Tag:Sean Marks
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: 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.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 5:13 pm
 

2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets Midseason Report

Not a whole lot was expected from the Hornets at the beginning of the season.  Fans, onlookers and critics alike took a glance at the roster and saw a good, not great, team that should make the postseason but probably won't do much damage when they get there.  So think of my panic when the team started off getting blown out in almost every game at the beginning of the season.  They had no bench play.  Julian Wright was a flop as a starter.  Tyson Chandler's presence looked missed more and more as each day went on.  The Hornets, only nine games into the season, went into full panic mode and everything seemed lost.  At 3-6, and following a blowout loss on national television to the Phoenix Suns, the Hornets fired Byron Scott and inexplicably hired back Tim Floyd, this time as an assistant coach, and promoted Jeff Bower to the head coaching position.  The Hornets financial problems were well documented in the offseason and even moreso after that firing, so rumors of Chris Paul heading everywhere from Houston to San Antonio came out and the team looked doom for the next few years at least.  But then, the Hornets started winning.  Never blowing anybody out, the Hornets would run off stretches of successive victories by small margins, always finding ways to win basketball games but never really showing any sort of dominance in victory.  However, very slowly, the Hornets have worked their way back into the eighth seed in the playoffs and are ready to make a second half push.  Furthermore, coach and general manager Jeff Bower has improved the team by giving lots of minutes to the bench and has also done wonders in the front office, finding a way to put the Hornets under the luxury tax and allow them to coast into the offseason where they can finally move Peja Stojakovic's and Morris Petereson's then expiring contracts. 

Right now, Hornets fans have to be pleased with how the team is playing but they dug themselves quite a hole at the beginning of the year.  So it's hard to evaluate the season, so far, as a whole.  I want to give the first half of the first half an F and the second half of hte first half somewhere around a high B.  So we'll now evaluate player by player the New Orleans Hornets team as a whole.

PG: # 3 Chris Paul (37 Games, 20.5 PPG, 11.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 86.0 FT Pctg., 41.1 3PT FG Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) - Still holding down the spot as best point guard in the entire league, Chris Paul shook off some early ankle injuries to really play some great ball since his return from injury.  He's developed his jump shot to the point where it's almost automatic if left uncontested, and his fadeaway has become almost unguardable.  Add to the fact that he's shooting a terrific percentage from three point range and Paul's offensive aresenal has greatly improved.  Now more than in recent years, Paul is being looked to to take big shots down the stretch.  When the game's in a tight spot, Paul not only has the ball in his hands to create, Bower's given him the green light to take the shot.  He's really overcome a slow start to pick up his game and, if not for some injuries, a better team record and some early season frustrations, Paul would probably be at an A plus right now.  But instead, we'll leave it where it should be.  Grade: A

# 2 Darren Collison (39 Games, 6.7 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.8 RPG, 87.3 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 41.9 FG Pctg.) - When Collison was taken in the first round, a lot of fans criticized the move as it wasn't (obviously with Paul on the team) a glaring need for the roster.  I, for one, really wanted the Hornets to nab DeJuan Blair but liked the Collison move and have been thoroughly impressed with Collison's play so far this season.  When Chris Paul went down to injury and things looked bleak in New Orleans, the rookie Collison calmly stepped in and led the Hornets to a 4-4 record without Paul and the team was able to stay above water.  Even though Byron Scott was reluctant to play either Collison or Thornton (or any rookie for that matter), after Bower took over Collison's minutes went up significantly.  Now with the trade that sent Devin Brown to the Bulls, Collison will probably be asked to do even more in the second half of the season.  But so far, he's done well in his role as the team's backup point guard.  Grade: B

SG:
# 5 Marcus Thornton (39 Games, 9.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 75.8 FT Pctg., 36.2 3PT FG Pctg., 43.5 FG Pctg.) - Similar to Collison, Thornton didn't see many minutes at the beginning of the season with Scott running the show.  Even though he impressed in the summer league and preseason, the LSU product was a 2nd round rookie and was not expected to do very much.  Instead, Thornton has played so well off the bench that he's started the last two games (and scored 19 and 18 points respectively) after the Hornets traded Devin Brown, and looks like he'll maintain that position for the rest of the season.  Showing off a better three point shot than originally believed, Thornton has stepped into the Hornets lineup and contributed immediately; a fresh face in the same familiar core that's been in New Orleans the past three or four seasons.  I'd like to see his all around game improve as time goes on but he's still a rookie and, as a 2nd Rounder, has exceeded all expectations already.  Grade: A

# 24 Morris Peterson (10 Games, 4.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 100 FT Pctg., 23.5 3PT FG Pctg., 29.6 FG Pctg.) - My how far Peterson has fallen.  Two years ago, he started 76 games for the Hornets as they set a franchise record for wins in a season, won the first division championship in franchise history and went to the conference semifinals.  Now, even after last season's debacle, Peterson was given the starting shooting guard position with this season's team and was given a fresh start.  Instead, Peterson was yanked by the sixth game of the season and wasn't even dressing for the Hornets as the team went with Devin Brown at the starting shooting guard position.  Peterson, to his credit, hasn't sulked or complained about the lack of playing time, but he really can't because when he's been in there he's been awful.  It's a shame to see how quickly he's fallen, especially because when the team brought him I thought he'd really flourish with the Hornets.  Instead, he's largely dissapointed.  But now with Brown off of the roster, Peterson will start to get playing time again and hopefully he does something with it, or else the Hornets thin back court will come back to hurt them.  Grade: F

