble out their own false rumors that they have not cited, effectively negating any official statement the team makes. 

But it's point 2 that I believe will finally shut all these things up.  If Chouest comes up, is introduced, makes a statement saying he wants to bring championships to New Orleans now, as well as keeping Chris Paul for the long term then maybe, just maybe, people might realize that Chris Paul isn't leaving New Orleans for cheap, crappy players.

Point three really addresses the media directly.  Winning solves everything.  I know it's far too early to reach expectations and make predictions but if the Hornets just play winning basketball this season (with Chris Paul), then ESPN, TNT, yahoo.com and others will all shut up.  Yes this is a business, but many need to be reminded that this is a basketball business and if your team is winning then I can guarantee your team will be profittable. 

I guess at times like this, all you can do is laugh. 

Posted on: May 16, 2010 11:01 pm
 

Hornets History With Lottery Picks

I'm pretty bored and, actually, pretty interested in the Hornets upcoming draft selection.  This will be the team's first lottery pick in a couple of years and after the success of last season's draft (in case you haven't heard me bragging like a school girl all season, the team drafted Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton), pressure is on Jeff Bower to repeat that success with a higher pick in this season's NBA Draft.  Entering a very pivotal point in franchise history, the team needs to respond accordingly with a solid pick who can pay dividends immediately here.  Since the Hornets have a short history, I'm able to go back and look at everyone of their lottery picks and since I have nothing to do until I go to work in four hours, let me begin the Charlotte/New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets' history with lottery picks.  By the way, for their averages, I'm only going to go by the players' averages with the Hornets.

1988: Rex Chapman, SG, Kentucky, 8th overall (220 Games, 16.2 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.8 RPG) - The first player ever signed in Hornets history, Rex Chapman was the franchise's first draft pick before their expansion 1988-89 NBA Season.  Chapman was immensely popular right away, as he was a fantastic shooter and was one of the best white dunkers in the NBA's history.  The Hornets didn't achieve much success while Chapman was here, but he did participate in two Slam Dunk Contests and finished tied for 2nd in the 1990 contest.  Chapman would start to suffer from injuries in his third year with the Hornets, and the team quickly traded him during the 1991-92 season to the Washington Bullets for Tom Hammonds.

1989: J.R. Reid, PF-C, North Carolina, 5th Overall (325 Games, 9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 APG) - Coming off the first season in franchise history, the Hornets obtained the 5th overall pick and selected a North Carolina player (making the Charlotte fans happy) to man down the center position.  Although undersized for center, Reid played pretty well for the Hornets before they moved him to a more natural power forward position in his second season.  After hsi second season, the Hornets moved Reid to the bench for Larry Johnson.  After Johnson's great rookie season, Reid was eventually traded during the 1992-93 season to the San Antonio Spurs for Sidney Green, a 1993 1st Rounder and a 1996 2nd Rounder.  Reid would eventually resign with the Hornets in 1997 and was a pivotal bench player for a Hornets team that made the conference semifinals in 1998 before being traded midway through the 1998-99 season with Glen Rice and B.J. Armstrong to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell.

1990: Kendall Gill, SG, Illinois, 5th Overall (266 Games, 15.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.5 SPG) - Gill was taken out of the University of Illinois in 1990 and immediately stepped in as the Hornets starting shooting guard.  Participating in the Slam Dunk Contest his rookie season, Gill was a very effective scorer and efficient starter for the Hornets.  He was still on the team when they made the conference semifinals in 1993 but was eventually traded to Seattle.  He would rejoin the Hornets for a brief stint in 1995-96 before being traded, again, this time to New Jersey. 

1991: Larry Johnson, PF, UNLV, 1st Overall (377 Games, 19.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 4.1 APG) - When drafted in 1991, Larry Johnson immediately become the star for a Charlotte Hornets team that seemed to be lacking one.  A prodigy at UNLV, Johnson immediately stepped up in his rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Year award and leading the Hornets in scoring and rebounding.  Eventually, Grandmama would become a pivotal player for some mildy successful Hornets teams in the early 90s before suffering a major back injury in his third season.  While recovering from the back injury, Johnson developed a long range shot but his rebounding and low post play suffered and he was eventually traded to the New York Knicks for Anthony Mason in the 1996 offseason.  Johnson, however, is probably best known for signing his twelve year, 84 million dollar contract while with the Hornets (the largest deal in NBA history at the time), which led to heated contract talks with Alonzo Mourning that would eventually result in Mourning being traded and the team breaking up its nucleus.

