Three questions for the upcoming season

Published: August 19, 2009

Will Okafor make the Hornets any better?

Back in February, Jeff Bower tried and failed to trade Tyson for a pair of expiring contracts (Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox). That trade got rescinded, Tyson was labeled as damaged goods, and there was no way the Hornets would be able to get good deal for him this summer.

Luckily, Jeff Bower didn’t get that memo. Emeka Okafor is now a Hornet, and the general consensus is that New Orleans didn’t take a step backwards with the move.

But did we take a step forward? I’m not convinced that Chandler-for-Okafor makes the team any better. It makes it different, sure, but better? The jury will take some time to decide that one.

Offensively, we should be fine. We won’t be treated to the same emphatic alley-oops that Tyson was able to finish, but two points is two points and Okafor is efficient from short range. We’ll also be able to feed him in the post and not see something resembling a three-legged deer on ice when he tries to unleash a move. The real mystery is on the defensive end. Okafor is a superior shot-blocker and rebounder, but he won’t be able to defend the pick and roll quite like Tyson, and I fear David West will often be shown up without a quick-footed big to help eliminate his mistakes.

Underdogs or bust?

Kevin Arnovitz posted a great piece on TrueHoop yesterday, listing the Hornets as one of three teams who could make serious noise this season if they stay healthy and get rolling. The last piece from that article:

One summer ago, the Hornets were being sized up as contenders after a spirited playoff run. This summer, much of the discussion surrounding the team has included the phrase “luxury tax threshold.” While general manager Jeff Bower was attending to the spreadsheet, it’s possible he constructed a team poised to surprise next season.

That’s nice, but the sentiment goes against popular opinion that the Hornets are just another nice team out West who won’t scare the big boys come Spring. The following from’s latest power rankings (Hornets 11th) is part of that chorus:

Does swapping Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor make the Hornets a better team? Not necessarily. And trading Rasual Butler for nothing certainly doesn’t. When the Hornets won 56 games two years ago, who knew their window of opportunity would close so quickly?

I’m liking the Hornets as underdogs. Last season wouldn’t have been all that crushing if some folks hadn’t predicted us to reach the Finals. The 2007-08 campaign started with low expectations and a shrug from the sports fans of New Orleans, and that turned out to be the ride of our basketball lives. Will this season follow that pattern, or are we really on a downward spiral?

Who gets minutes on the wing?

Rasual Butler’s departure leaves us with lots of questions. Will Morris Peterson claim back that starting spot and ball like he’s two years younger? Will Julian Wright be given enough minutes to figure out this pro basketball lark? Will Peja Stojakovic keep his starting spot, or could he better serve the team as a flamethrower off the bench? Will James Posey’s bacon-and-champagne diet catch up with him? How about the rookie Marcus Thornton? Where does he fit in?

Byron Scott certainly has some work to do figuring all that out. He has often faced criticism for favoring underwhelming veterans (what up, Devin!), rather than letting younger guys play through their mistakes and develop some consistency. He’ll have to be cool with mixing, matching and enduring some failed experiments on the wing this season if the Hornets are to succeed.

What’s your take on the above? Are there other questions you’re more concerned about? Let us know in the comments.

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