SF:
# 16 Peja Stojakovic (43 Games, 11.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 89.1 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Even moreso than last season, Stojakovic's game has really declined.  The Hornets tried to use him as instant offense off the bench at the start of the season but that experiment didn't work.  Even though he's played well this season, he's even worse than he was last year (a year in which his game sharply declined) and he's getting older, it seems, every game I watch him.  To his credit, he's got bad knees and a bad back and for a 6'10" swingman those are kryptonite.  He's shooting around the percentage he was shooting last season and he's still good for a couple three point makes a game.  However, he doesn't explode at all like he used to.  He used to be good for at least 10-15 great games a year; he really, aside from a game at Boston, hasn't gone off at all this year.  But he's been steady and I like him so I'll round his grade up a letter.  Grade: C

# 41 James Posey (45 Games, 5.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 85.7 FT Pctg., 34.0 3PT FG Pctg., 37.7 FG Pctg.) - Even though his numbers and shooting percentage are down across the board, Posey has been important for the Hornets this season.  He's hit a couple game winners this season, is usually in the game during crunch time and still brings those intangibles and toughness that help the Hornets win so many close basketball games.  His presence is necessary to this team and I think that's why you don't hear him and his bad contract so often in trade rumors.  He hasn't missed a game this year (although he hurt himself in last night's game at Golden State) and has hit some clutch shots, so even though his numbers are down I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: C

# 32 Julian Wright (34 Games, 3.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 73.3 FT Pctg., 47.1 FG Pctg.) - Oh what was supposed to be.  After showing some flashes as a rookie during that great 2008 year for the Hornets, a lot was expected of Julian Wright moving forward as a franchise.  He's largely dissapointed.  After falling off big time last season, the Hornets were going to force the issue and start the season with Julian Wright getting the starting minutes at the small forward position.  He flopped in that role and by game 7 the team had inserted Peja back into the starting lineup.  After that, Wright didn't even get into the game in most cases and looked to sulk on the bench.  Lord knows what's been done to his confidence level, and unfortunately he may suffer the same fate as Hilton Armstrong did (just a lot of talent that, for whatever reason, never materialized) and may never reach his full potential.  Bower's given him minutes as of late and I really like him so I want to see him crack the rotation again.  But he didn't impress at all when he was given his chances and has to work hard to prove to Bower he deserves more minutes.  Grade: D-

PF:
# 30 David West (44 Games, 17.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 86.4 FT Pctg., 48.8 FG Pctg.) - West's numbers are down across the board at the moment but he's really come on as of late for the Hornets.  A lot is always asked of he and Paul on this team and for the last two years he really delived.  But this season, West's slow start really was replicated in the team's slow start.  He's so crucial in taking pressure off of Paul and creating some offense inside that if he's not doing anything the team will really struggle to opperate as a whole.  He's been solid lately, though, and the team has begun winning as a reuslt.  Hopefully he can keep it up and return to the form that made him a two time NBA All Star.  Grade: C+

# 9 Darius Songaila (45 Games, 7.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 52.2 FG Pctg.) - Songaila has been the most stable and consistent player off the Hornets bench the entire season.  Take that as you want as the team's bench has largely underproduced, but the fact of the matter remains that Songaila has been the one staple the team has looked to off the bench and that's good, because he's all they have off the bench in the frontcourt.  Given that Songaila is really being asked to do more than I think he's capable of, I've been 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 wouldn't be in the mix for the postseason as they are right now.  Grade: B

# 1 Ike Diogu (Has Not Played Due To Injury) - 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 couldn't care one way or the other if he returns or not next season.  Grade: Incomplete

C:
# 50 Emeka Okafor (45 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 60.0 FT Pctg., 52.9 FG Pctg.) - After the Hornets traded the ultra popular (among teammates and fans) Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for Okafor, the move was met with optimism again by Hornets fans.  Okafor was looked at as a better all around player with a shorter contract (for this season, the season the Hornets were going to struggle financiallly) and it looked like a win/win.  While Okafor has put up solid numbers and has produced this season for the Hornets, he hasn't really blown anybody away on either side of the court.  He puts up a lot of quiet numbers and sort of dissapears down the stretch.  However, he's been important to the Hornets, playing in every game and bringing a stability to the center position that a lot of teams across the league would love to have.  He could still be moved before the trade deadline, and I don't think Hornets fans would feel strongly one way or the other about seeing him go.  Grade: B-

# 4 Sean Marks (9 Games, .7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 50.0 FT Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Sean Marks has a soft spot among Hornets fans.  We like him, sure, but didn't like it when we 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 won'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.  Grade: A

# 34 Aaron Gray (Has Not Played Yet With the Hornets) - Gray was brought in from Chicago in the Devin Brown trade and may or may not be asked to do a lot in New Orleans.  Because of the short term memories of all fans, we all remember Marks when he got into the game and therefore anyone will suffice at the moment.  Gray's a big, untalented body who won't be asked to do much but could maybe give Okafor rest for 5-10 minutes a game.  However, if he starts making me wish that Marks was on the floor instead, I'll ask for his head on a stick.  Grade: Incomplete

And I haven't forgotten about all of the other players who put on that very illustrious and exclusive Hornets jersey this season.

G # 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 is kind of tough to swallow, but the 100 thousand dollar difference in contracts is just enough to get the Hornets under the luxury tax.  So it had to be made.  I'll miss his stability on the team and wish him well in Chicago.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: B

G # 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 injury, but now that Paul is back and getting a lot of minutes, he really had no place on the team.  After being traded to the Clippers, he's now their back up point guard and I, again, wish him the best of luck.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

F/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'll be given minutes in Sacramento and I hope to see him succeed, as he said his confidence was just shot here with the Hornets.  However, he has no one to blame but himself for never working out here with the team.  Even with all that said, I'd rather have 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, again, why this move had to be made.  Wish you could have worked out, Hilton!  Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