1992: Alonzo Mourning, C, Georgetown, 2nd Overall (215 Games, 21.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 1.3 APG) - Lucking into this position, the Hornets actually had to overcome long odds to obtain the 2nd overall selection in the 1992 draft.  After consensus number one Shaquille O'Neal was drafted by Orlando, the Hornets took Alonzo Mourning and took off.  Immediately in Mourning's rookie season, the Hornets made their first postseason appearance in franchise history and made it to the conference finals on a terrific moment in Hornets history during the 1993 playoffs, where Mourning hit a fallaway 20 footer to upset the historic Boston Celtics and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  However, after seeing the deal that Johnson got, Mourning demanded that much money and was eventually shipped to Miami for Glen Rice.  A polarizing figure in Hornets history, most fans appreciate the moments Mourning gave the team but don't have many fond memories of him as a person with Charlotte.

1994: Traded 11th pick to the Seattle Supersonics

1996: Kobe Bryant, SG, Lower Merion High School, 13th Overall (Never played with Hornets)
- Yes, for all who don't know, Kobe was originally drafted by the Hornets.  In what will, uneducatingly, be referred to as a blunder for the Hornets, the move actually wasn't really at the fault of the Hornets.  They were merely a team in the middle.  The New Jersey Nets actually wanted Kobe Bryant 8th overall but Kobe's agent told New Jersey that he did not want to play there, so they instead passed and drafted Kerry Kittles.  The Lakers would then call the Hornets, who were drafting 13th, and asked them to draft Kobe Bryant, and in return they would give the Hornets all star center Vlade Divac.  The Hornets happily obliged and Divac gave them two solid seasons while Kobe went on to win four championships with the Lakers.  While this selection may look really bad, it's really to no fault of the Hornets (unless you want to blame the scouting department, in which case there's 12 teams in front of the Hornets who deserve similar blame) that they were the ones that drafted and traded Kobe.  But it does look bad.

1999: Baron Davis, PG, UCLA, 3rd Overall (381 Games, 15.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG) - Although facing slim odds (1.3% actually) to land a top 3 pick, the Hornets were able to obtain the 3rd overall selection in 1999 and used that pick on UCLA point guard Baron Davis.  After bringing Davis along slowly, he began to show promise for the Hornets in his second season and, by the third season, had joined Jamal Mashburn as the faces of the Hornets franchise.  Originally a fantastic slasher and finisher around the basket, Davis eventually developed a three point shot that made him almost impossible to guard.  After signing his contract extension the same offseason that the Hornets relocated to New Orleans, though, Davis started suffering injuries that would plague his next two and a half seasons with the Hornets.  After butting heads with head coach Byron Scott, being accused of faking injuries and demanding a trade during the 2004 offseason, Davis was eventually traded during the 04-05 season to the Golden State Warriors for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis.

2005: Chris Paul, PG, Wake Forest, 4th Overall (345 Games, 19.3 PPG, 10.0 APG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 SPG) - One interesting thing to note here; in 2005, the Hornets and the Charlotte Bobcats finished with identical 18-64 records and the teams had a coin flip at an owner's meeting befor ethe draft lottery.  In case neitehr team picked up a top 3 draft selection, the coin flip determined which team would select ahead of the other.  At the time, both teams had a 50% chance they'd get a top 3 pick, but the Bucks, Hawks and Trail Blazers grabbed the top three picks, giving the Hornets the 4th overall selection ahead of the Bobcats.  The Hornets would take North Carolina native Chris Paul and the Bobcats would take Raymond Felton.  Things couldn't have worked out better for the Hornets.  Paul stepped in and won the 2006 Rookie of the Year award and by his third season in the league, led the Hornets to the first division championship in franchise history and finished 2nd in MVP voting that season to Kobe Bryant.  Still the team's franchise centerpiece, the Hornets are still looking for the formula as to how to build a successful team around Paul and look to do so this offseason.

