Hornets ’10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Colin Powers
Dell Demps and Monty Williams walked into a precarious situation when they arrived in New Orleans this summer. For the long-term health of their organization, the obvious decision would be to seek the promise of creation through immediate destruction, I.e. blow up the entire roster and starting anew. Though no fan likes to hear it, at least the term ‘rebuilding’ brings with it the hope for a better tomorrow. However, while gutting their roster and stockpiling draft picks might appeal and indeed seem reasonable, Demps and Williams also have to negotiate another pressing situation: somehow trying to make this team work so to retain franchise savior Chris Paul.
Things didn’t look good in July when CP3 took the mic at Carmelo’s wedding, his words again luring recently spurned Knicks fans (amongst others) into dreams of a big three to challenge Riley’s troupe down in Miami (while prompting visions of disaster in New Orleans, of course). As conspiracy theories grew increasingly sensationalized, though, Paul receded from the scene. His ‘imminent’ request of a trade was never voiced, the (irresponsibly) reported meddling of Maverick Carter and Worldwide Wes faded to the background, and all the speculation that his departure was a foregone conclusion seemed less and less credible. And so, the months passed and we find ourselves at training camp in October, with Paul in tow and fully on-board (at least publicly) with the New Orleans Hornets.
Where does all this politicking leave the team? Tredding water, it seems, yet confident in their plan to square this circle. After all, they traded their Point Guard insurance policy Darren Collison in seeking to make the team relevant and dangerous this season. Indeed, they traded Collison because they must think they can still make it work with CP. Trevor Ariza and his lengthy contract came in the exchange, providing Paul with an athletic and versatile option at the 3 for the first time in his career (Julian Wright, we hardly knew thee). And though moves were made elsewhere as well, it was this switch of former UCLA men that showed us the team was stacking all its chips on making it work with Paul.
It is a bold and admirable move by the new GM, but perhaps painfully shortsighted. In moving Collison and going all-in with this Paul-centric roster, Demps plays a dangerous game, everything relying on enticing CP3 to be a part of a future in NO that doesn’t look so great from here. Sure, he could still trade Paul during the season if things really turn sour, but now he won’t have a PG to build that new package around with Darren Collison plying his trade in Indiana. Paul’s under contract until 2012, but this could descend into an ugly purgatory if the team continues to stagnate. And of course, the worst case scenario, which the whole league just saw play out in Cleveland, could be reproduced in New Orleans without too much imagination required. The franchise will be in deep, deep shit if Paul walks.
And so, this team needs to win, and needs to win early. The 2007 team was not noticeably more impressive on paper, but they did have an energy and chemistry that gelled perfectly with Paul’s mastery. Peja stayed healthy for the most part, Chandler and West ideally complemented one another, Bonzi came in and killed it for a minute, Pargo was the epitome of a spark, and the fans electrified the building every night out. In 2010, Peja’s still around but he’s deteriorated even further, Pargo’s been welcomed back in a prayer that CP can rejuvenate his moribund career, West has slowed a tad, and Okafor has not quite been the bouncy presence around the hoop and in the pick-and-roll game that Chandler was.
On the positive side, Marcus Thornton proved to himself to be a dynamic and explosive scorer last year, and he will look to continue channeling a young Ben Gordon with a year of experience now under his belt. After Paul, he’s one of the few options New Orleans has for creating off the dribble (Ariza became quite turn-over prone as his usage went up in Houston), so his role will be pivotal. Quincy Pondexter could provide another nice option from the wing, his smooth handle, strength and athleticism well constructed for the pro game. Marco Belinelli will find it much easier to find space for his coveted three-point bombs when sharing the court with the game’s finest PG, and Pops and Jason Smith look to shore up the paint for Monty’s new squad. Though it’s probably a ten win roster minus Chris Paul, you never know what they might be capable of if he’s firing on all cylinders.
Still, I don’t see this ending well. The problem is not so much with the lack of quality on this team, but that the rest of the West seems to just get stronger and stronger. It’s not enough any more to merely stand still or add in a nice piece here or there. To truly compete, New Orleans needs another major horse. Without one, I think their ceiling is probably in fighting for a 7th or 8th seed, and even to do that they’ll need the maximum effort and the energizing scrappiness that so lifted the team three years ago. David West wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence and ‘scrappiness’ at media day either when he said the team needed to focus on being a top ten team in the West before anything else. Distractions won’t be far from the surface. If they struggle early and minds start drifting towards what happens next, what will happen with Chris in this summer or next season, what his leaving means for the rest of them, it could be a very long season for the Hornets.
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.