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 player 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 won, they would win close but 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, has responded well to Bower and are playing competitive basketball as a result.  They're not winning every game, but they're giving 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 (22-14) - Who would have thought that the pudgy general manager who was criticized and blamed for Scott's firing would be the one who got this team back on track?  His very first game as interim coach, Chris Paul went down to injury and it was immediately time to press the panic button.  However, Bower put a rookie who was ten games into his professional career at the point guard position and the team went .500 until Paul came back.  Even when the team started to play better, I never got excited about them like I have the past couple of weeks, really feeling like this team can win basketball games and make a run in the postseason.  I still would like to see a different coach be brought in but I'd love to see Bower be retained as general manager and I wouldn't even mind Tim Floyd remaining as an assistant.  I just don't want him to be the head coach.  But Bower's done a great job at the helm since he was given that spot, and so his Grade for time as the Hornets coach: A

Overall:
The team has really played to their level this season.  When they started slow, a lot of people criticized that they were underachieving and were huge dissapointments, but those same people picked them to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff seedings and I told everyone to be patient, that's probably where they would end up.  It looks more and more like they'll finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs if they continue to play as they have, but in the wild Western Conference a bad stretch of games is liable to knock the Hornets back out and have them struggling to get back in.  But I'd rather have them control their own destiny.  With the injuries, individual underachievement and with the team's financial problems and changing a head coach during the season, you'd probably expect them to be a lot worse than 25-20.  Instead, there they are above .500 and in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.  This still isn't a great year by any means, but this team has responded well to all adversity that's come their way and they've shown a great deal of resilience and heart to win as many close games as they have.  They're still not where they can be and there's always room for improvement, but I couldn't expect much more than what I've gotten from them this year.  Grade: B
Posted on: September 24, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2009 2:20 pm
 

Outlook For The 2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets

When I did this preview last season, I mentioned that the Hornets entered the season with serious championship aspirations.  Never before had I been so excited for a season to come as I was for last year's Hornets squad.  In the first game of the season, Peja Stojakovic injured his back and a trend was started.  Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, David West, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic missed a combined 22 games when the Hornets shocked the league by winning the Southwest Division and making it to the Conference Semifinals.  Last year, those five starters missed a combined 107 games.  The Hornets lost Jannero Pargo from that 2008 season but added James Posey.  The loss of Pargo proved to be substantial as the Hornets simply had no backcourt depth at all.  Posey also struggled with injuries last season and suffered an unfortunate elbow injury late in the season.  Quite frankly, injuries ruined any chances the Hornets had of improving on 2008's success.  The Hornets also lost a ton of money last season and their financial woes became a story in the league.  Reports about the Hornets being too expensive for the city of New Orleans were released.  At the deadline, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for perennial bench players Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.  The trade was rescinded due to Chandler's toe injury, and the Hornets responded with a nice stretch of success when Chandler was moved back to the team.  But Chandler's injuries resurfaced and the rescinded trade only brought to light how bad the Hornets were in terms of financial standing. 

In 2008, George Shinn invested a lot into that squad.  He got an emberassing return as the Hornets were humiliated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets and entered an offseason of uncertainty.  But then one of the most unheralded general managers in the game, Jeff Bower, put the wheels into motion and eventually turned out a solid offseason.  Gone from last season are key contributors Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler and Antonio Daniels.  Arriving are Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.  Given his strict limitations, Bower made talent upgrades and cost effective decisions at the same time and was able to field a competitive team for this season without killing Shinn's checkbook.  He and Byron Scott still don't have the most talented team in the league, but they're solid at every position and have a nice mix of young, core players and contributing veterans on the squad.

 PG: #3 Chris Paul (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Returning this season, hopefully fully healthy, is the unquestioned leader of this squad in point guard Chris Paul.  Paul's 2009 season was quietly one of the best in the league.  He again led the league in assists and also led the league in steals and triple doubles.  Paul, however, simply became a victim of having to do everything for this squad all of last season.  By the end of the season, he was ailed by knee and groin injuries and his performance in the postseason against Chauncey Billups really had him looking inferior.  But Paul is still the best point guard in this league and is still the guy who the Hornets have attached the hitch to.  He enters this season with a rapidly improving jump shot and three point shot and is almost unguardable when on his game.  Paul still may become a victim of having to do too much this season as well, but he shouldn't be called on to do everything for the squad. 

#2 Darren Collison (35 Games, 14.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 39.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.9 FG Pctg.)* - Collison enters this season as the Hornets first draft pick in two years.  Collison manned down the point guard position for the UCLA Bruins for four seasons and went to three Final Fours with the Bruins.  Collison is an ideal fit to backup Chris Paul and may become the Jannero Pargo hybrid guard that was missed last season.  Collison is tenacious on defense, can hit the three point shot and is incredibly fast.  His lack of size may have been a factor in why he dropped as late as he did in the draft, but Collison was a great find for the Hornets at 21.  At the time, the pick was criticized because of the team's lack of frontcourt depth.  But it has since grown on Hornets fans and Collison is a big reason for optimism around the fanbase and organization.  He may be bullied a bit because of his size and also will have the mandatory rookie learning curve, but he's learning from one of the best in the league and should fit in nicely backing up CP3.

 SG: #9 Morris Peterson (43 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 63.2 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - With the departure of Rasual Butler, it looks as if Byron Scott will have no other option than to turn to Peterson to start once again this season.  That's not really a bad thing; Peterson did start on the Southwest Division Champion team in 2008.  But Peterson, even that season, hasn't truly delivered on that four year contract that the Hornets gave him to come and start at the shooting guard position.  Injuries and inconsistency forced Scott to push Peterson down to the end of the bench and he hardly played any factor in the stretch run for New Orleans.  Given his contract and his previous production as a starter, it looks as if Peterson will regain the job he lost last year.  But with rookie Marcus Thornton breathing down his neck, there won't be that much room for error for Peterson. 