2006: Hilton Armstrong, C, UConn, 12th Overall (209 Games, 3.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG) - A solid prospect out of UConn, Armstrong was one of five Huskies drafted in the first round in 2006 and became the Hornets second big man off the bench in his rookie season.  Armstrong showed flashes his rookie season (including leading the Hornets to a victory in Detroit in a game where three Hornets starters were injured) and was expected to build on that in 2008.  He never did and in 2009, when given 21 starts in place of the injured Tyson Chandler, Armstrong still looked passive and lost out on the court.  He was eventually traded to the Sacramento Kings this season where he was then traded to the Houston Rockets who eventually released him.

2007: Julian Wright, SF, Kansas, 13th Overall (179 Games, 4.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG) - In need of a big man, the Hornets went against their need and drafted the best player available in Julian Wright at the 13th selection.  A high flyer who can play tough man to man defense and finish around the basket, Wright developed a little bit of a jump shot his rookie season and was a key contributor off the bench for that successful 2008 squad.  After the team signed James Posey, Wright's progress halted last season in what was considered a major dissapointment.  Coming into this year, after a great showing in the Summer League, Wright eventually was named the Hornets starter for the opening game at small forward but only lasted seven games before being benched in favor of original starter Peja Stojakovic.  Still waiting on Wright to develop, it's looking more and more like this will be another Hilton Armstrong case of wasted potential for a great talent.

All in all, I was actually kind of surprised at some of the really good players the Hornets have drafted with their lottery selections.  However, the last two look pretty bad and the Hornets need to look to have better success wherever they should end up this season as this draft pick will be looked at to do a lot for the Hornets next season. 

Posted on: May 3, 2010 2:32 am
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding the Hornets franchise currently, and then sitting back and watching the Ford Center packed to the rafters with blue shirts cheering on the Thunder in the postseason, I can't help but be a little bitter.  I find myself rolling my eyes when people continuously talk about how great Oklahoma City's fans are.  I find myself trying to disprove the Thunder as a team on the rise.  Want to know why I do that?  Because I'm jealous.  I look at the Hornets and I see a franchise struggling to stay afloat amidst financial uncertainty.  I see George Shinn shopping the team to anybody who would take them, and although primary candidate Gary Chouest is a Louisiana native and has the benjamins to back up what could possibly be a lucrative situation with the Hornets, I doubt the long term prospects of a successful operation for the Hornets in New Orleans.  And it all goes back to those people in the blue shirts in Oklahoma City.  If the Hornets were playing in front of crowds like that in the New Orleans Arena, things wouldn't be as bleak as they currently are for the team.  Had the Hornets stayed in Oklahoma City, there's no doubt in my mind they wouldn't have the struggles they are currently having.

George Shinn shocked a lot of people when he briefly flirted with the idea of keeping the Hornets in Oklahoma City following the team's two year lease with the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  It looked like a genuine public relations nightmare.  Shinn's name (what was left of it after the Charlotte debacle, anyways) was tossed in the mud and insults were thrown at him left and right.  But look at what Shinn saw in Oklahoma City.  I'm sure he won't admit it, but Shinn has to know that the Hornets relocation to New Orleans has been a mistake.  The Hornets were such a successful and popular franchise in the mid 90s, and felt a resurgence of sorts during their two years in Oklahoma City.  In OKC, Shinn found a city and community that finally embraced one of his teams again and he felt the financial benefits of doing so.  After all, this is a business, and I'm positive Shinn knew that financial situations would be better in OKC than they would be in New Orleans.

