The Hornets are undoubtedly in a full-blown rebuilding mode. They traded away All-Star point guard Chris Paul, endured an overwhelming number of injuries and were never really in playoff contention.
They patched their roster together with a variety of players signed to 10-day contracts just to get through the season. They finished with a 21-45 record, worst in the Western Conference, after an 84-77 defeat at Houston on Thursday.
Though they need help everywhere, the Hornets are especially in need of big men. Jarrett Jack and Eric Gordon (if they don't lose him as a restricted free agent) give them some pieces to work with in the backcourt, but the frontcourt is a mess.
Center Emeka Okafor missed the last 37 games with a sore knee, and it may well be time to move on from him. Center/forward Chris Kaman, who came along with Gordon from the Clippers in the Paul trade, was on the trading block at midseason and doesn't fit in with the youth movement.
Small forward Trevor Ariza was apparently in coach Monty Williams' doghouse at the end of the year as Williams stopped playing him and excused him from the season-ending road trip. Backup power forward Carl Landry also fell out of favor with Williams and will be an unrestricted free agent.
With two lottery picks -- their own first-round pick and that of the Timberwolves, which also came in the Paul trade -- the Hornets will have two promising newcomers to inject into the mix.
The roster the Hornets begin next season with will have numerous changes from the one they ended this disappointing season with. The Hornets were a playoff team a year ago.
"I told our guys: 'If you feel relieved right now, then you're not the kind of guys that I want to be around,'" Williams said after Thursday's finale. "I really enjoyed being in the playoffs last year. It's a little tough right now."
The key will be to upgrade the talent level with players who also have the hunger and determination that was demonstrated by the patchwork group this season.
"I hope our fans saw that our guys had no quit, played hard all season," Williams said. "I hope our fans understand how much we want to make them proud."
Even though the Hornets were at or near the bottom of the Western Conference throughout the season, they managed to play their best basketball at the end of the season. Having a healthy Eric Gordon for a handful of games helped, but they often played competitively even when he wasn't available. The Hornets won eight of their last 13 games and six of their last nine, including a season-best four-game winning streak, and never looked like a team that was just playing out the string. They won their last four home games.
This season turned in the wrong direction just a few days before it ever began. That's when All-Star point guard Chris Paul made it clear that he would opt out of his contract at the end of the season and look for work elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. That left general manager Dell Demps with no choice but to trade Paul and get something in return while he still could. After NBA commissioner David Stern nixed a trade to the Lakers, Demps worked one out with the Clippers that passed muster with Stern. The departure of Paul left the Hornets without a star and with very little offensive firepower. The season was essentially doomed as it began.
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