#23 Devin Brown (63 Games, 5.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 78.0 FT Pctg., 28.9 3PT FG Pctg., 35.5 FG Pctg.) - Brown exercised his player option and is now set to return for  his third year in the last four with the Hornets.  Brown never really got into a rhythym last year and Byron Scott never seemed to trust him as he did during the Hornets last season in Oklahoma City.  Brown is versatile and can really play either the 1, 2 or 3 spot on the floor for the Hornets.  He improved his three point shot last season but seemed to shoot it too much.  But with the thin frontcourt depth for the Hornets, Brown will really be looked upon to contribute at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.  Given that it's a contract year as well, Brown will really have to impress to guarantee a job for the following season.

#5 Marcus Thornton (35 Games, 21.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 74.5 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - Thornton is the Hornets second round draft pick and is a local product coming out of LSU.  The Hornets spent a 2nd round pick on another LSU product a few years back, Brandon Bass, and simply let him go to become a more productive player for a rival squad.  The Hornets seem to really love Thornton's ability and he's an extremely talented player.  He can score from all areas of the floor and is adept at attacking the basket.  However, there's not much to his game that separates him from your typical shooting guard and that's why he fell as late as he did in the draft.  With the short depth at the shooting guard position, Thornton will see minutes that Byron Scott normally wouldn't give to such a raw rookie.  That can either make or break him and it's crucial that he stay dedicated to his trade.  Thornton can be a really good player for the Hornets or just another forgotten player in a couple of seasons.

# Bobby Brown (68 Games, 5.3 PPG, 79.1 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 39.2 FG Pctg.) - Brown was acquired in the Darius Songaila trade and also spent some time with the Hornets summer camp team back in 2008.  Brown had an OK season last year splitting time with Sacramento and Memphis.  He can score the basketball but may not be able to do much else for the Hornets.  Even though frontcourt depth is thin, it doesn't make much sense to carry four shooting guards and therefore I'm uncertain whether or not Brown will make the final squad.

 SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (61 Games, 13.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 89.4 FT Pctg., 37.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - Coming off an impressive 2008 season, Stojakovic came into the season last year with more than a few expectations.  He bombed miserably last year with injuries and an inconsistent shot really hurting the team.  Also, given the fact that Scott is insistent on man to man defense, Stojakovic routinely got pushed around by the bigger, better wing men of the league.  As a result, a lot of people jumped to bash the same guy they cheered for a year earlier, but that's sports for you.  Stojakovic had an offseason to rest following his back injury last season, but this is a repeated problem for Stojakovic.  You start to wonder at his age and height, whether or not a back injury will ever fully heal.  He'll be the starter by default again, but I'm not certain he can regain his 2008 form and whether or not he can stay healthy again this season.

#41 James Posey (75 Games, 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 82.2 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 41.2 FG Pctg.) - Posey's acquisition last season was met with much fanfare.  Given that he was a player with championship pedigree, a tough, clutch and gritty player of his caliber was supposed to help turn the inexperienced Hornets into a team with a swagger.  That never did happen last season and it really wasn't because of any kind of complacency from Posey.  He really tried last year but I think too much was expected from a player of his caliber because of the 24 million dollar pricetag that he came in with.  Posey will again be the primary backup this season off of the bench for the Hornets and should come in motivated to silence critics of his performance last season.

#32 Julian Wright (54 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 56.7 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) - Julian Wright had an extremely promising 2008 season and a lot was expected of last season.  But with the acquisition of Posey, Wright seemed to be the odd man out at the small forward position and, as a result, really dissapointed last season (which seems to be a recurring theme for the team and its players).  Wright showed some promise late in the season when Stojakovic got hurt and he started at the small forward position.  But his jump shot faltered last season and he found himself in and out of the rotation.  Unless Stojakovic gets hurt, Wright may have trouble cracking the lineup again but he has to show more when given game time anyways.  If his jumpshot improves enough, there's a possibility he could play at shooting guard given the lack of depth.  But Wright's increased minutes will have to come with dedication and improvement.  No matter what Hornets fans say, Byron Scott should not give this guy anything.  Wright should earn all of his time.

 PF: #30 David West (76 Games, 21.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 88.4 FT Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - David West showed that his 2008 season was not a fluke last year, as he and Chris Paul really made the Hornets a two man squad late last season.  He again wore down at the end of the year and really dissapointed against Kenyon Martin in the postseason.  But West is still the second option here in New Orleans and is a welcome face for fans.  In the offseason, some people felt that the only way the Hornets could get rid of either Peja or Tyson Chandler's contract would be if they packaged the relatively cheap West with them.  But Bower found a way to move Chandler without moving West and West remains the power forward for the Hornets.  West's jump shot went from being an asset to a crutch last season and his FG Pctg. suffered as a result.  However, it was revealed that West never fully recovered from the back injury that hindered him in 2008.  So that will obviously deter you from mixing it up down in the paint.  With the acquisition of Okafor, West may be not be asked to go down to the paint so much, but his game could become too soft if he does nothing but shoot jumpers.  So the Hornets need more muscle and grit from West this year.

# Darius Songaila (77 Games, 7.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 88.9 FT Pctg., 53.2 FG Pctg.) - Picked up in a trade with the Timberwolves for Antonio Daniels, Songaila is kind of expensive for a player of his talents but is still a solid bench player for the Hornets.  His size, grit, and effort has made him a fan favorite everywhere he's been and I expect much of the same here in New Orleans.  He immediately becomes the team's primary backup in the frontcourt and can really help speed the game up when he's on the floor.  Songaila isn't going to blow you away much on a game to game basis, but he rarely dissapoints either.  You know what you're going to get from him, and consistency is something that would be valued coming off the bench in New Orleans.