The main basis for this argument is attendance numbers.  Contrary to popular belief, the Hornets haven't been a joke of a franchise their entire existence.  They've never been great, but they've been above average a majority of the time in this league.  There's rarely been a period of prolonged uncertainty or long term mediocrity for the Hornets, which is why I don't think the Hornets get the credit they deserve as a franchise.  This isn't a difficult team to embrace, yet they've had difficulty finding the community support in New Orleans necessary for a successful franchise.  Some people will argue it's the product on the court that's keeping the fans in New Orleans from coming, some fans stating they want a winner to watch.  But they don't understand that it can't happen if they don't show up in the first place.

Since the Hornets relocation to New Orleans in 2002, they have played six full seasons in New Orleans.  Of those six seasons, four have resulted in postseason births for the Hornets.  In 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009, the team made the playoffs with a rebuilding 2005 and injury ridden 2010 resulting in the team missing the playoffs those years.  However, the attendance didn't reflect the Hornets on court success.  In 2003, the Hornets inagular season in New Orleans, the team finished 19th out of 29 teams.  That's the best attendance number they've gotten since relocating to New Orleans.  They would finish 28th out of 29 teams in 2004, a year where the team was in the top half of the Eastern Conference for a majority of the season, and would even post up horrible numbers in the best season in franchise history, 2008, where the Hornets finished 26th out of 30 teams in attendance, and would follow up that season by finishing 19th out of 30 teams in attendance in 2009.  We'll try and refrain from dwelling on attendance numbers during the Hornets non playoff seasons (which include finishing 30th out of 30 teams in 2005 and 26th out of 30 teams this season), but I do want to shake my head at the lack of support for legitimate postseason teams in each of those years in New Orleans. 

Had it not been for Oklahoma City, it's a wonder how long that rebuilding year in 2005 would have dragged out.  After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to temporarily call Oklahoma Citiy home, the Hornets saw a support system that they hadn't had in almost a decade.  Fans came out in droves to support a team that wasn't even there's, and the Hornets reaped the benefits financially.  Let's not discredit the team's drafting of Chris Paul in 2005 as well, but the Hornets improvement to 38 wins in 2006 and seeing the true benefits of a home court advantage had Hornets supporters (regardless of the city they played in) secretly wishing there was a chance the team could stay in Oklahoma City.  Look back at those attendance numbers in New Orleans.  While supporting two teams that missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Hornets would finish 6th and 8th, respectively, in attendance in Oklahoma City.  And those attendance numbers helped encourage some very bold moves by George Shinn. 

Following the very lucrative first season in Oklahoma City, Shinn used that money to open up his wallets and make moves that the Hornets organization hadn't made in over a decade.  We saw an aggressive George Shinn, one willing to spend money to put a winner out on the court for Oklahoma City and knowing he had the financial backing in a city in order to do so.  In that 2006 offseason, Shinn signed Bobby Jackson to a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal.  He signed David West to a 5 year, 45 million dollar contract extension.  He signed Peja Stojakovic to a five year, 64 million dollar contract.  And then he traded J.R. Smith to take on the remaining 5 years and 54 million dollars remaining for a center in Tyson Chandler who was coming off a horrid season in Chicago.  Some of you may look at those players and kind of snicker, but three of those four players were hugely crucial to the best season in franchise history in 2008.

Now I'm willing to admit that I like the team in New Orleans.  I certainly wish, though, that the crowd would show up more often.  I don't think Shinn was hesitant to spend money, but he knew that if he had to fork out money to overspend past the luxury tax for the team in New Orleans, he wouldn't get that money back in attendance numbers like he did in Oklahoma City.  Outside of the James Posey signing in the 2008 offseason, the Hornets have mainly been cost cutters as opposed to the aggressive "spending to win" team that they were in 2006 following the first season in Oklahoma City.  I know injuries to a lot of key players on the team are important to why the Hornets are where they are right now, but you can't understate the importance of a home crowd to the success of a franchise.

In 2007, Chris Paul missed 18 games.  David West missed 26 games.  Bobby Jackson missed 26 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 69 games.  The Hornets still managed to win 39 games.  Oklahoma City fans still allowed for the Hornets to finish 8th out of 30 teams in attendance.  In 2010, Chris Paul missed 37 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 21 games.  The team still managed to win 37 games.  New Orleans fans finished 25th out of 30 teams in terms of attendance numbers.

