Could we see the return of the Crescent City Connection next year?
Prior to his injury in February, many Hornets fans were arguing that Emeka Okafor was playing at an All-Star level. His numbers decreased dramatically after his injury (11.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 60% field goal vs. 8.7, 8.2, and 52%) and he had a horrible showing in the postseason against the Lakers. Because of that, some Hornets fans are again questioning whether or not Okafor is the long term answer at the Center position. Okafor’s backup, Aaron Gray, played fantastic at times (and horrible at others), but he is likely to decline his player option and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Monty Williams has said several times this offseason that the Hornets have to get bigger at their power positions. This was obvious as we saw the Lakers simply dismantle the Hornets down low whenever they felt like it. In the next series, Dallas was able to sweep LA, in large part, because they have a long and active big in Tyson Chandler. If the Hornets are going to make a huge leap forward in the West, they are going to have to add some size to compete with the monsters that this conference has down low. When it comes playoff time, the Hornets will be forced to deal with Â guys like Dirk, the Gasol Brothers, Bynum, Chandler, Z-Bo, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tim Duncan. No matter who occupies the other three spots on the floor, it will be hard to win three playoff series against guys like that with an undersized power forward and an undersized center.
1. Keith Benson, Oakland
If Benson were to try and bang with NBA centers today, he would get eaten alive. Put it this way, Hilton Armstrong would go for 30 and 15 against this guy if they were to go head to head tonight. But long term, Benson could be a legitimate NBA center if he could add some weight and if he continues to add different aspects to his offensive repertoire. He might remind Demps of a guy he worked with in San Antonio (and a guy he pursued in free agency last year) Ian Mahinmi. I know that name doesn’t excite people, but Benson could have an impact down the road as a backup center who can change shots and occasionally surprise you with his ability to score.
2. Jordan Williams, Maryland
The good news is that Williams was a terrific rebounder in college and that usually translates well to the pro game. The bad news is that he is just another undersized center who probably can’t play power forward. Williams is only 6’9″ and he does not have the great athleticism that can sometimes make up for lack of height (30 inch vert, 12 percent body fat). What he does have, however, is a developing pick and pop game and a knack for getting to the glass- two things that the Hornets covet.
3. Rick Jackson, Syracuse
I have always been a fan of guys like Reggie Evans; guys who do the little things, handle all the dirty work. Jackson is one of those guys. Like Williams, he is undersized and not extremely athletic, but he is excellent at throwing his weight around. You want a guy who can crash the offensive glass or set a bone-jarring screen for CP3? Rick Jackson is your man. There is some worry that he is coming out of a zone system, but he shows the hunger and desire on the defensive end that is needed to succeed.
Other possibilities: Greg Smith, Fresno State; Michael Dunigan, International
1. Tyson Chandler (Mavericks)
I must confess that I feel like a jerk listing Chandler in this piece, mostly because I do not think the Hornets have a shot at signing him and I hate getting people’s hopes up. Then again, I have read several Psychology Today articles about the benefits of dreaming big. So with that in mind, let’s talk about Chandler. He would provide the length and size that Monty says the Hornets so desperately need and he obviously has a familiarity with CP3 and David West. Signing Chandler would be expensive and it would likely result in the end of the Emeka Okafor era, but I think Hornets fans would get over that if it meant that the Crescent City Connection was back.
The concern with Chandler is that his foot is still not 100% and it never will be again. But the guy did play 95 games this season and seemed to hold up just fine. Dallas was able to limit Chandler’s minutes (28 per game in regular season) due to their outstanding depth, and you would think that New Orleans would have to do the same. The question then becomes: Would you rather have Tyson for 28 minutes a game or Emeka for 35? I guess that all depends on who the backup is.
2. Marc Gasol (Grizzlies)
Another guy that the Hornets likely have no shot at acquiring, Gasol is actually number one on a lot of Hornets fans’ lists because he does not have the injury baggage that Chandler does. Gasol’s low post game would fit beautifully with David West and his massive size would be a welcome addition to the Hornets front court. The question is whether there is any offer that Memphis would not match for their 26 year old center.
3. DeAndre Jordan (Clippers)
Two and a half years ago, Chris Paul saw Jordan skying over the rim in warmups and he whispered to Byron Scott, “We gotta get this guy.” Now, Jordan is a free agent and the Hornets have a chance (albeit a small one) to get a guy who could be the next Tyson Chandler, minus the foot problem. Jordan is athletic and active around the rim, with the ability to wreck havoc on both sides of the court. Like Chandler early in his career, Jordan has never really played with an elite PG, so you begin to salivate when you think about what CP3 could do for his game.