#1 Ike Diogu (29 Games, 4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 80.4 FT Pctg., 50.1 FG Pctg.) - Coming on the heels of the Okafor trade, Diogu was quietly signed to shore up the frontcourt by New Orleans.  Diogu has always been an interesting prospect.  He can really score the basketball and showed that in college.  As a lottery pick by the Warriors, Diogu was considered a good acquisition by the Pacers but dissapointed in Indiana.  He sat on the bench last year for the Trail Blazers and Kings last year, but right at the end of the year finished with back to back games scoring 32 and 28 points respectively.  The Hornets picked him up and this is another chance to prove himself for Diogu.  If he can score, he'll see a huge increase in minutes because nobody on the Hornets bench can really light up the scoreboard.  So if Diogu shows that kind of capability, we'll see what happens.  If not, we'll hardly see him at all.

 C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 13.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Here is the Hornets biggest acquisition this offseason.  Okafor steps in immediately and starts for the departed Tyson Chandler.  Given that he started in all 82 games last season and is every bit of, if not better, the defender that Tyson Chandler is, this is a great move for the Hornets.  A healthy player at the center position will be a welcome change of pace for New Orleans.  Okafor is a good athlete for his position but his love for the game was questioned in Charlotte.  Player with Chris Paul should help all of that for Okafor and should also do wonders for his points production.  The defense, blocked shots and rebounding will be welcomed in New Orleans.  He still may be undersized at the center position, but he's penciled in there for New Orleans for this year most definitely.

# 12 Hilton Armstrong (70 Games, 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 63.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Armstrong, a former lottery pick for the Hornets, has largely dissapointed in his three seasons with the organization.  But now is the time for Armstrong to step up and prove that he's a capable center for the Hornets.  He's shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity and last season was the biggest mixed bag of all.  As a result of his mediocritiy, Armstrong routinely lost minutes and his spot in the rotation.  But he's the more talented of the two backups at center and will be given another chance to prove his worth.  Armstrong can be one of the best backup big men in this league if he showed any kind of effort or dedication but too often dissapears on the court.  An aggressive side and dedication can be taught, but there's no guarantee it will stick with Armstrong.

#4 Sean Marks (60 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 68.2 FT Pctg., 48.5 FG Pctg.) - The polar opposite of Armstrong, Marks was brought onto the squad last season as a good locker room guy to shore up the roster and show off his championship ring.  But with injuries and Scott's reluctance to play Arstrong and Melvin Ely, Marks found himself as a regular in Scott's rotation.  His hustle, effort and hard nosed play were welcome on the court but Marks simply isn't talented enough to be taken seriously as a backup big man in this league.  But, because of his cheap price tag and because of the good impression he made with the team last year, he finds himself back in the locker room this season.  Hopefully, we don't see too much of Marks, because that will mean that Armstrong has finally lived up to his potential. 

Coach: Byron Scott - Scott's job came into question last year after the 58 point home loss in game four of the first round against the Nuggets.  But Scott, the 2008 NBA Coach of the Year, returns to New Orleans and I'm happy about that.  He's been to two NBA Finals and lead a really impressive turnaround in New Orleans in his first four seasons, but really made questionable moves last year.  Hornets fans were impatient with his reluctance to give minutes to Julian Wright and his insistence of putting Sean Marks on the floor for substantial minutes.  But people need to understand that Scott played with the hand he was dealt last year.  If you look at last year's squad, production, and the amount of injuries that the Hornets suffered, a 47 win season and a postseason apperance were not dissapointments in New Orleans.  A lot was expected, but you can hardly blame Scott for last season's dissapointment.  But he's on shaky ground now so if the Hornets struggle again, critics may start chirping again.  Scott's confidence can come across as being stubborn and arrogant, but he's a proven player and coach and shouldn't be blamed for last season's dissapointment.  But we all know this is a business and that coaches get fired all the time.  I just hope it doesn't happen here in New Orleans.

All things considered, the Hornets have a solid bunch heading into this season.  With one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul leading the way, the Hornets are almost guaranteed to make the postseason.  A southwest division championship wouldn't be farfetched, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy may be.  The Hornets have a talented squad but really don't have the depth to make a true run at a title.  Too many people will be looked at to "step it up" and not enough will be asked to "keep it up".  There's a lot of unproven talent on the bench and the Hornets need to find a way to make those guys into stars if they want to win a championship.  But this team will not fall victim to the mediocre and complacent ways of last season.  This is a bunch designed to play hard and dedicate themselves to victory every game.  That's a great attitude to have going forward, but they still need more talent.

Prediction: 49-33

* Denotes college statistics
Posted on: July 8, 2009 1:02 am
 

Hard Times For The Hornets

Life as a Hornets fan is very cyclical.  Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues gave everyone hope before contract disputs between Johnson and Mourning forced the two to refuse to co exist and lead to both of them being shipped off to the Heat and Knicks, respectively.  Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, David Wesley and company came within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in game seven of that series.  They proceeded to slowly let injuries cripple the team before they were destined for medicority until the God awful 2004-2005 rebuilding season.

Last year's Hornets were supposed to give us fans new hope once again.  At this time last season, the acquisition of James Posey looked exactly like what the Hornets needed to push them over the top.  After all, they had one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul, one of the most underrated players in the league in David West and they now had a player that brought defense and championship intangibles to help this young squad learn how to win.  But then the circle completed this season and dark days look to be ahead for the Hornets once again.

Contracts ruined the promising 1993 team and injuries to Davis and Mashburn slowly crippled, no pun intended, that promising 2001 team.  However, both of those cost the Hornets this season and look as if they will curse the team for the next few seasons.  Chris Paul is still one of the best players in the league.  David West, although no longer underrated, is still as viable a second option as you will find in this league.  But the Hornets spent big time to land Posey.  At the time, there's nothing wrong with that.  After all, crunching numbers in regards to salary isn't becoming of a possible championship team.  As much fault as George Shinn receives, he paid to make this team win this season.  However, things quickly fell apart once again for the Hornets.

