Now that the Hornets season is finally over, we can take a step back and really look at what a roller coaster ride it has been. Over the last 10 months or so everything has shifted; from the roster to the coaches. From the front office personnel to the owner. But perhaps even more important than any of that, the culture of this organization has changed, and that in turn has changed the expectations of the fan base moving forward.
The Hornets 2010-11 season kicked off with the decision to look for a new Head Coach to replace interim coach Jeff Bower. Several candidates were interviewed, but two emerged- Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau and Portland assistant Monty Williams. After playing hardball with Thibodeau, the Hornets got the guy that many (including CP3) preferred all along, Monty Williams. From there, the writing was on the wall that Jeff Bower was on his way out as GM, but before he left he pulled off a masterstroke in the draft as he rid the Hornets of Mo Pete (and the luxury tax burden that came with his contract), while also acquiring 2 first-rounders in exchange for the 11th pick.
After the draft, the Hornets let Bower go and set their sights on Dell Demps. They convinced him to choose the Hornets over Phoenix, and as a reward Dell Demps got to spend the first day on the job recruiting Chris Paul. He told Chris that he would be aggressive, and he wasn’t lying. He quickly got the nickname of “Dealer Dell” around the league, as he completely overhauled the Hornets roster. Gone were James Posey, Craig Brackins, Darius Songalia, Peja Stojakovic, Julian Wright, Darren Collison, and Marcus Thornton. In came Willie Green, Jason Smith, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, David Anderson, and Marco Belinelli. And mind you, Demps did all of this in the midst of an ownership change, as the NBA took control of the team by purchasing it from long-time owner George Shinn.
On the court, the Hornets ran as hot and cold as any team in the league. They were the last team to lose a game, going 8-0 out of the gate. After an 11-1 start, however, they proceeded to lose 11 of their next 16 before evening out. Then they went out and tied a franchise record by winning ten in a row, only to follow that up by going 2-9 in their next 11 games. Then, just as they got healthy and started to show signs of clicking again, their leading scorer David West was lost for the season with an ACL tear.
The Hornets hobbled down the stretch, but showed enough fortitude to win some key games that helped them secure a first round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. Though undersized and out manned, the Hornets pushed the two-time defending Champs to six games and gave their fans hope for the future. In part two of this piece, we will take what we learned from this season and project forward, but before we do, let’s take one more look back with the writers of Hornets247.
1. The Hornets won 48 games this season (including the playoffs). What was your favorite win of the season?
Ryan Schwan: The best win of the season was easily Game 1 of the opening round of the Lakers-Hornets series. There was just so much there to thoroughly enjoy:
â€¢ Being reminded that Paul is still the best point guard in the league after a season’s worth of struggles.
â€¢ Watching a thoroughly undersized team simply outwork a more talented and physical team.
â€¢ Chris Paul, M—-r F—-r
â€¢ Beating LA
Did I mention Chris F’ing Paul?
Joe Gerrity: As tempting as it is to pick Game 1 in LA, a contest in which the Hornet weren’t supposed to have any business winning, I have to go with Game 4. The crowd, the atmosphere, and just the general awesomeness of Chris Paul in the win makes it number one in my book.
Michael McNamara: The playoff wins were great, but to me it was the Heat game that really got people excited about this season. That win gave the team national credibility and notoriety and gave us all hope that we could be in for a special season.
2. 40 losses as well. Any one in particular stand out to you?
Joe: Game 3 against the Lakers, because it was such a turning point in the series. If they win that, they have a chance to go up 3-1 the next night at home, but alas they blew their first home game of the postseason, and in the end that’s why they couldn’t pull off the upset.
Ryan: The Memphis game at the end of the season. Â Despite it just being one of those regular season games McNamara denigrates so much, it was the difference between the Lakers and Mavericks in the playoffs. That stuff matters. Oh, and there was a complete lack of Chris F’ing Paul in that game. Zero points. Wow.
Michael: You’re right, I do think the regular season is just a dress rehearsal, but my least favorite loss came in the regular season as well. On December 12th, an 88-70 loss against the (7-15) Philadelphia 76ers showed just how bad this team could be when they think that they could just show up and win. No effort, no intensity, no heart. It was embarrassing.
3. Awards Time! We know our Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year by default. Who you got for MVP and Most Improved?
Ryan: The MVP, by a hair, is David West. Â Paul was so sporadically good all season long, but David West did his workhorse thing and carried the team for a lot of the year.The Most Improved Player is Emeka Okafor. He learned how to work next to West, made a huge impact defensively, and generally did everything we’d hoped for the year before.
Joe: It’s impossible for me not to say Chris Paul, despite really wanting to go with someone like Emeka Okafor. Unfortunately, he’s really just a role player. It just so happened that his required role was huge this year. But I will say Emeka is unquestionably the Most Improved Player on this Hornets squad. Last season Emeka Okafor was considered one of the most overpaid players in the league, with Bill Simmons actually dubbing him the second LVP overall. This year he deserved every penny he made, especially on defense, where he anchored one of the best units in the entire league.
Michael: For me, Emeka Okafor was the Most Valuable Player on this team because he was the most irreplaceable. I saw the Hornets win games without Chris Paul and David West, as they both had suitable replacements, but when Mek went down with an injury, this team was horrible. Most improved player for me was David West, as I think he played at a whole new level on both ends of the court.
4. As documented earlier in this Preview, Dell Demps made a lot of moves this year. Which one was his best?
Ryan: I’m torn between two. Thornton for Landry no doubt helped the team, but part of that is because the team didn’t give Thornton the chance he deserved, so that question is fraught with disappointment for me. So I’ll go instead with the Julian Wright for Marco Belinelli trade. Getting a starter, albeit the worst starter on your team, is still no small feat when you give up a non-entity like Wright has turned out to be.
Joe: The Thornton trade for Landry was huge considering what happened to David West. Insert Marcus Thornton instead of Carl Landry and I have a hard time seeing the series getting to even five games. Sure Thornton can light it up, but Jason Smith/Aaron Gray/DJ Mbenga would have been seeing 50+ minutes combined had Landry not been available. Think about that for a second.
Michael: I am going to go unconventional here and say the trade of a first round pick for Jerryd Bayless was his best move. This draft might end up being the worst draft of all time, and without Bayless, the Hornets would not have been able to land Jarrett Jack. There is no way the 19th pick in a horrible draft will be able to get 1/10th the production that Jack will get for the Hornets over the long haul.
5. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Monty William’s first year as a Head Coach in this league?
Michael: If I am grading him against every other coach in the league, I would say a 7, as I think he got out-coached at times by veteran coaches. But, if I look at him as a rookie who is going to learn from his mistakes and continue to grow, I give him a 9 because he exceeded all of my expectations. He has installed a culture here and that is much harder to do than drawing up X’s and O’s. Once he learns how to better manage rotations and make in-game adjustments, I think we will be looking at an elite coach in this league.
Joe: 8.5- It was a great year, but I just never understood the Marcus Thornton situation. I heard both coach and player talk about it extensively, and still I just have no clue why they couldn’t/didn’t make it work out.
Ryan: I am actually a huge fan of what Monty did this year, but I can’t give him better than an 8 for one and only one reason. The Hornets had three shooting guards, and one shooting guard was about 20% better than the other two overall, but that shooting guard got the least number of chances in game to earn a role on the team. I feel that was a blunder.
(Part Two will look forward to the Hornets off-season and will be posted later this week. For now, chime in with your answers to any of these questions and/or your general thoughts or memories from a fantastic year)