Other possibilities: Nazr Mohammad (Thunder), Louis Amundson (Warriors), Joel Prybella (Bobcats), Jeff Foster (Pacers), Ryan Hollins (Cavs), Sam Dalembert (Kings)
1. Ronny Turiaf (Knicks)
I know that everybody wanted to see Dwight Howard’s name here, but I did enough wishing in my free agent selections. Now it is time to get back to reality. Turiaf is a feisty, undersized center that could give the Hornets the toughness that they often lack down low. His salary is a little high for what he brings ($4.36 million) and because of that, the Hornets might be able to acquire another asset for taking on his salary. Perhaps a guy like Bill Walker, who can add some athleticism on the wings.
2. Greg Oden (Blazers)
I have floated this idea several times now and still can not figure out who would say no. Oden, Batum, and Roy for Ariza and Okafor. The Blazers get two guys who they can pencil in for 80 games per year next to Aldridge and Matthews while the Hornets swing for the fences by gambling on Oden (and to a lesser extent Roy). When salary is considered, Batum is a better value than Ariza and he might just be the better overall player regardless of salary.
If Oden can get healthy and Roy can give 25 minutes a night, the Hornets would have a chance to be special. If not, then at least you tried to make this team a perennial contender. Signing Nazr Mohammad and Jason Richardson is not going to do that. Swing for the fences with Oden and go for the dynasty. If CP3 is gone anyway, at least you went out with guns blazing (no pun intended).
3. Â Robin Lopez (Suns)
Lopez was a huge disappointment for Phoenix last year and Marcin Gortat seems destined to take the majority of the minutes for the Suns next year. Perhaps a change of scenery is necessary to reinvigorate his game. Phoenix could be in salary dump mode once they finally do the right thing and trade Nash. Using two different TPE’s, Lopez and Josh Childress for Q-Pon and conditional 2nd rounders in 2085 and 2087 works under the rules of the CBA.
4. Andrew Bogut (Bucks)
Where there is smoke, there is usually some fire and although Milwaukee is denying the rumors that Bogut is on the block, the truth is that they are probably listening. And why wouldn’t they? Yes, Bogut is talented, but he has also been injury prone the last two years and he is one of the few pieces of value that the Bucks have on their roster. They made some horrible decisions last summer, and it might turn out that the only way to rectify those poor choices will be to part with Bogut.
I think most teams would take Bogut over Okafor if you could guarantee that both men will be able to give 75+ games per year, but obviously you can’t. The question then becomes: Is Bogut a big enough upgrade to overlook the recent injury concerns? If the Hornets decide that the answer is yes, they will likely put together a package that includes a swap of the two big men, with the Hornets also taking on at least one bad contract from Milwaukee. Bogut and Maggette for Okafor, Ariza, and Anderson works, but I don’t think it makes the Hornets a better team.
We all want to know which Emeka we will be getting next year. Will he be the guy who was quite possibly our team MVP in the first half of the year? Will he be the overwhelmed center we saw in the playoffs? Is it possible that he will be more determined than ever after having his first taste of the playoffs and respond with a career year?
It is hard to say, but there has been a constant theme this offseason if you listen to every Demps and Monty interview: We NEED to get bigger. What good is getting bigger at backup center if that guy is only going to give you 10-15 minutes, none of which come at crunch time? I have a feeling that, as much as they love ‘Mek as a person, Demps and Monty will move him in a second if they have a chance at landing a guy like Chandler, Gasol, or even Jordan. Heck, they might even prefer Dalembert if they can get a guy like Iggy or Monte for Emeka.
But if Emeka does return, additional size is certainly needed and the Hornets might have to explore the possibility of playing Okafor at the four for a couple of minutes per game. The West is stacked with an assortment of quality big men, and the elite teams in the conference all have size that trumps anything that the Hornets currently have on the roster. If they are going to be considered legitimate contenders, they are going to have to add some size down low and I don’t mean adding a 4th big that is 7+ feet. If Landry, West, and Okafor are all back, the fourth big is unlikely to get much time on the court. Adding “size” means letting one of those guys go- maybe two.
For a look back at the entire series: point guard; shooting guard; small forward; power forward