After another dominating performance in the ever so pointless preseason I find myself eagerly anticipating the regular season for the New Orleans Hornets. It's been a tumultuous time cheering for this team and for the first time since the Alonzo Mourning years the Hornets enter a season with serious championship aspirations. Granted, they won't sneak up on anybody this season, but this team looks talented enough to make a serious run at a championship. The Hornets game 7 fall to the San Antonio Spurs in last year's western confrence semifinals left a bad taste in many people's mouths, but hopefully the taste of defeat will only make this team hungrier for success. The addition of James Posey brings the championship experience that the team did not previously have and also gives the Hornets a clutch three point option whenever Peja Stojakovic may falter in the postseason. There's not much left to be said about Chris Paul and David West as they are already all stars, and this is as prime a year as any for Tyson Chandler to achieve that same accolade. But here is the outlook and current roster for the New Orleans Hornets.
PG: #3 Chris Paul (2007/2008 Stats in 80 games: 21.1 PPG, 11.6 APG, 4.0 RPG, 2.7 SPG while shooting 85.1 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 48.8 FG Pctg.)
Last year's runner up for the MVP award comes into this season as an early favorite to win that same award. Last year was a surprise for some but it wasn't necessarily a coming out party for Chris Paul. He has now put out three years of consistent, spectacular point guard play and last year developed a three point shot to compliment his speed and driving abilities. He continued the same play in the postseason by winning battles with future hall of famer Jason Kidd and former Finals MVP Tony Parker. He enters this season as a star and with the eyes of the NBA watching him.
#5 Mike James: (2007/2008 Stats in 21 games with the Hornets: 2.7 PPG shooting 100 FT Pctg., 30.4 3PT FG Pctg., 34.4 FG Pctg.)
It seems eons ago that Mike James averaged 20 points a game with the Toronto Raptors and received a contract for that season from the Minnesota Timberwolves. After being shipped from Minnesota to Houston, Mike James found a place he hadn't yet suited up for and was traded (along with G/F Bonzi Wells) to New Orleans at the trade deadline in a deal involving guard Bobby Jackson. Mike James did very little after arriving to New Orleans after sitting behind both Chris Paul and Jannero Pargo on the depth chart. After Pargo's departure for the money in Russia, Mike James will be thrust into the backup point guard position and will be counted on to provide good shooting, championship experience, and steady play when Chris Paul needs a breather. If possible, it'd be great if he could find his jump shot and even though he likely will put up similar numbers to that of Jannero Pargo's, it's doubtful he will play the same role that Pargo played and he will not be able to fill Jannero Pargo's shoes. Thankfully, the Hornets don't need him to.
SG: #9 Morris Peterson (2007/2008 stats in 76 games: 8.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG while shooting 76.5 FT Pctg., 39.4 3PT FG Pctg., 41.7 FG Pctg.)
After being a highly regarded pick up last offseason for the Hornets, Morris Peterson inexplicably turned in the worst season of his professional career. In the 2004 offseason, the Hornets signed Peterson to an offer sheet that was matched by the Toronto Raptors but three years later the Hornets finally acquired Morris Peterson via free agency but the output didn't match the desire that was shown to acquire him. Peterson was extremely solid from the three point line and he was still asked to guard the opposing team's best wing player, but Peterson rarely finished games (with Jannero Pargo finishing games at shooting guard) and would go periods of play where you would barely notice he was still on the team. He should retain the starting shooting guard position but will most likely continue to finish games on the bench, as it's likely that Peja will finish games at the 2 spot with James Posey coming into the closer role.
#23 Devin Brown (2007/2008 stats in 78 games with the Cavaliers: 7.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.2 APG while shooting 75.4 FT Pctg., 30.8 3PT FG Pctg., 40.9 FG Pctg.)
Devin Brown returns to the Hornets organization after spending a majority of the 2006/2007 season with the (then) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. After being brough in following a Chris Paul injury, Devin Brown played a majority of starts at the point guard position and may be asked to do some of the same this season if Mike James fatlers. He brings more championship experience from the 2005 season with the San Antonio Spurs and will be a valuable player off of the bench.
#45 Rasual Butler (2007/2008 stats in 51 games: 4.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG while shooting 83.9 FT Pctg., 33.1 3PT FG Pctg., 35.0 FG Pctg.)
After receiving a contract extension in the 2007 offseason, Rasual Butler delivered a horrible season, falling completely out of the rotation and not playing a game with the Hornets after March. The three point shooting specialist has fallen into Byron Scott's doghouse and if not for his contract probably would not make the final roster. He's deadly when on, though, and if he plays his way out of the doghouse could be good as an occasinal breather for either Peterson or Brown. Butler could also play some small forward but the team is solid there.
SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (2007/2008 stats in 77 games: 16.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG while shooting 92.9 FT Pctg., 44.1 3PT FG Pctg., 44.0 FG Pctg.)
Peja Stojakovic was a hearalded free agent pickup back in the 2006 offseason, hoping to give the Hornets a spectacular three point shooter who could close games in clutch situations and bring experience to one of the youngest teams in the NBA. He gave them 13 games. After recovering from those back pains Stojakovic turned in an extremely solid season last year, even still if not living up to the contract he was given. He posted career highs in three point shooting accuracy and played in 77 games last season. He dissapeared, badly, in the final five games of the semifinals series with the San Antonio Spurs but the Hornets biggest free agent acquisition since Stojakovic was brought in to help with that.
#41 James Posey (2007/2008 stats in 74 games with the Celtics: 7.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 80.9 FT Pctg., 38.0 3PT FG Pctg., 41.8 FG Pctg.)
James Posey has won two NBA championships as a member of both the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics and played an intregal role in both championships. He is known as a defensive stopper with an uncanny ability to hit big shots and his leadership and skillset is invaluable to a team looking to bring on board anything that he can offer to them. Posey's addition will steal minutes from the promising Julian Wright, but it was a move that was made to put the Hornets in position to win this season. Time will tell if he will be able to live up to the four years, 24 million dollar deal that the Hornets gave him, but it looks like a brilliant move thus far.
#32 Julian Wright (2007/2008 Stats in 57 games: 3.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG while shooting 63.5 FT Pctg., 41.7 3PT FG Pctg., 53.3 FG Pctg.)
After being a surprise addition in the draft last season, Julian Wright delivered an extremely strong second half of the season and played admirably in the playoffs, developing a three point shot that many critics said would keep him from becoming a good NBA player. His athleticism, speed, and leaping ability make him a perfect fit for the Hornets up tempo style, but Wright will see his development halted by the addition of James Posey, unless his shot has improved enough for him to receive time at the shooting guard position.
PF: #30 David West (2007/2008 stats in 76 games: 20.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 BPG while shooting 85.0 FT Pctg., 48.2 FG Pctg.)
David West continued his amazing improvement by turning in an all star season last year highlighted by a brilliant game five performance in the semifinals against the Spurs which West turned out an amazing statline of 38 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a crucial game. West slipped down to the Hornets in the stocked 2003 draft thanks to questions about which position he would be able to adjust tot. What people overlooked is the man's ability to just play the game. He has the potential to become the Hornets first 20/10 player since Alonzo Mourning (as far as points and rebounds are concerned) and looks to be a staple at the PF position for years to come.
#33 Melvin Ely (2007/2008 stats in 52 games: 3.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG while shooting 55.2 FT Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.)
Melvin Ely was brought in to give the Hornets a low post offensive option and a championship ring that he won with the 2007 San Antonio Spurs. He delivered what was expected and not much more. Melvin Ely mainly coasted last season before seeing important minutes against the Spurs in the confrence semifinals. He picked up his player option to stay this season with the Hornets, and he will be insurance in case Hilton Armstrong doesn't progress the way the Hornets believe that he will.
#40 Ryan Bowen (2007/2008 stats in 53 games: 2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG while shooting 55.2 FT Pctg., 49.0 FG Pctg.)
Ryan Bowen's role is something that's overlooked on many teams, but which championship squad doesn't boast that "dirty work/do it all" hustle player off of the bench? Ryan Bowen probably doesn't have a talented bone in his body, but he's still been able to maintain a lengthy, solid career. This is due, entirely, to his work ethic, dedication and willingness to do whatever's necessary to benefit whichever team he's on. The Hornets resigned him instead of Chris Andersen for frontcourt depth mainly because of his locker room presence and his commitment to hustling. Every team needs this kind of positive influence in the locker room.
#4 Sean Marks (2007/2008 stats in 19 games with the Suns: 3.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG while shooting 63.2 FT Pctg., 53.5 FG Pctg.)
Sean Marks joins Devin Brown and Melvin Ely as Hornets who have won championship rings with the Spurs. He probably will not see much playing time but is a big man who can knock down a jump shot and provide minutes in garbage time. He's nothing more than a clubhouse guy and you can't expect more than 20 games from him. You'll see a lot of DNP-CD next to his name this season.
C: #6 Tyson Chandler (2007/2008 stats in 79 games: 11.8 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 59.3 FT Pctg., 62.3 FG Pctg.)
