When the Hornets selected Kansas center Cole Aldrich with the eleventh pick Thursday night, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted. Picks that low in the lottery don’t have the greatest historical track record – recent eleventh picks include Acie Law and Fran Vasquez – and I do believe that Aldrich will be a reliable 10-15 year pro.
Frontcourt depth was also a major issue for the Hornets last season, and Aldrich would have added close to seven feet of length and six fouls a game off the bench.
It was, by any definition, a solid, smart, safe pick.
No matter how much I tried to rationalize it, however, I couldn’t clear my mind of thoughts of Greg Ostertag (never a position you want to find yourself in). In fairness, Ostertag was a solid contributor to those mid-nineties Utah teams and if not for one Michael Jeffery Jordan would have probably had two NBA championship rings. The problem, however, is that you can’t start your team with Greg Ostertag. You need to establish a championship-level nucleus (Stockton, Malone, Hornacek, etc.) before adding the appropriate auxiliary pieces.
As good as Chris Paul is, the Paul-West-Stojakovic trio that the Hornets have been trying to ride is simply not enough to compete at a championship level. Adding Aldrich may have been enough to sneak the Hornets back into the playoffs, but nobody would argue that they’d have enough firepower to pose a serious threat to the Lakers supremacy. Beyond next season, the white elephant in the room is Chris Paul’s impending free agency in 2012. Would drafting Cole Aldrich be enough to convince Paul that Jeff Bower and company were seriously committed to contending for championships? Of course not.
This is why the reported trade with Oklahoma City – sending New Orleans the draft rights to Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter in exchange for Aldrich and the overpaid Morris Peterson – makes so much sense. The Hornets still add another big body up front in the form of Brackins and get a long, explosive (if unpolished) swingman in Pondexter all for the price of the contract-slated Aldrich. Dumping Peterson’s salary means that last year’s surprise rookie Marcus Thornton will see more playing time at shooting guard and the Hornets will have the cap room flexibility to add a free agent.
Clearly New Orleans isn’t at the top of LeBron James’ or Dwayne Wade’s wish lists, but this years free agent mega-class is as remarkable for its depth as for its top-end talent. The opportunity to play with Chris Paul also should not be underestimated as a major selling point to lure free agents to the franchise. Would it be completely out of the realm of possibility to lure Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson to the Big Easy? Maybe not. The Saints Super Bowl win and the delirious celebration that followed also cannot hurt the Hornets appeal. As the country learned in February, New Orleans loves winners.
With money to work with and a solid stable of young talent, the Hornets have put themselves in relatively good position to swing for the proverbial fences this off-season, which is what NBA franchises have to do in this luxery-tax era to be competitive on the championship level.
If the Hornets don’t decide to pull the trigger to land Paul some legitimate help, they could face the unappealing possibility of losing Paul an having to start again from scratch.
Thursday, however, was a move in the right direction.