At this time, most of us Hornets fans were given hope that we'd be celebrating a possible first championship in franchise history.  At worst, another postseason run looked to be in the cards.  However, things didn't go that way at all.  Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson, three of the five starters that pushed the Spurs to a 7th game in the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, all missed substantial time and Paul and West were therefore forced to play heavy minutes while nursing elbow, knee, back and groin injuries.  The end result was a dissapointing 49-33 season.  The end result was an embarassing performance in the 2009 postseason against the Denver Nuggets.  The end result was what looks to be one of the most dissapointing offseasons in Hornets history.

David West may have to be traded so that the team can unload either Chandler or Stojakovic's ridiculous salaries.  When you're a small market team, you usually tend to have to overspend on above average players so that they can come to your franchise.  It's payed off for the Magic with Rashard Lewis, for now, but it hasn't worked out that well for the Hornets with Stojakovic.  Two of his three seasons have been littered with back injuries and, although he had a really good 2008 season, he's nothing more than a spot shooter; an expensive and inconsistent spot shooter at that.  How they can convince anybody to take him off their hands I won't know.  Chandler is a player who has spent eight seasons in the league and has shown a knack for injuries in all of those seasons.  It's well publicized that the team wanted to trade him to the Oklahoma City Thunder only for the Thunder to rescind the trade due to Chandler's big toe problems.  However, it was his ankle that forced him to be a sad figure at the end of the season and in the playoffs.

Times are especially hard for the Hornets because the team is flat broke.  Although attendance this season was at an all time high since the team's relocation to New Orleans, ticket prices were among the lowest in the league and have to remain at that level in order for fans to show up.  Last season's attendance numbers were attrocious until the team caught fire around February.  Due to the inability to make any money off of the fans because of the city that they reside in, the Hornets are forced to make up for their payroll with victories and extended apperances in the postseason.  Needless to say, giving consistently big minutes to Sean Marks at the center position isn't going to set you up for success in the playoffs.

The Hornets have Chris Paul to build around, so this rebuilding process won't be as bad.  And they can still attract a Brandon Bass or a Joe Smith to come on board and may add Jannero Pargo back to the team (although I don't see why they need to do that since they drafted Collison).  But make no mistake about it, this is an uncertain time for Hornets fans.  One year ago, all the reason in the world for optimism.  Currently, nothing to get excited about.  It's funny how sports works.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

 Team By Team Previews
Western Conference:
1) Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

2) Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

3) San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

4) Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

5) Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

6) Dallas Mavericks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14440073

7) New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

8) Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

2) Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

3) Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

4) Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

5) Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

6) Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

7) Chicago Bulls - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14504657

8) Detroit Pistons - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14467742

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Mo Williams - It will be interesting to see how Williams, the Cavs' second option, responds to having that kind of pressure on him in the postseason.
Pistons Player to Watch: Kwame Brown - With the Cavaliers lack of size, Brown can continue his solid play down the stretch with solid defense on Zydrunas Ilgauskas if called upon. He can really help the Pistons if he elevates his play.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - The Heat's lack of a true center should speak for a good series for Al Horford. Also, the Hawks are nearly unstoppable when Horford averages over 15 points a game. So his play is critical for the advancement of Atlanta.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley is entering the postseason on a tear, and if he can continue to be that consistent second option for Miami then the Heat have the chance to pull off the upset.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Magic Player to Watch: Hedo Turkoglu - It will be intersting to see how he plays with this injured ankle. This team can really take off if he can somehow go back to the style of play and consistency he showed last season.
76ers Player to Watch: Samuel Dalembert - His defense on Dwight Howard will be critical for the 76ers chances to advance. However, he's had moments where he dissapears.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
Prediction: Celtics in seven.
Celtics Player to Watch: Rajon Rondo - Rondo's play in this series is going to be crucial for Boston. Without Garnett, the teams are very evenly matched and Rondo's defense on Derrick Rose will be key for the Celtics.
Bulls Player to Watch: Derrick Rose - The Rookie of the Year will have a lot of pressure playing point guard in his first postseason against the defending champions. He can really blow skeptics away or he can struggle against the insurmountable odds.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Lamar Odom - Odom always plays well against the Jazz, and coming off of the bench he can match up against Andrei Kirilenko and really take it to the Jazz. Without pressure Odom always seems to shine, and this is a perfect chance for the Lakers to develop a playoff rotation that includes Odom on the bench.
Jazz Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer - Boozer struggled mightily last season against the Lakers and without him scoring inside, the Jazz are simply a jump shooting team. That plays well into the Lakers' hands, so it's on Boozer to improve from last season's (and mainly this season's) performance.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Greg Oden - He's dissapointed all season long, but his defensive capabilities give the Blazers a lot of hope in their matchup with Yao Ming. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he can give the Blazers a good 20-25 minutes of solid defense on Yao and has the best size to matchup with the Rockets center.
Rockets Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry - Aaron Brooks is the better offensive player, but Lowry will most likely draw the assignment of guarding when he's in the game. His defense will be critical if he can slow down Roy for stretches and affect his confidence for the late game situations when Roy will be forced to take the shot for Portland.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Spurs Player to Watch: Roger Mason Jr. - With Manu Ginobili out, Mason's contributions will be critical. After an unbelievable first half to the season, he's been rather inconsistent as of late. If he can provide good minutes and consistently hit his jump shot, the Spurs will be in great shape.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Coming off of the bench, Barea has the speed to really give Tony Parker fits when the Mavs have the ball. If he can come in and play well alongside either Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, the Mavericks will really have a leg up in the matchup.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
Prediction: Hornets in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: J.R. Smith - Coming off of the bench, J.R. Smith gives the Nuggets a huge advantage with his ability to take games over with his shot making ability. However, he takes possesions off on defense and can also shoot the Nuggets out of games, so he has to one day his erratic play to be fully helpful to the Nuggets.
Hornets Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Coming off of an injury, Chandler should be monitored. If he doesn't play many minutes then that could prove to be a huge problem for the Hornets. However, the Hornets are infinitely better when Chandler plays and it will be crucial to see to it that he contributes as much as possible.
 


