Hornets 2010-2011 Roundtable Season Preview

Published: October 23, 2010

The Hornets 2009-2010 season is one that most fans want to forget, but luckily it looks like the organization will not only remember it, but they are determined to learn from it. The Hornets entered last season with a coach they had no faith in and a GM that seemed unclear on the direction that this team was heading. The result was a 37-45 finish, which was good for 11th place in the Western Conference.

This offseason, the Hornets were determined to establish a foundation on which they could build, and they have done that by bringing in Dell Demps as GM and Monty Williams as Head Coach. Both men have excellent pedigrees and believe in defense, intensity, and hard work which will be the identity of the Hornets moving forward.

On the court, big changes were made as well. Only six Hornets remain from last years squad and only Peja, CP3, and David West are holdovers from the Hornets team that made the playoffs just two years ago. Out is rookie standout Darren Collison, along with long time holdovers Morris Peterson, James Posey, and Julian Wright. Taking their place are Trevor Ariza, Marco Bellinelli, Jason Smith, Quincy Pondexter, and Willie Green.

Looming over everything are the worries that Chris Paul wants out of New Orleans. Despite Paul’s emphatic claims that he loves New Orleans and that his first choice is to finish his career here, the national media just won’t let it go. Plenty of questions hang over this team during this time of transition, and we try to answer all of them in this Hornets247 Roundtable Season Preview.

Best Offseason Move?

Joe Gerrity (JG): Keeping Chris Paul Can Paul lead Hornets back to the Playoffs?

In the NBA there are a handful of players who will make a 15 win team into a playoff contender all by themselves and Paul is one of those those guys. If recent trends among NBA players has told us anything, it’s that they think it takes multiple superstars to win a title. Thus, trading Paul would do nothing but take the team in the wrong direction.

When players like Paul do get dealt it’s never for anything of equal value and it always begins a massive rebuilding project, rarely ending in anything more than a return to the team’s pre-rebuilding level.

Michael McNamara (MM): Hiring Monty Williams and staff.

Hiring a first year coach who is the youngest in the NBA might not look like a great move on paper, but the culture change was long overdue for this team. After the Hornets gave up on Byron Scott in the 2009 playoffs, he was brought back for a lame duck year, only to be fired 6 games into the season. The Bower/Floyd combo took over and the Hornets plodded their way through the rest of the year with no real direction.

Enter Monty Williams and a well-rounded staff, made up of veteran coaches like Randy Ayers and bright minds like Mike Malone. Each member of the staff will bring something different to the table, and above all, they will hold the players accountable- continually challenging them, which is something we did not see a lot of from Bower or Scott.

Ryan Schwan (RS): Creating Flexibility

Quietly this off-season, the Hornets have cleared the decks of any really odious contracts.  As of right now, the Hornets have only 45 million guaranteed dollars on the books for next year, and if West opts out, they’ll be at $37 million.  That puts them in an ideal situation – they can decide Paul isn’t going to stay, dump Paul and Okafor forassets, and start over immediately from scratch, or if the season is a success, leverage their space into another impact player to make themselves a contender.

Worst offseason move?

MM: Trading the #11 pick in the 2010 draft

On draft day the Hornets shipped out Mo Pete and the 11th pick for picks 21 and26 from OKC. Financially the trade made a lot of sense, as the move allowed the Hornets to get under the luxury tax threshold. But since when do we as fans get happy about millionaires saving money? As a pure basketball move, this was a bad one. This was a move teams like Portland, LA, or Dallas wouldn’t have made because they are not limited by the luxury tax when building the best teamthey can build.

The Hornets ended up with Pondexter and Brackins (who has since been traded). Pondexter might prove to be a quality role player in the next few years, but it is likely that when we look back on this trade in a couple of years, we will see that the Hornets passed up on the opportunity to grab a very good player at 11, all because of theirlimitations as a small market franchise.

RS: The trade of Darren Collison for Trevor Ariza

Look, I won’t argue with the camp that Ariza will have a bigger impact on this team than Darren Collison would if he only averaged 16 minutes  a game behind Paul.  That’s true. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Hornets pulled off the trade equivalent of drafting for need rather than talent.  They handed out the more talented player to fill a need with a lesser overall talent.

This is the NBA, you can never know what will happen over the next year or two, injury-wise or personality-wise.  Moving Collison was a short-term move, not a long-term one, even if you take into account the fact he took Posey with him.

JG: Not pushing the sale through

This offseason was one of rebuilding for the New Orleans Hornets. With lots of new faces on the roster, a new front office, and a new coach, it was an opportunity for the franchise to completely reinvigorate a fan-base which had been rather lackadaisical for the previous few months. The icing on the cake was the seemingly inevitable sale of the team to billionaire Gary Chouest, a move fans were salivating at the thought of.

