So now that we have looked back on what was an exciting season in part one and on the podcast, it is time to take what we have learned and look forward to how it might impact the future of this franchise. When we look back in four or five years, it is likely that we will point to this particular offseason as the tipping point for this franchise. Only five players on the current roster have guaranteed contracts for next year, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire, CP3 is one year away from possibly being a free agent, and the Hornets still have that pesky little problem of needing to find an owner. Needless to say a lot of dominoes are in place, and it is going to be interesting to see how they fall.
The NBA will likely lockout its players on July 1st, but the Hornets still have the potential of making several moves before that time. Trades can take place between the Hornets and any team eliminated from contention in the next couple of weeks, the Hornets can make qualifying offers to Jason Smith and Marco Bellineli, and the Hornets own the 45th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Additionally, David West and Aaron Gray have some decisions of their own to make, as they each have a player option that they can either pick up or decline. For West, the option is just a shade over 7.5 million, while Gray has to choose whether or not he wants to pick up a 1.1 million dollar option.
If the Hornets do not put out qualifying offers to either Belinelli or Smith and both Gray and West decline their options, then the Hornets will have approximately $42 million committed to just five players: Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, and Quincy Pondexter. As a frame of reference, the salary cap was just a little more than $58 million this past year, although many expect that to change under the new CBA. Either way, expect to see some significant change in the roster come opening night next season.
With so much uncertainty facing the team this offseason, we take a look at five big questions heading into this offseason:
1. Of all the possible free agents on the Hornets roster, which one player do you think is most likely to be back?
Joe Gerrity: It’s got to be Green, who Monty Williams just loves. Green won’t break the bank and will give Monty exactly what he wants off the bench.
Michael McNamara: I agree that Willie Green will likely be back next season, but I could see a scenario in which the Hornets land a significant player at shooting guard who will demand 35+ minutes, and in that case Willie wouldn’t be needed, as Jack can handle the back-up minutes at SG. For me, it is David West. I think he opts in for 7.5 million or signs an extension. Too risky for him to test the free agent market coming off of a significant injury.
Ryan Schwan: Although my first inclination is also to say Green, we have to be careful not to conflate Monty’s desires with those of Demps.Â So far Demps hasn’t shown a nostalgic bone in his body, and I think he’s well aware of the limitations of Green.Â With West’s injury, it seems to me the guy Demps will be most certain to lock up first would be Landry, both as insurance and as a future key piece to a bench he’s made a priority.
2. Aside from obvious answers like David Anderson or Marcus Banks, which Hornets free agent do you think is likely gone next year?
Joe: Â It’s easy to get hung up here on someone other than Aaron Gray, but he’s a big man who played big in the postseason and made peanuts this year. While he’s surely a capable backup, someone is going to overpay him to commit moving picks and dumb fouls away from the ball, for multiple years. That team really shouldn’t be the Hornets. While hemade some good progress this year physically, his work ethic and dedication to conditioning remain a question mark going forward. For what it’s worth, I hope he re-signs for a reasonable price and continues working harder to improve himself as he has for the past year.
McNamara: Joe- I agree with you yet again. I think Gray is gone, unless his agent forgets to file the paperwork saying that he is opting out. Don’t laugh, it has happened before. Who knows, maybe Gray loves the food in NOLA and would love to stay, but one guy who I doubt will be invited back is Jason Smith. He fits nicely in the pick and pop game when his jumper is on, but he offers nothing on the defensive end. Too weak to defend the post, too slow to stay with stretch 4’s. He’s outta here.
Schwan: Gray may be the answer, but I think that of the three remaining players the Hornets used at shooting guard last year, Belinelli is the least likely to return.Â There is little reason to keep three players who combined to serve up one of the least productive starting slots in the NBA, so I’m more likely to bank on Demps cutting bait than Gray getting his socks knocked off with cash.