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Zydrunas Ilgauskas - There's no reason anywhere near his height in Atlanta, and he can really pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot. If he has a big series, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly advance.
Hawks Player to Watch: Ronald Murray - Murray is the best player on a shallow Atlanta bench, and he can really jumpstart Atlanta's role players and give the Hawks a ton of energy in spots where they least expect to receive it.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Celtics Player to Watch: Glen Davis - Assuming he'll be playing the power forward position without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, he can really get his shot off against the smaller Magic. His ability to knock down the 15 footer could really help open the floor up for Boston.
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - With the Celtics throwing out a bigger, slower lineup Lewis can really put the Magic over the top. He'll create the fantastic offensive mismatch for Orlando if he remains aggressive and looks to take it to the basket more than settling for his jump shot. Furthermore, he's long and quick enough to guard Davis and Powe if he stays out of foul trouble.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - Portland has very servicable big men, so Bynum's effort, play and intensity level should speak volumes on if the Lakers will advance or not. If he isn't as commanding as he can be, then the Lakers may have to go small with Odom and Gasol in the lineup instead.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge - Going up against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, Aldridge is talented enough to get his points against either of those defenders. If he takes to the basket more often and stays aggressive, then the Lakers will be hard pressed to find options to stop him. However, he has a tendency to fall in love with the jump shot and that could hurt the Blazers more than help them.

(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Prediction: Hornets in six.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Brandon Bass - Bass has always given the Hornets fits since signing as a free agent from New Orleans a few years ago. His strength, speed and ability to hit the mid range jump shot give the Hornets plenty of fits and he really can take over games if given significant minutes by Rick Carlisle.
Hornets Player to Watch: Peja Stojakovic - Peja's struggled mightily against more physical teams, but the Mavericks usually throw Josh Howard at Peja, and Peja generally gives the Mavericks problems. If he's able to run free and hit his jump shot, like he did last postseason, the Hornets will dispose of the Mavericks.


Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James - When times get thick, your best player is the one that can carry you out of tough situations. The Cavaliers will all feed off of the play of their MVP and if he plays well, the team will play well.
Magic Player to Watch: Courtney Lee - His defense on LeBron will be crucial, and if he can stay in front of and attempt to contain LeBron then the Magic can allow Howard to really take adavantage of Cleveland's lack of strength inside.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol - The Hornets have no option to defend Pau Gasol. He can basically get his shot off at will against David West or Tyson Chandler and can really take over the series and give the Lakers the easy victory.
Hornets Player to Watch: James Posey - Posey was brought to this team for critical spots like these, and he will be assigned the task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Posey will look to feed off of last season's finals to get into Kobe's head, and if he can stay in front of Kobe and keep him around a percentage near 40%, the Hornets will be in contention.


NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Prediction: Lakers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Daniel Gibson - Gibson can be the true catalyst for a Cavaliers bench that is deep in body's but shallow in terms of point production. If he can come in and hit the three point shot consistently, that should bring more to the table nightly than anybody the Lakers can throw off of the bench. He also can spell either guard in critical moments and has hit big shots in the postseason before, and should be comfortable taking them when called upon.
Lakers Player to Watch: Trevor Ariza - His athleticism and defensive prowress will really come into play here against the Cavaliers. He's quite possibly the best option to defense LeBron as he is strong enough to where LeBron can't entirely muscle Ariza and Ariza's quick enough to stay in front of him as well. If he makes the open jump shot as well, that makes things all the better for the Lakers.

Posted on: April 8, 2009 3:16 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: New Orleans Hornets

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team, after some heroics last night, clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season: the New Orleans Hornets.

Strengths
When you speak of the Hornets, the first thing that comes to mind (and rightfully so) is starting point guard Chris Paul.  Paul has been the motor for the Hornets the past two seasons, and as a result of his performance they're in the playoffs for the second straight season.  Paul has always been the quintessential point guard, making the right play for a teammate in the right position and ensuring involvement from all in the offense.  Coach Byron Scott, a coach who has been to the NBA finals before, knows to let Paul control the offense, and Paul does so very effeciently.  This year, Paul has improved on both his jump shot and also on the defensive end of the court.  Along with Paul's emergence as a defender, and also the acquisition of good team defenders with championship experience in James Posey, Antonio Daniels and Devin Brown has been the Hornets emergence as a defensive force in the NBA.

This year, the Hornets have elevated their status as a defensive team, and are in the top five in the league in terms of points allowed.  Byron Scott knows what it takes to win a championship, having won three as a player with the Lakers.  The Hornets have been criticized for slowing the game down a lot this year, and some say playing away from their strengths, but when games slow down in the playoffs this year the Hornets will be adept at playing that style and won't look as desperate as they did last year when the games slowed down and got more physical.  One thing that's most important to the half court offense is effecient jump shooters and the Hornets have plenty of those in fellow All Star David West and capable three point shooters in Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and Paul.  Also, because of their style of play, the Hornets have shown that they can win anywhere in the NBA, boasting a 21-17 road record.

Weaknesses
Because the Hornets go as Paul goes, it's no secret that the Hornets have an uncanny overreliance on Chris Paul when they're on the floor.  In moments where Paul goes to the bench, the offense looks stagnant, predictable and boring and it shows in the Hornets 2nd quarter point totals.  David West is capable of masking Paul's absence on the court, but his back injury has limited his effectiveness in the paint this year and he seems to have fallen in love with the jump shot that was merely a weapon last year.  West's infatuation with the 20 foot jump shot is the prime example of a Hornets squad that simply cannot score in the paint.  They have players that can finish around the basket, but aside from West and the rarely used Melvin Ely, Sean Marks, Hilton Armstrong, and Ryan Bowen aren't going to become focuses of the defense with their back to the basket game.

