2007/08 New Orleans Hornets Season Preview

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Published: October 9, 2007

(Note: This whole thing is part of the legendary and fantastic NBA blog previews. Check out other team previews all this month at CelticsBlog's new NBA section.)

Team Name: New Orleans Hornets
Last Years Record: 39-43
Key Losses: Desmond Mason, Devin Brown, Marc Jackson.
Key Additions: Morris Peterson, Julian Wright, Melvin Ely.

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

The biggest move for the Hornets didn't involve the draft, trades or free agency. No sir, the biggest offseason move for this franchise was the 600-mile trip South-East. After two seasons in which they played the vast majority of their home games in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina ripped apart their real home on the Gulf Coast, the Hornets are finally returning to New Orleans. It will be no small task for the Hornets to succeed in Louisiana, a market they struggled to seduce even before the hurricane and the hard times hit. However, owner George Shinn and his people seem determined to make this work, and we've already seen some moves in the right direction, from new local minority ownership to the funky "Fleur de Bee" patch, to some nicely cut vids promoting the city and its people. All we need now is for Byron Scott to break out the beads on the sideline.

Still, no amount of good will and clever marketing campaigns will win over the sports fans of New Orleans quite like a kick-ass basketball team, and the Hornets may be just that. They let Desmond Mason walk back to Milwaukee in free agency, but managed to pick up Morris Peterson, who was nearly brought to the Bayou three years ago until the Raptors matched the Hornets' three-year, $15 million offer sheet. Mo-Pete is solid on the defensive end, and will be expected to fill Mason's role of guarding the Kobe Bryant's and Tracy McGrady's of the West. In terms of offense, Peterson may not be able to replicate Mason's 13.7ppg from last season, but he should prove a better fit in the Hornets attack, capable of slashing to the basket while also proving to be a much deeper threat than his predecessor.

The Hornets next biggest addition was Julian Wright, a 6-9 swingman drafted out of Kansas with the 13th pick. Coach Scott says Wright reminds him of Magic Johnson, but less-stoned folks see Wright as a kid who's good at lots and great at little, but has all the tools to develop into a star. In the here and now, he's expected to at least produce more than the Hornets' 2006 first round picks, Hilton Armstrong and the recently-traded Cedric Simmons, who were each good for about 3 points and 2 boards in a dozen minutes per game last season.

Another significant addition to the team is not really a new addition at all; Peja Stojakovic played just the first 13 games of the 2006-07 campaign before undergoing surgery to remove a disk fragment from his Serbian back. After a few months of trying on suits and rehabbing in Greece, Peja is reportedly close to 100% health and working out the kinks in training camp. It's uber-doubtful that he will ever get back to the type of MVP-consideration he earned with Sacramento in 2002-03, but the Hornets are hoping there's enough left in the 30-year old for a few more years of ridiculous shooting and 15+ppg.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths*?

The Hornets are pretty damn solid at each position*. Having a first five of Chris Paul, Peterson, Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler makes me want to hug strangers. In theory at least, they compliment each other perfectly*. Chandler provides the rebounding and intimidation inside; West rains jumpers from the top of the key and mixes it up on the low block; Peja stretches the defense and can score in bunches*; Mo-Pete does a little bit of everything while locking down opposing scorers; and Paul is the fiercely competitive floor general who would rack up assists in a 1-on-1 tournament.

Then we've got the reserves. This time last year, I figured the Hornets to be a deep team*. They've since added an intriguing rookie and there's a benchful of dudes who played starters minutes last season. Bobby Jackson*, Jannero Pargo and Rasual Butler in particular should provide plenty of spark off the pine, while young pivot Armstrong has reportedly been tearing it up early in training camp and is being looked upon to have a strong sophomore season as Chandler's primary back-up. Add free agent signee Melvin Ely to the mix and Byron's got himself a very nice rotation*.

As for as the Hornets' style of play, I'm thinking running and gunning will work well for them. The squad is built to run, so Chris Paul should have himself plenty of targets in transition. I'm counting eight guys who are capable of scoring in double figures when they get their shots up.