Those numbers are alarming.  I see that you can't predict injuries.  Had the team stayed in Oklahoma City, I'm sure injuries still would have affected the team.  George Shinn still would have gotten prostate cancer (the big reason why he wants to move on and sell the team) and I'm sure Shinn wouldn't have been so aggressive every offseason in Oklahoma City.  But for two years, I saw a willingness to spend.  I saw fans come out in bunches to watch the Hornets play basketball.  I saw a team that mattered.  In the three years that have followed, I've seen waned interested.  I've seen empty seats in the New Orleans arena.  I saw a division champion finish 26th in attendance in 2008.  I see a team that's not appreciated.

Say what you want about Shinn, residents of New Orleans, but don't forget that he was aggressive for teams in Charlotte and Oklahoma City.  And I think the attendance numbers for those cities are a big indiciation of why he did.  I can't help but think if the Hornets had stayed in Oklahoma City, how differently things would have turned out for the team.

Posted on: April 15, 2010 4:18 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets 2009-2010 Season In Review

It was a tough year for Hornets fans.  We started the season with the stink of that playoff loss to the Nuggets in 2009 still fresh in our minds.  Or at least I did.  They entered the season without Tyson Chandler at the center position for the first time in three years after he was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor.  They were just two years removed from a division championship and being one game away from the Western Conference Finals and one year removed from being a favorite to win the championship in 2009.  But 2009 was a giant step back, and 2010 proved to be even more of the same.  Just as the story went in 2009, injuries, coaching changes, financial problems and everything else of the sort caused the Hornets problems in 2010.  As a result, the Hornets finished the season 37-45 and will be out of the postseason for the first time since 2007.  But let's look at how the season went.

PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) - The franchise centerpiece underwent a ridiculously tough season, as he battled groin, knee and finger injuries; missing a career high 37 games in the process.  Because of these injuries, the team was rumored to be flirting with the idea of moving him and his contract during the season and those rumors still linger as we approach the offseason.  Paul, however, really played well when he returned from his first injury and looked like the same player who has finished in the top 5 in MVP voting the last two seasons.  But his second injury, trying to catch an errant inbounds pass from David West, really crippled him and he did not look the same when he tried to come back near the end of the season.  Paul's shot really improved this season; especially his three point shot.  The team looks committed to bringing him back and I, 100%, think that it's the right move.  He'll need this offseason to heal after playing so much the last three seasons and, for that, I'm kind of glad the injuries slowed him down.  Grade: A-

#2 Darren Collison (76 Games, 12.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 85.1 FT Pctg., 40.0 3PT FG Pctg., 47.7 FG Pctg.) - As the Hornets first draft pick in two years, Collison was expected to fill the team's void at the backup point guard position and with CP3 as the starting point guard, he wasn't expected to play many minutes.  Well, that didn't necessarily go as planned.  But Collison accepted the added responsibilities and really took off in the second half of the season.  In the first eight games without Paul, the team went 4-4 and Collison's steady play was a big part of that.  When Paul went out for the longer stretch after that second injury, Collison really took off and played fantastic basketball for the Hornets.  He, at least, showed that he can be a starting point guard somewhere in this league.  Because of his cheap rookie contract, the Hornets may try and move him while his value is high to improve this offseason.  I'd be really dissapointed to see that happen as I'd like to see he and Paul play together for an entire season.  Collison could be terrific off of the bench and be the true face of the second unit.  But we'll see if he survives the offseason.  Grade: A+

SG: #5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) - Along with Collison, the Hornets other rookie guard, Marcus Thornton, really became the faces of the franchise as the season went on.  Thornton, a second round rookie who the team traded for from the Miami Heat, responded very well when Bower took over as head coach and expanded his minutes.  He showed an efficient three point shot, the ability to take over games with his scoring and an ability to play with either Paul or Collison running the offense.  The team and the fans are both excited to see what happens going forward, as this position has been a revolving door for the Hornets since David Wesley left.  Grade: A+

