« You will be missed Jeff.
Patience is a Virtue for the New Orleans Hornets
With all the free agent signings going on around the league, Hornets fans feel a little left out. Considering the team went 37-45 last year and Chris Paul wants to win right away, the team needs to make big moves right away, right? Wrong.
People seem to be forgetting that the Hornets are going to be a pretty damn good team this year without doing much of anything this summer. Don’t forget, after Byron Scott was fired the Hornets went 18-10 in the 28 games in which Chris Paul was healthy.
Let’s briefly look what the problems were last year and what can be done to remedy them. Some of the problems just went away by themselves.
- Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison were stuck on the bench for much of the season. Given that the two of the team’s top five players weren’t seeing much time in favor of Devin Brown, one can assume that they actually would have been even better had the rookies been given more time to shine early in the seaseon. It wasn’t until March that Thornton surpassed 30 minutes per game despite his excellent season. That won’t be the case this year and for good reason.
- Emeka Okafor missed training camp and the entire preseason with an injury, and was obviously not in sync with the rest of the team on both ends of the floor for much of the year. He wound up having the worst season of his career in terms of production and was limited by Bower to under 29 minutes a game despite the clear lack of a capable backup center for most of the year. This year he’s healthy and will participate fully in both training camp and the preseason. Undeniably he will be more prepared and consequently his production will increase.
- For what seemed like months the team functioned without a backup point guard because of their proximity to the luxury tax line. Collison and Thornton gave it their all as the teams only real guards, but they were overwhelmed and the team struggled as a result. If Chris Paul is healthy that won’t be the case next year. Despite Luther Head failing his physical, the team is one easy move away from solidifying their back court. The answer is quite simple really, and it’s no coincidence (fine maybe it is) that he has come to be known as The Phoenix. Rasual Butler is still sitting on the open market and with each passing day it appears that his expected salary becomes smaller and smaller. Two and a half million might just get it done, but even if they have to give him a one year deal worth three million it would be worth it to get back a fan favorite who can obviously handle duties as the 4th guard.
- Jeff Bower, a guy with no NBA coaching experience, was directing the team. Not only that, but he was thrust into that job on the fly after Byron couldn’t get the squad to play hard. Bower did a solid job, but there is very little doubt that Monty Williams will have the team more prepared, especially on defense.
- The team was without a capable backup center until Aaron Gray came aboard. As we all know, Aaron Gray is a Monster. I kid, but he really did perform fine in limited minutes last year (Insert JCS joke here). He’s in the process of being re-signed and should (my opinion) prove to be an adequate backup for Emeka. It wouldn’t hurt to grab another 7 footer for the minimum out of summer league, but I haven’t been too impressed with the quality of them so far. There’s normally a reason when a true 7 footer can’t find a job and it isn’t that they can’t find shoes for him.
- Ike Diogu, who was supposed to be a high reward kind of guy, was injured before the season began and never saw a minute. No word on whether or not he will be back, but the team drafted Craig Brackins. Kevin Arnovitz thinks he’s could be pretty good in the future and let’s be real- The team only need ten minutes out of he and Songaila anyway since DWest is still the same reliable PF that he always is.
- There wasn’t a capable backup SF. Mo-P wasn’t getting it done, Julian was awful and Posey is really just a backup PF at this point in his career. This year though the Hornets have Julian Wright who could see big improvements now that Monty Williams is the coach, and Quincy Pondexter who has looked good so far in summer league. I wrote about him on the ESPN’s Daily Dime:
“The first-round pick continues to impress on the defensive end. He’s active off the ball and has shown the capability to stay in front of his man, something the Hornets desperately needed last season on the perimeter.
Under the tutelage of new coach Monty Williams, the Hornets are expecting an immediate contribution from Pondexter. Offensively, he’s a quality finisher and capable of cutting to the hole or hitting a pull-up jumper at an NBA level. Before too long, he should be in contention with Julian Wright to receive substantial minutes in relief of the aging Peja Stojakovic.
- Oh, and this guy named Chris Paul was hurt for 37 games. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He’s pretty good and he should be healthy this year.
So all that went wrong and the team still won 37 games in a tough Western Conference.
Here’s the depth chart heading into next season with Rasual Butler.
PG- Paul, Collison
SG- Thornton, Butler
SF- Peja, Pondexter/Wright
PF- West, Songaila, Posey, Brackins
C- Okafor, Gray, Songaila
Is that a title winning lineup? Of course not, but it’s still good enough to be in the middle of the playoff chase race until mid season when good players tend to be available for the low price of expiring contracts which the Hornets clearly have plenty of. If you compare this team to the 07-08 Hornets you might find that they are actually better, especially if Okafor can bring the fire.
Peja (15), West (8), Songaila (5), Butler (3), and Julian (3) add up to 34 million in expiring contracts. Since you can take back 125% of total salary, even if you are over the cap, the Hornets could potentially take back 42.5 million dollars in contracts. That’s more than enough to get back 2 max contract guys. Even if you exclude David West’s deal the team can take back 32.5 million, enough for quite a bit of talent.
So you see, there is no need to spend money right now just because the Hornets can. There will be players available later in the season and by then they will have a much better idea of what the team needs in order to improve. At the moment we just don’t know how good the Hornets are going to be and who on the team will fit with Monty’s schemes.
People are screaming for Brewer, but the Hornets already have three guards. If Paul and Thornton play 35 each (as they should), that only leaves 26 total minutes left for Collison and Brewer. PLUS it will take a multi year deal to get Brewer, so the team will leave itself with even even less flexibility for the all important summer of 2011. The last thing they want to do is to be hamstrung by a role player.
I realize I’m just rambling now so let me wrap this up. I don’t want to see any multi year deals done by the Hornets just to potentially appease CP3 or the fan base. Remember James Posey?
Edit- Luther Head’s agent is disputing the failed physical