3. What is the Hornets biggest offseason need?
Joe: Really there is one thing that the Hornets need to get the ball rolling forward in their quest for contender status, and that is a brand spanking new CBA. It has to beagreed upon in a timely fashion, and reduce the disparity in spending between big and small market teams. Once that’s done with the rest is gravy.
McNamara: A new CBA that helps out smaller market teams is step one, but the biggest need is the step that comes directly after that- finding an OWNER. And not just any owner, but one who is committed to keeping the team in New Orleans and spending the money it will take to build a long term contender. Monty and Dell have this thing on the right track, all that is needed now is some stability.
Schwan: Blah Blah Blah.Â Â This is a basketball team, remember?Â The CBA is coming regardless, and even without an owner, the NBA has approved a perfectly reasonable budget for team operations.Â No, the Hornets need at least one wing player that can produce – I don’t know – maybe a league average PER of 15.0?Â I’m not asking for that much, guys.Â Just average.
4. Dell Demps has basically said Chris Paul is untouchable for now, but has stated he is always looking for upgrades in other areas. With that said, who is more likely to be traded: Trevor Ariza or Emeka Okafor?
Joe: I’m betting both are on the team to start the season, but I assume it’s possible that one or the other could be dealt. As a player I like Okafor more than Ariza, but overall I’d say that Ariza is the better fit with Paul going forward.
McNamara: Even though Emeka was pushed around by the Lakers, I just don’t think there will be anybody better available for the Hornets to play the Center position. Dwight Howard and TysonChandler are pipe dreams. Greg Oden and Yao Ming will miss as many games as Emeka will play. Nene is likely staying and Dalembert will be overpaid by someone else.
Meanwhile, take a look at the small forwards that can be had on the free agent market. Tayshaun Prince, Wilson Chandler, Shane Battier, Caron Butler, Luc Mbah a Moute, Matt Barnes, Josh Howard, James Jones, Tracy McGrady, Jamario Moon, etc. None of those guys are a significant downgrade from Ariza, and many of them can be had for a cheaper price. So if Demps has the chance to move Ariza for a quality shooting guard, he might just take it and then snatch up one of those guys to replace him.
Schwan: Yay.Â We can choose from a list of small forward free agents better known as Old, One-dimensional, Older, Slow, Offensively non-existant, Slower, Drug-addled, One-dimensional-er, Ghost in a Shell, and Plain bad.
Unless West walks, I expect both players to remain inÂ a Hornets uniform.Â If West walks and Demps can’t coax Nene to New Orleans, Okafor will be the next guy out the door with Paul as the team gets blown up.Â If this team is turned over, Ariza is much more likely to stay on because of his youth and smaller contract than Okafor and his rebuild-hampering salary.
5. What is the key to keeping Chris Paul beyond next season?
Joe: There is no one single key. The bullets are:
- A good and timely CBA (see answer number three)
- Chouest buying the team and committing to spending as much as needed to win
- Someone to play shooting guard at an adequate level (be it an improved Marco or someone else)
- A tall and talented big man to come aboard Â
- David West to committing to another year or more
My bad. I overlooked the real key- Dwight Howard. That’s much simpler, in theory at least.
McNamara: Dwight Howard would be nice, Joe, but I am not counting on that. Everything you said was dead on, and of course the ability to use a franchise tag per the new CBA will be a blessing as well. Bottom line, the Hornets have to make that next step to true contender while getting a commitment from a local buyer who can sell Chris Paul on the future of this franchise, both on and off the court.
Schwan: Last off-season, Demps turnedÂ a lot of crap pieces into usable pieces.Â Now he’s got to find a way to turn a bit of cap space and usable pieces into a piece Paul considers a suitable Star Sidekick.Â Paul wants to play with another top-30 guy, and I think his desire begins and ends there.Â Here’s to hoping Demps makes that possible.
(We wanna hear want you think as well. While comments here are welcome, we would love for each of you to write a journal so we can look back after the offseason and see who nailed it on the head. Also, be sure to download our next podcast, which is full of theories, strategies, and speculation!)