The Season that Never Was…
The article read “Cornerback Tracy Porter is a player the New Orleans Saints are counting on this season”. It was a nice little upbeat article on a promising player who had his rookie season cut short by injury.
The first (and only at the time) comment on the article? “As long as he doesn’t take a leak in public we’ll be ok.”
Ahh, to be a sports fan in New Orleans!
We’re nothing if not a cynical bunch.
So why start an article about the Hornets by referencing some Saints news? In many ways, the Hornets have taken a similar (albeit shorter) path to the Saints of late.
If you look back a few short years ago, we had a magical season led by the arm of Pro-Bowl quarterback Drew Brees. The team made a strong run and came up just short of a championship game. That season would win coach of the year honors for their head coach Sean Payton. Ultimately a loss in Chicago would put an end to the magic, but the season left a lingering buzz. A buzz of hope, promise, and better things to come. A buzz that would ultimately be crushed under the weight of two mediocre seasons and no more playoff appearances.
This leads me to the Hornets. I can still remember the post Katrina season. We only had 3 “home” games, but CST kept us in the loop. There was this breakout rookie by the name of Chris Paul who crashed the scene and declared the Hornets his franchise. We followed that up with an injury plagued season, but there was hope on the horizon. The Hornets were set to return to New Orleans, for good (or so we thought).
There were many questions surrounding the Hornets return to New Orleans. Many thought the city, especially after the destruction of Katrina, could not support two professional franchises. Early on in the season, these fears appeared to be coming to life as the arena was half full on a good night. Then came what many viewed as the death blow. Attendance benchmarks that if missed, would give the Hornets the green light to exit the city. With OKC having hosted the Hornets and proved their readiness to host an NBA franchise, this was about as severe a threat as one could find.
I remember creating a spreadsheet and tracking reported attendance for the remainder of that season, constantly seeing the average attendance tick ever slowly in the positive direction. Something was happening. Then came the All-Star break.
Something happened in that All-Star weekend that blew the dust off the arena. Suddenly this was an NBA city. Attendance spiked, and fueled by that support the Hornets went on an amazing run, ending the season in 2nd place in the tough Western Conference and winning one of the hardest divisions in the Southwest.
A quick dismantling of the Mavericks was followed by an all out war with the multiple time champion Spurs. Ultimately, experience would win out, but much like that loss in Chicago a few years earlier, this ending to the story left the city with heads held high. Better things were on the way.
The Hornets were now being mentioned in the same category as the Spurs and Lakers. They were viewed as having surpassed the Suns and Mavericks. The coach was named Coach of the Year. This was a team on the rise and with a solid core a sure threat for many years to come.
My what a difference a year can make.
As I still try and get that sour taste the 58 point loss left out of my mouth, I find this past season to be quickly vanishing from memory. I can still get lost in all the great memories from that magical division winning season, but the 08-09 season is being faded by my New Orleans sports cynicism.
We had another amazing year of Chris Paul. I think we’re all so lucky to be able to watch almost every game he plays. He does spectacular on a regular basis, so much so that I think we get spoiled. Just when we think we’ve had our fill and it can’t get any better, Chris Paul almost gets a quadruple double. Then he does it again not long after.
As a city, we seem to have absorbed Chris Paul as our own. His constant drive I think helps mirror the never quit ideals that this city has had to push ever since Katrina. Would have been easy to leave, but we’re here and we’re still kicking.
Ultimately, injuries would doom this team. Even Chris Paul was not immune, although looking back I wonder how anyone could have gone as long as he did. Ripe off our amazing playoff run Chris Paul went on to the Olympics and brought home a gold medal. He then proceeded to jump right into the next NBA season, and ultimately finished that season having to play more minutes per game than we should ever have to ask of one player. You have to think exhaustion played some part in our ultimate demise. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he is human, and we can only ask for so much before a breaking point is reached.
The season was not a total loss, we did see the re-emergence of Rasual Butler. Hopefully his confidence level will stay high going into next season. We also had a number of thrilling finishes to games. Last second shots by Butler, West, and Paul specifically come to mind.
But then there was that loss, that one loss which seemed to crack the fragile psyche of a weathered New Orleans fan base. I’ve said time and again that sports fans here are the Charlie Brown of sports fans. No matter how many times you trick us and pull that football away, we keep getting up to take another try.
This Hornets season was no different. We kept saying we weren’t going to be tempted by the football, we were going to stop watching, the season was over, there was no hope. Yet the Hornets wouldn’t let us leave. They kept hanging on. Little by little clawing their way in and out of the post season and ultimately tripping over the finish line to a 7th place seed. That’s when we put it all on the line and took one last chance at kicking that football. All of our energy went into the kick and when we hit the ground it felt as though we had fallen from 58 feet.
Yes, the Hornets truly are a New Orleans franchise now. They will keep bringing you back for more, they will give you the most spectacular highs with last minute wins, or exciting victories over a team like the Lakers, and they will give you doubt inducing lows by losing to the worst team in the league.
Much like we do with the Saints for decades, we’ll always be there. Coming back for more, hoping that this season maybe, just maybe the highs will outweigh the lows, and who knows, maybe one of these times some championship gold will make it down south to wash away the years of heartache.
Perhaps a nice long off-season with plenty of rest for our Superstars will help bring back that energy we were lacking this season. A few creative trades could help strengthen our bench. We know something will happen.
Until then, I think I see Hugo getting in position to put the football back up. See you all next year when we take our next shot. We have to hit it one of these times, right?