I'm hoping another strength of this team will be their homecourt. Everybody saw the lift the Saints got from their fans last season, and while there won't be a waiting list for Hornets tickets anytime soon, there might just be enough basketball fans in the Big Easy to keep the N.O. Arena rocking all season.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Just like I said a year ago, the Hornets biggest weakness remains their unnatural ability to get hurt. Last season's starters missed a combined 133 games due to injury, which smart people say is just two games shy of infinity. There were back problems, elbow inflammations, two cracked ribs, twisted ankles, broken cheekbones, brusied toes and no, wait, that was actually five cracked ribs Mr. Jackson, sorry about the misdiagnosis, here have some whiskey with your medication.

I'm not entirely optimistic about the team's health heading into this season either. In just one week of training camp, Bobby Jackson alone has had three ailments, while Peja's being kept out of the more intense drills to minimize soreness in his back. Methinks that unless they hire that big dude from The Green Mile as their new physician, the Hornets will go through yet another season like fat chicks on a tightrope. One bump and they're pretty fucked.

Aside from the injury woes, there's some other stuff that worries me about the Hornets this season. Playing in the Southwest division doesn't do them any favors. The Spurs, Mavs and Rockets live right across the street, and they're the worst neighbors ever. They, like, take stuff and, like, don't give it back. The Hornets did the same to the Grizzlies last season, but that might not be so easy this time around. (They don't suck anymore, right?) Also, I toss and turn at night wondering if the Hornets can maintain some consistency this season. I can't remember the last time this team put together a nice little win streak, lost a game, shook it off, then put together another nice little win streak. It seems like it's always either feast or famine. Maybe it's just because there's a bunch of young guys on the roster, maybe it's a lack of focus thing, I don't know. I'd just really like to see something like 16 wins in 20 games this season.

4. What are the goals for this team?

For the team, it's got to be the Playoffs. Here we are in Year 4 of Byron's grand rebuilding plan, and nothing else will do.

But that's the least I expect of this team. Really. with the talent they've got, they should be putting a scare in the San Antonios and Dallas' of this League and playing well into May. I'll stop short of proclaiming the Hornets a contender this season — although me secretly thinks they're gonna win the damn thing — but I do believe this bunch has the makings of a champion, and I expect to see a glimpse of the future real soon.

Other goals, in no particular order…

  • Not just to succeed, but to prosper in New Orleans. A deep Playoff run could make all the difference.
  • Chris Paul: All-Star. Could have happened last year if not for injury, but whatever. His first All-Star appearance would be especially appropriate with the events being held in New Orleans.
  • Peja Stojakovic: Don't get hurt. That's all I ask.
  • Tyson Chandler: Just keep on getting better. He averaged close to 13 points and 14 rebounds in the final two months last season. He should be pick up right where he left off.
  • Everyone: Have some pride in the team and the city. You have a chance to do something really special here. Don't mess that up.

5. True or False?

  • Peja Stojakovic is a very healthy basketball player and is oh-so unlikely to get injured again this season – False.
  • The Hornets will beat Dallas this season, ending their six billion game losing streak against the Mavs – True.
  • Byron Scott's head is shinier than GM Jeff Bower's – True.
  • Deron Williams bounces a basketball faster and more skillfully than Chris Paul – False.
  • David West will produce funky numbers for the third straight season yet still be largely overlooked by ESPN and other acronyms – True.
  • The Hornets should be on national TV more because I said so – True.
  • Sheep are bigger than ducks – True.

Predicted Record: 48-34

I think this team has the potential to surpass 50 wins, but I'll take into account the shit-happens factor and go with 48. Last season, that win total would have given you the sixth seed in the West and a first-round date with eventual champions San Antonio. Hmm, that could be tricky. I'm pretty sure I'll find me some magic mustard between now and April and I'll use my three magic mustard wishes for three wins in the first round because that seems like the best use of three magic mustard wishes. You're on your own after that, Hornets.

* when healthy

(Be sure to check out Ryan Schwan's Hornets season preview over at The New Orleans Hornets Fan.)

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