By William Guillory
At the New Orleans Hornets media day on Monday, reporters swarmed star point guard Chris Paul to get his thoughts about the offseason and his outlook on the Hornets upcoming season.
But one thing he said, in particular, defines the current state the team is in and the major problem that they are facing as they head into training camp.
“What excites me is the unknown, not knowing what to expect,” Paul said. “Anyone who says they know what our team is going to do this year is lying. We’ve made so many changes and adjustments, so tomorrow is day one for us to get started.”
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Paul may see this uncertainty about what this team will be heading into the as a positive, but many view it as a negative.
With Paul leading the way, the Hornets have a face for their franchise—and will as long as he’s wearing a Hornets jersey. But just because the franchise has a face doesn’t necessarily mean it has an identity.
With a rookie head coach (Monty Williams), a rookie general manger (Dell Demps) and a training camp roster that consists of 11 players that weren’t with the team last season, the Hornets are in a transition period and they are in the process of figuring out what exactly they will strive to be this year.
“Going into training camp for the past few years, you know what to expect. But tomorrow we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Paul said. “I feel like a rookie all over again.”
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That type of optimism coming from Paul is the most promising thing about the Hornets heading into training camp because his mindset and happiness with his current situation is the biggest unknown regarding this team.
During the offseason, there were non-stop reports about how Paul wanted out of New Orleans and that he wanted to go to a place like Orlando or New York where he would have more exposure and a better chance of winning a title. But after a sit-down meeting with Demps and Williams during the summer, Paul appears to be back to being happy with the Hornets.
Everyone around the organization is saying the right things about Paul and that they are tired of having to say that he isn’t going anywhere. But if the team doesn’t start heading in the right direction and Paul’s frustration starts boiling up again, then we will really start to see how happy he is with being in a Hornets uniform.
“(Paul) just wants to win, that’s the most important thing,” Demps said. “He wants to be able to have the right pieces on the floor around him so we can compete. We want to play an up-tempo style of offense and put a product on the court that people will want to come see.”
Wanting to play an up-tempo style of offense is fine. In fact, with a guy like Paul as your leader, it probably only makes sense to play an up-tempo style of offense.
But the question is, whether or not this team is built to play that style and be successful. The Hornets have preached the last few seasons how they have wanted to pick the pace of their offense up and put Paul in more favorable positions than having to go 1-on-5 like he has been doing since he came in the league.
But the fact is the Hornets have had to play that style because they had no choice.
With players like forwards David West and Peja Stojakovic positioned as primary cogs in the offense, the Hornets haven’t been built over the past few years in a manner that would make them a successful running team. But with the upheaval of the roster, additions of guards with the talent level of Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Pondexter, maybe the Hornets will be better suited to score in bunches than they ever have before.
But as long as the Hornets possess players like Paul, West and last year’s rookie sensation Marcus Thornton, offense will rarely be a problem. Maybe the biggest hurdle this team has to identify is what type of defensive team this will be.
We all know the old adage that “defense wins championships”, but with the Hornets this is more than a saying. It’s something that they take much more seriously than that.
“I still think that our Achilles heel is our defense,” Paul said. “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to play defense this year. If we can commit to the defensive end, then we are going to be alright.”
With teams like the Lakers, the Mavericks and the Thunder lurking in the Western Conference horizon, the Hornets will have to figure things out sooner than later.
If they take too long, they might be a team with an identity, but they probably will be without a face. Because Paul has been showered with many compliments ever since he’s entered the league, but one thing no one has ever called Paul is patient.
The Hornets will figure that out soon enough.