By William Guillory
Team Name: New Orleans Hornets
Last Year’s Record: 37-45
Key Losses: Darren Collison, Morris Peterson, James Posey and Julian Wright.
Key Additions: Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
With the additions of new general manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams to the organization, the Hornets were determined to be one of the busiest teams during the offseason in trying to re-tool this roster.
The Hornets pulled off one of the biggest trades of the offseason that didn’t involve a free agent being signed-and-traded to their chosen destination. On August 11, the Hornets sent away first-team all-rookie point guard Darren Collison in a four-team trade that was a bit of a shock to quite a few Hornets’ fans.
Without including all the details of the trade, the Hornets gave Collison and veteran small forward James Posey to the Indiana Pacers and the Hornets acquired Trevor Ariza from the Houston Rockets.
Ariza, who is probably most well known for his role as the starting small forward on the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers championship team, is a big-time addition to the Hornets’ lineup. Ariza left Los Angeles after their championship season with the hopes of playing a bigger role on the Houston Rockets.
He averaged 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last season, but it was a mostly unsuccessful season for the Rockets so they decided it would be best for them to go forward without Ariza.
Ariza will give New Orleans the athletic, versatile type of small forward that has been lacking in the Hornets lineup for years. He can knock down open shots, be a playmaker for himself and his teammates, and also is considered one of the best defensive players at his position in the NBA.
The Hornets also added more athleticism and scoring to their roster by using draft picks to acquire Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins. These two players might not have the enormous impact that last year’s rookies—Marcus Thornton and Collison—had on the Hornets, but they will be given the chance to make plays and if they do it will make this team that much more of a threat in the West.
Also, the trading of Julian Wright for Marco Belinelli may have been the most impressive moves of the offseason for Demps. Wright’s status as one of the biggest first round busts in recent history is no secret among teams around the league. And to trade him for a player with the scoring ability of Belinelli is an astonishing feat, to say the least.
Belinelli will have more than one big game coming off the bench for the Hornets next season. I doubt anyone thought Wright had that type of potential going into next season.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Two words: Chris Paul.
With the NBA more than any other professional league, if you have one of the best players in the sport on your roster, you have a chance to compete.
In Paul, the Hornets have just that. A player that is capable of taking over any game, at any time, against any team.
But heading into this season, the Hornets have assembled the right amount of players to compliment Paul so he doesn’t always have to be the dominant player in order for the Hornets to be successful.
With the emergence of Thornton as an explosive scorer and the addition of Ariza, the Hornets will have plenty of firepower to be much more potent than the team that finished 17th in points per game last season. Not to mention, the additions of Belinelli, Pondexter and Brackins to the bench.
In the past, the Hornets have been a much more half-court, pick-and-roll offense that was reliant on Paul making plays for himself and others. But the way this year’s team is constructed, they should play a more up-pace style with scoring threats spread all over the court.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Three words: Chris Paul’s health.
Paul is far from being given the dreaded “injury prone” tag, but his health has been a bit of an issue over the past few seasons.
Paul only played in 45 games last season because of knee surgery and a sprained ankle. The season before that he played in 78 games, but he ran out of gas in the playoffs after carrying the team throughout the regular season. The Hornets were knocked out in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.
As long as Paul is healthy, the Hornets should be fine. But if he has some more injury problems, they no longer have the safety net in Darren Collison like they did last year.
Demps and Williams have done a good job of improving this team’s talent level over the offseason, but they are still very much built upon Paul and his ability to make people around him better.
If he’s not there to do that, this team will continue to struggle.
Also, the Hornets lack what nearly every team in the league lacks—size to compete with the bigs of the defending two-time NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers.
But this is a fixable problem.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The Hornets did not make it to the playoffs last season; so obviously, one of their main goals will be to make it back to the postseason.
But I think with the moves this team made over the offseason and a few potential moves they can make before the trade deadline, the Hornets have the potential to be a top-four team in the Western Conference.
But this team’s ability to jump from being one of the top-eight teams in the West to being one of the top-four teams is dependent on one move that will most likely be made before the trading deadline.
5. The trade that will change the Hornets season.
In the NBA when trades happen, they aren’t always based upon one team improving by acquiring players or draft picks.
Some trades are based upon getting a player for a reason that has nothing to do with what he does on the court.
That thing is called an expiring contract. They are like gold in the NBA.
When a player’s contract runs out, his salary comes off of his team’s salary cap number going into the next season.
The Hornets have Peja Stojakovic and his contract runs out after this season. So whatever team Peja finishes the season with, the $15 million that comes with his contract will come off that team’s salary cap number.
To put this in perspective, the most valuable expiring contract going into last season’s trade deadline was Tracy McGrady’s massive $20 million contract that was the property of the Houston Rockets.
The Houston Rockets agreed to send McGrady and his contract to the New York Knicks, which was a part of the Knicks LeBron-athon movement.
In exchange for McGrady, the Rockets got Kevin Martin (who averaged 20.6 points per game last season), Jordan Hill (who was a top-10 pick in last year’s draft) and the Knicks’ 2011 and 2012 first round picks (another two potential lottery picks).
Admittedly, the Knicks might have thought McGrady had a little bit left in his tank and very few people think Stojakovic has anything left. But if the Hornets do decide to trade Stojakovic, they can dramatically improve this team.
It’s unclear whether at this point Demps would prefer to add draft picks to compete later or add a few big men to compete now, but whatever move he decides to make will have a huge impact on the Hornets potential to return to their position as one of the elite teams in the West.
If Demps can make the right moves, they might not have to worry about hearing Paul demand anymore trades like he did during the offseason.
Instead, maybe all he’ll be hearing is a few MVP chants.