#24 Morris Peterson (46 Games, 7.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 61.1 FT Pctg., 36.3 3PT FG Pctg., 38.5 FG Pctg.) - Because of the departure of Rasual Butler in the offseason, Peterson looked as if he was going to get a second chance with the Hornets.  He was the team's starting shooting guard when they won the Southwest Division in 2008 but found himself in Byron Scott's doghouse last season.  He was put back into the starting lineup based off of necessity and lasted only five games before Scott benched him again.  For awhile, Peterson wasn't even dressing with the team.  However, when Devin Brown was eventually traded, Peterson was put back into the lineup and responded better when given another chance.  With his contract expiring next offseason, I'd hope that somebody takes up his salary but he's fine as a bench player if the team decides to keep him.  Grade: C-

SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) - Peja continues his slow, agonizing, painful decline right before my very eyes as the Hornets answer at small forward.  His ridiculous contract and declining play have really crippled the Hornets the last two seasons.  But the bottom line is, when he plays the team is noticeably better.  The team was fine without Paul, but as soon as Peja started to struggle with his abdominal injury, they completely tanked and never did recover.  Stojakovic's shooting was so vital to the Hornets success the past two seasons that it hurts me as a fan to see him age and struggle as often as he has these past two seasons (especially this season).  I am and always will be a huge Peja fan, but the team will be better without him on the roster going into next season.  I'd imagine the team will do everything in its power to move his expiring 15 million dollars this offseason.  Grade: C

#41 James Posey (77 Games, 5.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 82.5 FT Pctg., 33.5 3PT FG Pctg., 36.5 FG Pctg.) - When the Hornets won the division in 2008, the next step to winning a championship looked as if it was taken when the team nabbed a clutch, defensive player in Posey who had won two NBA championships with the Heat and the Celtics.  The Hornets paid to get Posey, but it looked worth it initially.  However, the deal has not worked out at all for the Hornets.  Things took a turn for the worse this season as Posey looked really old, really fast and struggled with his shot all season long.  Although he struggled, he still finished a lot of games for the Hornets and helped them with some stability off the bench with all the injuries this season.  Being forced to play out of position a lot this season probably didn't help matters either.  But no matter the excuses, Posey was really bad at times this season and was merely good when he did play well.  Grade: D

#32 Julian Wright (68 Games, 3.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 61.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.) - Coming into the season, the Hornets committed to Wright and gave him the starting small forward position.  After a promising 2008 rookie campaign with the Hornets, he found himself lost in translation last year after the team brought in James Posey and after falling into Byron Scott's doghouse and losing his jumpshot.  But the Hornets made the commitment to Wright this offseason and I was really excited at the prospects of Wright in the lineup and Peja off the bench.  It didn't work at all.  Wright still struggled as the starting small forward and eventually found his way deep on the bench.  He even had an embarassing situation this season when he requested a trade from the team via twitter.  I'm Wright's biggest fan but he simply didn't respond when given the opportunities.  It's unknown whether the team will pick up the option on his contract but I expect them to do so and give him one more chance next offseason.  But he let me and the team down this season.  Grade: F

PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) - Because of the injuries to Paul this season, West became the team's motor, heart and go to guy this season.  Continuing his strong play, West put up another solid season (even if his numbers are down from where they were the last two seasons).  West has been as dependable and reliable a player as the Hornets have had on the roster and is the longest tentured Hornet, the only player remaining from the team's last year in the Eastern Conference.  Given all the pressure put on him having to deal with thin rosters, 9 man rotations, playing with rookies and unproven players and still showing up to work, putting up great numbers and never openly complaining, West deserves a medal.  He was terrific this season for the Hornets.  Grade: A

#9 Darius Songaila (75 Games, 7.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 81.1 FT Pctg., 49.4 FG Pctg.) - Songaila was the most stable and consistent player off the Hornets bench the entire season.  Take that as you want as the team's bench largely underproduced, but the fact of the matter remains that Songaila, before his injury in March, was the one staple the team looked to off the bench and that's good, because he's all they had off the bench in the frontcourt.  Given that Songaila was really asked to do more than I think he's capable of, I was 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 would have been even worse this season.  Grade: B-