Over half a year later Hornets fans are still asking the same questions they were months ago. The buzz has died down, and people are growing concerned. They want to feel like they are part of the Hornets family, and the perpetual silence does nothing but dehumanize Shinn and Chouest. The buzz will get loud again, but it won’t be at full volume until fan concerns over ownership are addressed. Fortunately that looks like it will be sooner rather than later, possibly before the season begins.

Hornets Biggest Strength?

RS: Chris Paul

This remains an easy one.  Chris Paul gives the Hornets an advantage at the point guard position in any game.  Though Paul has stated he’s not totally in rhythm offensively and avoids questions about how his knee feels, he’s still shown in the pre-season he can break down a defense masterfully and generate shots for all the shooters around him.

MM: A Fresh Start

Last year the Hornets started off the season with a lame duck coach and what turned out to be a lame duck GM backed up by a frugal and seemingly incompetent owner. The team had no long term direction and was in desperate need of an identity. This offseason all that (almost there- come on Chouest!) changed.

Monty Williams and Dell Demps come from the Gregg Popovich/Pat Riley school of hard work, determination, and defense. They are going to install a culture here and get this team moving in that direction. The players might change, but Hornets basketball is going to be about something now, and that is exciting for everyone involved- players and fans.

JG: Chris Paul

The team will only go as far as he can take them. Fortunately, he’s one of the best in the league.

Biggest Weakness?

RS: Interior Defense

Last year, the Hornets allowed 28% of the opposing teams shots at the rim, which was the fifth worst in the league.  They then compounded the problem by allowing opposing teams to finish those shots 65% of the time, which was the third worst in the league.   While it can be blamed on the perimeter defenders not keeping people out of the lane, that ignores the fact that David West and Emeka Okafor struggled to lock down the paint together.  This off-season did nothing to address those defensive issues in the paint.

JG: Toughness

Take away David West, who is a bit undersized, and the Hornets roster doesn’t have anyone who can be considered a bruiser. This has been a problem for years, as evidenced by Utah’s longstanding dominance. Again, the problem wasn’t addressed this summer.

Emeka Okafor, Aaron Gray, Jason Smith (who are expected to see around 60 minutes a game) are hardly what you could consider bangers down low, and the addition of Marco Belinelli at shooting guard doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing players. Trevor Ariza is undeniably tougher than Peja, but the Hornets will again struggle against bigger, more athletic teams, and there isn’t much they can do about it with the current roster.

MM: Rebounding

The good news is that Monty Williams wants this team to get out and run. The bad news is that in order to do so, they will have to make stops and rebound the ball. As Ryan said, the Hornets interior defense is amongst the worst in the league and unfortunately their defensive rebounding isn’t much better. This weakness creates problems on both ends of the court because it forces the Hornets to play at a much slower pace. Without the ability to create easy points, more bad shots are taken which result in transition opportunities for the opposition, which results in better shots, and…. You get the point. It all starts here, on the glass, and if the Hornets can not control the glass, they will face an uphill battle in every game.

Who or what is this season’s biggest X Factor?

JG: The first 17 games

Right off the bat the Hornets are going to be fighting for their lives. A disastrous start to the season could spell the end of the Chris Paul era and see the team take a deliberate nosedive into rebuilding. No team in the league starts off with a more daunting schedule than the Hornets, who play only three games against teams which didn’t make the postseason last year. Two of those games are against a Clippers team which is expected to challenge for a playoff spot out West, and one is against an improved Kings team led by Tyreke Evans and Demarcus Cousins. If Monty doesn’t have this team ready, the season might be over by December first.

On the other hand, if the Hornets can come out of the gate hot, and finish November even close to .500, they will have a manageable schedule throughout the middle of the season, and would be a prime position to ride momentum like they did in 2007-2008. With this being Monty’s first year as a head coach, it’s hard to know what to expect out of the team, and how well they will cope with adversity should they lose a few early on.

RS: Marcus Thornton

Thornton has to be the Hornets biggest X-Factor.  No matter what has been said about him to this point – he was a volume scorer who was efficient due to excellent shot selection and very low turnover rates.  If he can gain Monty William’s trust and simply return to form from last year, he will greatly boost the Hornet’s offensive attack.

MM: Aaron Gray

Six points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes might not sound that impressive, but on February 26, 2010 Hornets fans were caught off-guard by Aaron Gray’s performance against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. The Hornets won that game and Hornets fans saw the potential Gray could have against the bigger centers Okafor seems to have so much trouble with.

If Aaron Gray can somehow be the player that we saw that night, or close to it, then the Hornets bench can be respectable this year. He fouls too much to stay on the court for more than 20 minutes a game, but if he can give quality minutes in the time that he is out there, it will go a long way.