The Chicago Bulls looked like idiots trading Elton Brand for the draft right to an 18 year old Tyson Chandler back in 2001. Aside from a solid 2004/2005 season Tyson Chandler's career and role never materalized in Chicago, and after five seasons the promising center was shipped to the Hornets for the troubled J.R. Smith and aging P.J. Brown. The deal could not have worked out better for the Hornets. Tyson Chandler has lived up to that high draft pick in his two seasons with the Hornets, progressing to the point where he is now one of the best centers in the league. He runs the floor extremely well for a 7 footer and as a result is the finishing option on the best alley oop tandem in the league along with Chris Paul. As a result of that alley oop, Chandler shot 62.3 percent from the field and averaged double figure points for the first time in his career. His blocks dipped a little bit, but he's still a rebounding machine and if he consistently stays out of foul trouble he'll be in prime position to make the 2009 NBA All Star game.
#12 Hilton Armstrong (2007/2008 stats in 65 games: 2.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG while shooting 62.9 FT Pctg., 45.3 FG Pctg.)
Hilton Armstrong hasn't yet become the player that the Hornets envisioned he would when they selected him 12th overall back in the 2006 NBA draft. His wingspan and amazing athletic abililty for someone of his size made him a coveted pick, and he and 15th overall selection Cedric Simmons were supposed to be fontcourt staples for the Hornets for years to come. The Hornets were so sold on Armstrong's game that they let a then overweight and underacheiving Brandon Bass leave for Dallas in free agency. But Cedric Simmons never worked out, now struggling to find playing time with Chicago, and Armstrong is facing the defining year of his career. The Hornets have high hopes for Armstrong and he is a favorite of the organization, this is proven by the fact that they brought in no front court help in case he doesn't pan out. They believe this is the year he will leave up to the potential he has shown and that he posseses. If he ever becomes confident or graceful out on the court, he could be the mini Tyson Chandler the team needs off the bench. If not, it could severely hurt the Hornets championship hopes and he most likely will not be employed by the team next season. This is it for Armstrong and I hope he pulls through.
Coach: Byron Scott (career record with the Hornets: 151-177 with 7-5 playoff record)
Byron Scott finally won a much deserved coach of the year award. He was probably slighted out of the award in the 2001/2002 season because he coached a team that had Jason Kidd on it. Last year, he was criticized for coaching a team with Chris Paul on it. But let's face facts: Jason Kidd has never made it past the confrence semifinals without Byron Scott. Byron Scott took perennial loser New Jersey and brought the Nets to two NBA Finals. He walked into an awful situation in the rebuilding 2004/2005 season with the Hornets (a season that saw Lee Nailon and Dan Dickau as leading scorers) before grabbing control of the team in 2005 and then leading them. He's always got this team to play hard, to play tough defense and to play an amazing organized style of basketball play. Chris Paul's success should be largely attributed to Byron Scott's coaching, as probably nobody is as adept at coaching a point guard than Byron Scott is. Just look at what he got out of Dan Dickau. He's one of the top five coaches in the league, and honestly in my unbiased opinion, I would only put Greg Popovich and Phil Jackson ahead of him.
Final Analysis: The Hornets enter this season on a high note and with high expectations. They are an extremely talented assortment of athleticism, three point shooting, team work, chemistry and hard nosed coaching. Byron Scott will have his best shot at returning to the finals and winning his first championship this season but it's not as clear cut as some would think. If you look at the statistics I posted, I think the one that stands out the most is the fact that all five of the Hornets started played at least 76 games. Last year the Hornets had everything clicking: momentum, health, play. They drove past the Mavericks and gave the Spurs more of a fight than they probably should have before falling at home in that tough game 7 loss. The addition of James Posey brings talent to a seemingly talent deprived bench, but the loss of Jannero Pargo nearly offsets all of that. Jannero Pargo is not going to win MVP awards or scoring titles but he was essential and vital to last year's team. You may be able to replace production in this league, but you can't replace presence. The thin front court also leaves no room for error for David West or Tyson Chandler. The Hornets are still waiting on Hilton Armstrong while, even though Melvin Ely, Ryan Bowen and Sean Marks try, they just don't have game changing backups in the front court position. They have bodies though and after last season this team now has experience. All that's left is replicating last year's play while dealing with the new expectations of a contending team. The Hornets should be in the thick of things near the end of the season and will finish between the 50-56 win mark for this season. A second division championship in franchise history is more than a possibility (even with the Rockets and Spurs looming) and an NBA Championship is more than a possibility. But things need to fall in place this season. After all, luck plays a huge role in winning championships.