One of the biggest reasons why the Hornets struggle so much in the paint is because of the absence of Tyson Chandler for the majority of this season.  The Hornets record when Chandler plays is strikingly better than that with him out of the lineup, but unfortunately his injury looks like it will prevent him from playing in the postseason, or playing effectively in the playoffs, this season.  A big reason for the Hornets surge last year was health, and this year has been the complete opposite.  Paul's nursing an injured groin, West is nursing an injured back, Chandler an ankle, Stojakovic a back, and Peterson has barely played this year with a bad leg.  Last season's starters have missed a total of 101 games this season, as opposed to 22 being missed between the five last season.  Posey's recent elbow troubles have also highlighted a huge problem for the Hornets, a serious lack of depth.  None of the second unit players are very reliable scoring the basketball aside from Posey, and he's not necessarily in the game to score.  They have great defensive depth, but they don't have anyone who can score off of the bench.

Why They Will Win It
The Hornets go as far as Chris Paul brings them, and he's one of the most consistent and effecient players in the game.  He and David West have been incredibly reliable this year and really have carried this squad to where it is.  The ressurection of Rasual Butler this year gives the Hornets a shooting guard that can play huge minutes and who is a more reliable option offensive and defensively than Morris Peterson was last season.  Also, this is a team that has experience from last season's squad, and also the addition of players like Posey, Daniels, Brown, Marks and Ely who have all previously won championships as well.  In addition to having a coach who has succeeded as both a player and at his current position, the Hornets are a disciplined, dedicated squad and they give themselves a chance to win every game. 

Why They Won't Win It
As reliable as Paul and West are, there isn't a third player on this team that is reliable at all.  To win a championship, you need at least a handful of players that are playing great basketball in order to carry you through four rounds of the postseason.  Injuries may have prevented the Hornets from developing any kind of groove and probably is the biggest reason why the squad has no consistent third option, seeing as how Peja was that player last year.  A lack of depth and a lack of frontcourt players can't be masked in the postseason and the Hornets have to work extra hard to make up for that. 

Conclusion
The Hornets are a team that's built for the postseason.  If Chandler does come back, they have a squad that plays great defense, is effecient shooting the basketball and has one of the best players in the game in Chris Paul and a player who never shies away from the big shots in David West.  However, a lack of depth and consistency has plagued the Hornets all season long, and there's not enough time to get everyone back and develop any kind of chemistry this season.  Injuries really hurt this team, and it's arguable that Scott and Paul have done a better job this year than they did last season.  However, it isn't conceivable that the Hornets can win a championship this year at less than full strength.  They're a team that can win a few playoff series, but just like last year, they're going to wear down and a lack of options is going to do this team in.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:00 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 8 Review

Right now it's good to be a Hornets fan. Chris Paul is setting all time records, the team has won 11 of its last 13 games, and they have a tough stretch coming up that us Hornets fans are as excited about as any games since the beginning of the season. The Hornets had two good games at Memphis and at home against Sacramento (avenging an earlier loss to the Kings this season in New Orleans) and the week was highlighted with a humongous 4th quarter against the, then, red hot San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. It was a week that left a lot to be excited about in the Big Easy and also reason for optimism after a frustratingly inconsistent start for the team.

The week began at Memphis with the Hornets overcoming a testy and confrontational Grizzlies squad to set up the big showdown Wednesday night at home against the Spurs. The sting of a seventh game loss still affects me to this day and in no way does this loss erase that unsettling conclusion that your team's run at a championship is officially on ice. But seeing Matt Bonner and Michael Finley miss all those open shots and watching David West nail two different three point daggers sure did make me happy for one night.

But even though West played the role of a hero of sorts in Wednesday's game, his play needs to come into question. Last season, West became so consistently deadly from mid range that he's relied too much on that shot this year. Some games I'll see him roaming around the top of the key instead of doing his job as the only inside scoring presence that the Hornets have. That mid range jump shot should be an asset not a reliance. He leads the team in scoring and his play is so critical to the organization that the Hornets simply can't rely on him shooting 40% for the week. He needs to be more effecient for this team to reach that ultimate goal of a championship.

Morris Peterson came back in a big way Saturday night against the Kings. His 10 points were all critical baskets and I still believe his play is going to be critical for this team down the stretch. I'd like to see him play his way back into the rotation. I love what Devin Brown brings to the team, but with Peja Stojakovic out I'd much rather have Rasual Butler and Peterson starting and have Devin Brown play off of the bench. Speaking of Peja's injury, how on Earth did that happen? He went from hitting a crucial three point dagger against Memphis to surprisingly missing the game against San Antonio and then missing the game against the Kings as well. His injury was extremely surprising and for a majority of that Spurs game his presence was definitely missed. Even if he struggles at the three point line, you know he's a threat and people were playing off of Devin Brown on the perimeter. The Hornets need Peja in order to succeed.

What's happened to Melvin Ely? Is Sean Marks really that better of an option than Ely is? Marks has never contributed consistently on a team and he looks lost out there at times. Ely is every bit as effecient offensively as Marks is and I don't see the point of having Marks getting the big minutes. He even logged more minutes than Hilton Armstrong the game against the Kings. I'm not one to question Byron Scott, but I just don't get it.

The Hornets have an extremely tough week on the brink, with games at home against the Lakers, at the Magic on Christmas Day and against the Rockets at home on Friday night. That three game in four day stretch will end on Sunday at Indiana against a Pacers team that has shown it can beat the top teams in the league. It's a challenging upcoming week for the Hornets, but it's a week that should be fun to watch. Until next week.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com