#1 Ike Diogu (Did Not Play -Injured-) - 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'm indifferent to his future with the team.  Grade: Incomplete

C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) - Replacing the ultra popular Tyson Chandler, Hornets fans expected a lot out of Emeka Okafor this season.  After watching Chandler struggle to stay on the court (again) in Charlotte, the team undoubtedly made the right move.  Okafor was the only Hornet to play all 82 games and stability and solid production out of the center position is hard to come by in this league.  All that said, more was expected out of Okafor and his numbers were career lows across the board.  The team gave up on trying to finish games with him on the court as the season went on and his minutes and production dipped as the months passed.  Okafor will probably be back next season unless the team gets an attractive offer (and given Okafor's size and position, they may) but he needs to improve a lot to get  back into my good graces.  Grade: C

#34 Aaron Gray (24 Games, 3.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 85.7 FT Pctg., 55.7 FG Pctg.) - This big, goofy white boy wasn't expected to much for the Hornets when the team traded Devin Brown for him in February.  After being acclimated to the team and the system, though, Gray played really well.  His best moment came when the team upset the Orlando Magic in March off of a season high in minutes and points for Gray as he went toe to toe with MVP candidate Dwight Howard.  Now, he's not capable of that everynight but he can still play some solid ball as a backup center.  His numbers aren't pretty, his game isn't pretty, but I wouldn't mind the team resigning him and keeping him on the bench (so long as he isn't the best big man off of the bench next season).  Here's to you, Gray!  Grade: B

#4 Sean Marks (14 Games, 0.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 40.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.) - Sean Marks has a soft spot in my heart.  I like him, sure, but didn't like it when I 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 didn'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.  Also, Marks actually stopped and talked to me during the team's game here in San Antonio back in March, so my fandom for Marks continues.  He won't be back next season, in fact his career may be over, but Marks played in the league a long time and won a championship in San Antonio.  Here's to you, Marks!  Grade: A

We Didn't Forget About All You Who Put On Hornets Jerseys This Season:

PG #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 the first injury, but when Paul came back he was immediately expendable he really had no place on the team.  He went to the Clippers and saw basically the amount of time he would have seen as a Hornet for the rest of the season.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

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 went to Sacramento where I thought he'd get a lot of minutes, but he was quickly shipped to Houston where he barely played for the Rockets before being released last week.  It's going to be a tough road back for Hilton.  However, he has no one to blame but himself for never working out here with the team.  At the time he left, I would have rather 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 why this move had to be made.  Wish you could have worked out, Hilton!  Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

SG #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 was tough to accept, but the 100 thousand dollar difference in contracts is just enough to get the Hornets under the luxury tax and Gray played a huge position of need.  So it had to be made.  He barely got off the bench in Chicago but at least he made the postseason.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: B

PG #11 Jason Hart (4 Games, 0.5 PPG, 1.3 APG, 0.0 FT Pctg., 100 FG Pctg.) - When Paul went down to his second injury and the Hornets had already traded Bobby and Devin Brown, the team signed Hart to a ten day contract to be the team's backup point guard.  He was, more or less, just there but he wasn't bad.  I expected them to, at least, give him a second ten day contract but since he wasn't in the team's future plans, they did the right thing by not giving him a second one.  Once his ten day contract was up, he was gone.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

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 coach 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 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, responded well to Bower and arplayed competitive basketball as a result.  They didn't win every game, but they gave 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 (34-39) - Bower, somehow, did great as the team's interim head coach once Scott was fired.  His very first game as interim coach, Chris Paul went down to injury and it was immediately time to press the panic button.  But Bower gave minutes to the rookies, took chances and righted the ship in New Orleans.  Because of him, there's hope for a future in place.  When the injuries mounted and eventually took their toll, the Hornets struggled down the stretch but it was no fault to Bower.  He did fantastic given the circumstances and considering that he had only one year as an assistant coach on his resume.  He won't be back as coach next season but I want the team to retain him as General Manager.  His future's up in the air, though, and I'll be interested to see what they do with him.  Grade: B