One Bold Prediction

JG: Marco Belinelli wins NBA’s Most Improved Player

Marco might have been a disappointment in his first two seasons in the league, but the stars are going to align now that he has Chris Paul setting him up with wide open looks from deep. Expect a big jump in points, three point shooting percentage, and three pointers per game.

RS: David West will be traded this year

I strongly believe that come February 2011, David West will be on the trading block.  I still don’t think he and Okafor work well together, and the Hornets will look to address that problem.  Since West has higher value in the league, has a much more trade-able contract, and it is easier to find a replacement power forward than center, I expect to see West combined with Peja to try and land an impact player via the trade market.

MM: Thornton’s numbers will decrease across the board

I know this doesn’t seem very bold as of today, but this is a statement I would have made a month ago- because I believe it. Personally I saw Collison and Thornton as what Kenny Smith calls “Looters in a Riot” last year and never believed that they would become the All-Stars that some Hornet fans have projected. They got their numbers last year as the Hornets lost games and I don’t think either player has much room for growth.

Thornton has one way to impact the game- by scoring. Monty has been stressing one thing and one thing only this offseason- defense. I am not saying Thornton can not be a valuable piece, but he is just not a player that Monty is going to have much patience with. He is trying to install a culture here and that culture will not include guys who score 20 points but give up 25. If Thornton was a little more John Starks and a little less Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson, then it would work. Monty would put up with the 4-16 shooting nights with Thornton in that scenario, just like Riley put up with Starks when he was off. Sadly, though, MT5 doesn’t have that grit or the defensive skill set to warrant playing time if his shot is not falling.

More likely to get traded: CP3 or D West?

RS: West

As stated above, I think David West is more likely to be moved this season.  Come next summer, if both are on the roster, then it all depends on the team’s success this year.


For me, this simply comes down to value. I can’t see teams giving up much for West, considering that he can opt out after the season is over. He is not the kind of player that teams will view as a guy that can put them over the top, so the offers will be meek. Meanwhile, if teams feel that they need a superstar in this new age of the NBA and management is convinced Paul will bolt eventually, I could see a scenario in which Paul gets moved.

Imagine the Russian billionaire hears that Melo will sign with NJ on the first day of free agency if CP3 is on the team. Would he not give up anything and everything to get those two in New Jersey? Could the Hornets pass up Devin Harris, Lopez, and Favors for CP3 and Okafor?  Neither Paul or West is likely to be traded, but if I had to pick one, it would be CP3. West should have been moved two years ago when he still had value.

JG : West

It’s hard to think of too many situations in which one, but not both Hornets players will be traded. If the team has a to rebuild entirely, they are going to get rid of Paul and West for whatever young talent/draft pick combo they find most appealing. What happens, though, if the Hornets are doing well through midseason and a big name power forward becomes available?

West’s deal is almost certainly going to end after this year, so he’s essentially an expiring contract. Would the Hornets trade West to a team who has given up hope and wants to just buy him out so not to win games, and then re-sign him back to the Hornets, a la Big-Z? That’s the only situation in which I could see either player being dealt and the other remaining, so I’ll go with West. This is also my favorite way that the Hornets could add a real big man without sacrificing anything.

Final predictions for the Hornets 2010-11 season

JG: 47-35. Seventh out West.

There are going to be a lot of teams above .500 out in the West this season, and if Chris Paul can stay healthy he should be able to navigate the Hornets to more than their fair share of close wins.

RS: 47-35, 9th place in the West.

People forget how much havoc Paul wreaks on the court.  Look at the season 2 years ago when the Hornets won 49 games.  That season the Hornets got the most minutes from Paul, West, Butler, Peja, Posey and half a season of Chandler/Armstrong.   If Paul can’t push this much more solid roster to at least 47 wins, it’ll be fairly shocking.  Still, I think it will take 50 games to make the playoffs this year again, so the Hornets are still on the outside looking in.

MM: 40-42, 11th in the West.

I honestly thought coming into this roundtable discussion that I was the most optimistic of us three, but that obviously is not the case. I am trying to think about this objectively and I keep asking myself, “How many things would have to go right to make the playoffs versus how many things would have to go wrong to have a season like last year?”

When I pose it like that, one side far outweighs the other. If Melo gets traded, Yao gets hurt again, Jefferson doesn’t fit in Utah, the Hornets stay completely healthy, Thornton gets back on track, and we move Peja for another quality piece or two- then the Hornets are a top 7 team out West. On the other hand, if CP3 goes down or even if Emeka or West does, the season is basically over. Never mind possibly trade distractions or the possibility that Monty is just a bad coach. Best case scenario is 48 wins, worst case is an injured CP3 and 20 wins.