Lots of Random Thoughts as we Approach Training Camp
As training camp approaches (wow, already?) there have been a few things that cropped up recently I wanted to talk about.
David Aldridge reported on NBA.com that Rudy Fernandez rejected a trade from Portland to the Hornets. Now, there is a lot unsaid in that report that we can’t know about. I don’t know if it was New Orleans that he objected to, if it was an inability to get playing time guarantees that he objected to, If it was Monty Williams presence, or if is simply a continuation of his previously stated goal of returning to Spain. Any way you slice it though, it sucks. Fernandez and Thornton would have formed a potent offensive duo from the shooting guard position, turning a position that was once an open sore into a strength.
Now, Instead of being treated to a nice bit of depth at a position of need, Hornets fans again get to be smacked in the mouth with rejection. Let’s try not to become bitter and angry over it, though. Leave that to Utah. Zing!
A few days ago, there was an Ariza Already Paying Off article talking about how impressed Paul is with Ariza, and how that’s going to make everything all better. Poppycock.
Don’t mistake the mess that happened earlier this summer for Chris Paul’s public demeanor. That was a carefully orchestrated assault by Paul’s business team to try and force the Hornets to do something, inclusive of a Paul trade. And yes, we all know Paul wanted it to happen.
However, there is a reason we’d all grown to love Paul so much, and it’s not just his competitive fire and skill. Its hard not to appreciate Paul’s interviews. He never badmouths a teammate. He takes responsibility for failures. He’s always been very careful to give his teammates credit and use the word “us” when discussing the team accomplishments. Paul gets it. Is it 100% genuine? Who knows? Honestly – who cares?
Expect those sort of quotes from Paul. Appreciate them. But don’t think for a second they mean everything is all right.
((Oh and lets take a moment to mourn the death of our innocence. Our relationship with Paul as fans will never be the same. The sentence above – “we’d all grown to love Paul so much” – it is in the past tense. Paul’s team, even without his voice, did real damage this summer.))
Front Office Focus
One of my biggest gripes about the previous front office regime was its focus on trading for or signing veteran retreads to fill the last few spots on the bench. Man, I wanted Courtney Sims in camp. Happily, that has all changed this off-season as Dell Demps has focused on bringing in youth. I heartily approve.
Sure, players like Aaron Williams, Ryan Bowen, Marc Jackson, and Jason Hart (all minimum contract veterans brought in by Bower and Scott) may be known quantities, and therefore can be relied on to perform certain duties on the floor consistently. I understand that. The problem is, they were consistent – but they also sucked. The young guys that Demps has been bringing in to fight for the last few spots on the roster may not have proven anything, and may be mistake-prone, but at least they have the possibility of being better than consistently sucky. Could they be worse than that? Yes, of course, but they could also be serviceable – or in some cases – *gasp* – rotation-worthy!
Is that faint praise? Damn right. But these are end-of-the-bench guys. The Hornets aren’t trying to find starters or even impact players. They are trying to find that 9th guy in the rotation who can give the starters 8 minutes of rest or 20 minutes of relief per game in case of injury.
To me, it makes sense to gamble that one of Mustafa Shakur, Joe Alexander, DJ Strawberry, Darryl Watkins or Pops Mensah-Bonsu could prove to be useful. It definitely better than trying to find the next Devin Brown or Darius Songaila.
I also like that the Hornets are bringing in a mess of guys on non-guaranteed contracts and seem very likely to actually sign a couple of them. In the past, the extra players the Hornets brought into camp really had no chance – and they had to know it.
Bringing in those guys is good not just for competition for the last roster spots. It pushes the rookies too. Which do you think would make Brackins work harder – going against David West in scrimmages – or fighting off Pops Mensah-Bonsu and the athletic freak Joe Alexander? Which will make Thornton work harder on his game – trying to take Peja Stojakovic off the dribble – or trying to get past a defensive guard like DJ Strawberry who is fighting for his NBA life?
For the last five years, Hornet’s training camp has been tough because Byron Scott likes wind sprints and running. For once, I have a feeling it will be tough because a good portion of the players are fighting to land a job, not just because their coach loves conditioning drills.
Joe Alexander and Pops Mensah-Bonsu
The Hornets signed two more players this week to non-guaranteed deals, getting them into training camp to show their stuff, but not committing to any of them.
Joe Alexander was an athletic freak in college who overpowered his competition, but had few basketball skills. On the basis of his athletic potential, he went 8th in the draft, but washed out after two years in the league when he didn’t develop and had injuries. I like the Hornets bringing him in for a test drive. If he’s developed no discernable skills, then it really cost them nothing and they can cut him. If he has, then the team’s athleticism continues to improve.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu has also been in the league the last four years, though in general he’s played small minutes as a fifth big man. His rebound rate each season has been in the 18-20 range, which is better than any Hornet last season. Unfortunately, he also turns the ball over a lot and isn’t strong enough to defend NBA pivot-men. I think at best he’ll play the role of a Ryan Bowen or Jackson Vroman and give the Hornets five minutes of pure dunking and rebounding energy – and then go back to the bench. He also could be good for those times when Aaron Gray’s footspeed is too much of a detriment on the second unit.