Future For The Team:
I've said it before, with the team probably being sold to a Louisana business man this offseason, the importance of this offseason is vital.  They have a lot of decisions to make.  There's going to be a new owner and a new head coach.  Will the owner and coach choose their own general manager or will Bower be retained?  Is either Paul or Collison traded?  Do any of the expiring deals get moved?  The Hornets are faced with some really tough tasks this offseason but I have a ton of faith in the team to hire the right people (Avery Johnson is the big rumor at head coach), to keep Jeff Bower for some continuity in the organization and to make the right moves for the team's betterment.  There's so much to do, though, that I can't say for sure whether or not they'll do it.  But I have faith!

Overall Grade:
All things considered, the Hornets played well this season.  With all of the injuries to Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic, with the dissapointing performances of Emeka Okafor, James Posey and Julian Wright and with the team changing head coaches during the season and even having to get rid of solid rotation players just to get under the luxury tax, the team still won 37 games.  There could have been a lot of panic this season and the team could have folded at any point.  There are some embarassing losses (losing twice to the Knicks, losing to the Wizards at home, losing by 30 to the Nets) that really make things seem sour, but they beat 13 out of the 16 teams that are in the playoffs this season (getting swept by Cleveland, Chicago and San Antonio) and have a lot of hope with the two young rookies on the team.  When you sit back and evalute the circumstances, it wasn't a totally lost season for the Hornets.  But they only had one stretch this year whey looked legit dangerous and Paul's injury derailed all of that.  So the Grade for the season: C+

Posted on: April 9, 2010 11:15 am
 

The Most Important Offseason In Hornets History

With the Hornets sitting at 35-44 this season and with a lot of things going down the way they did this season, if you look at the Hornets current situation, it's easy to say this is the most important offseason in Charlotte/Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets history.  The Hornets have been blasted with injuries 3 of the last 4 seasons (with the only healthy season, 2007-2008, resulting in a Division Championship) and, as a result, have seen a precipitous fall from grace following that Division Championship.  The Hornets will now miss the playoffs for the 4th time in 6 seasons and are due to have a sizeable amount of money to pay their players next season.

The Hornets have two years until franchise player Chris Paul's contract goes up.  At the same time, David West's contract goes up in the same offseason, and probably only has that two years to play at a level that makes a considerable difference anymore.  They're due to pay Emeka Okafor a lot of money over the next three years and are limited to what they can do as a result of those three taking up so much money.  They have Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson and Darius Songaila representing almost 30 million dollars in expiring deals this offseason and are faced with the decisision to either trade them, or accept a season similar to this one and take the cap relief next summer.  With the team still being in position to contend next season with the right (and incredibly smart) moves made, the Hornets are facing a critical period in their franchise history.

I'm stuck with half optimism/half worried about the future of the franchise.  While I believe Jeff Bower is still the guy at the General Manager position, and I trust him to make quality moves this offseason, the Hornets may, or may not, be sidetracked by a move that owner George Shinn is trying to make; to sell the team to Gary Chouest, a minority owner for the team who has been a season ticket holder for the team since they arrived to New Orleans in 2002.  This tells a few things: first of all, George Shinn, fresh off of beating Pancreatic Cancer, will not be the owner for the Hornets for the first time since the organization was created in Charlotte in 1988.  Chouest is a pretty big name in Louisiana business, entirely plans to keep the franchise in New Orleans (which has its perks and disadvantages) and will probably make more of an effort to build a winner being a fan of the team.  But the move needs to be made in time for the owner to send down the plans to Bower for what to do this offseason.

Bower needs to begin his search for the team's new head coach, another crucial move this offseason, and when that happens, first, I expect a domino affect of decisions to be made throughout the offseason.  I'm really excited as a fan at the prospects of Hornets basketball here moving forward, but there's a lot that needs to be done correctly to avoid having the team implode throughout the next year (which can easily happen).

All in all, it's easy to say this is the most important offseason in Hornets history.
Posted on: April 5, 2010 9:36 pm
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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.
 
 
 
 
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