Testing the Mettle of a Fanbase
Last summer was “the summer of love” for Hornets fans everywhere. The Hornets had just completed their best season in franchise history, and most of us fans thought they were just one piece away from being a serious contender for an NBA Championship. In that summer of ’08, optimism abounded after the acquisition of 2-time NBA champ James Posey. Well, here we are, already headed into the ’09-’10 season. The ’08-’09 season left the Hornets fan base with a bad taste in their mouths, especially the way the Bees were embarrassed in the playoffs. Now the team, while definitely good enough to make the playoffs, is not a serious contender for a Championship like we all thought they would be. They probably will not contend in the West in this upcoming season or the next. I’ll also be the first to admit that we as fans were a little naive when it came to having a small taste of success. Now the Hornets are feeling the economic crunch, as well as building pressure to construct a contending team around a top-5 NBA talent entering his prime. Perhaps the biggest off-season stressor on the Hornets Organization is this. In these tough economic times, how is the New Orleans fan base going to react to a team that realistically has little chance of making even the Western Conference Finals, when they felt so close only a year ago?
Well first of all, let’s take a look at what the Hornets have decided to do (or not do) up to this point. One, they kept their coach, but didn’t extend him. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence. What’s the possibility of a coaching change mid-season if the Hornets falter in the beginning of the ’09 season? You need only look at last year. George Shinn says himself that this year is about player development just as much as it is about wins and losses. Well, having a lame duck coach in the last year of his contract isn’t exactly how you succeed at developing young players. Second, while they didn’t really have the money to go after real quality free agents, they also haven’t sold off the core of their team in a money-saving panic. I, for one, was very afraid of this very thing happening. If the Hornets had done this, I think that would have spelled doom for long-term fan support. It would also make Chris Paul already regret signing his extension. They did however make a trade, sending Tyson Chandler to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor, which I believe will pay dividends. Another thing the Hornets did was acquire the draft rights to Marcus Thornton. Like it or not, agree with it or not, the truth is nothing piques the casual New Orleans sports fan’s interest like drafting the best player off their favorite college team in the area (LSU). For those of you who do not live in/near the New Orleans area, that is just how things are down here. All Byron Scott has to do now is PLAY THE KID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Last season, the Hornets were the #7 seed in the playoffs, meaning that there were six teams that were better than them in the West, and I can agree with 5 out of 6. (I don’t consider Dallas to be a better team at this point) Here is the problem facing the Hornets for the next two seasons, 5 of those 6 teams that were better than the Hornets either stood pat or got better still. Houston is the lone team in that group that got worse. The Jazz were just under the Bugs in the standings, and have pretty much stayed with what they had last year. Now the Jazz and the Hornets both got bit by the injury bug last year, but the truth is a healthy Jazz team as constructed will beat a healthy Hornets team at least 8 times out of 10.
New Orleans sports fans are a superstitious bunch. Folks down here honestly believe that when LSU wins a football game on Saturday night, that momentum will flow into Sunday for a Saints victory. Logically speaking, that’s ridiculous, but that’s the way it is down here. Well maybe with the Saints being so good this season, some of that mojo will rub off on the Hornets after the football season is over.
In reality, I believe if the Hornets were to reach the 2nd round of the playoffs, this season will be a huge success. The first part of the season will be very tough, but hopefully we’ll see an on-court rapport and comfort level begin to develop with the guys on the team. Hopefully Bryon Scott can go against his tendencies and actually play young guys in games this season. It will be interesting to see how this year unfolds. It could be a coming out party for some of the newest Hornets, and it could also get ugly and go very south very fast.