What’s the Plan?

Published: June 22, 2011

Last offseason, the Hornets franchise entered into a new generation. They broke past the old conception that they were an old team, with old fashioned everything, they played it safe, and almost made sure that they didn’t create excitement. This new generation inserted young new minds such as first-time head coach Monty Williams, and first-time GM Dell Demps. Both men came from exceptional pedigrees. Williams came from the staff of Nate McMillan in Portland, and Demps from the staff of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford in San Antonio. Before Demps could be hired he had to pass inspection from team President Hugh Weber and owner George Shinn, and before Monty could be hired, he had to face the entire front office. These two men were young new hotshots ready to break into the upper ranks of the NBA, and with them were fresh new ideas and a plan that could turn this team around and break the mold of being a mediocre team across the board. Their willingness to come to such a situation must have illustrated their hunger to make their marks and get things turned around, and since day one, they have been trying to do just that, but now one season later we still face many of the same problems we had last offseason, only this time it’s make it or break it. What happens between now and the February trade deadline will determine the fate of Chris Paul and the future of the Hornets franchise altogether.

Last Season’s Acquisitions

The moves we made last season definitely made a lot of sense. We managed to cut back on salary while getting better all around. We filled several holes in the front court with Ariza and Landry, and made some progress in the back court with Jack, Green, and Belinelli. However, while those were good moves at the time, I don’t believe that neither Dell Demps nor Monty Williams believes we should come back with all those players again and see what happens. We remained fairly competitive throughout the season, but it was obvious that there was no chance we were really impressing Chris, much less getting closer to a title. It’s also not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that none of those players return next season. They’re all replaceable players that are expendable at the right cost.

Understanding Chris Paul’s Perspective

There’s no doubting Chris Paul’s love for the city of New Orleans and us, the fans. He’s a hard worker that will do everything he can do to win, but he’s not a dense young man. He understands that he is in his prime and that he can’t continue to wait on a far off dream of winning a title in New Orleans. But he is willing to stick it out with a wait-and-see approach for at least one more season. He has great respect for Dell Demps and Monty Williams and is giving them every opportunity to create a winner here in the Big Easy, but he’s not going to sacrifice his career if nothing gets done. Look at it this way, imagine you’re in the workplace constantly putting in your 7-5, coming in early a few times a week, grinding out the day and working your tail off to try and get everything done at the end of the day, but you can’t. You can’t because the company decided not to hire more skilled employees to do the other jobs. It’s not that the other employees are lazy, it’s just that they’ve reached their ceilings and are pretty one dimensional with their ability to perform tasks. You never really cared for your bosses until two new younger guys came from another branch to lead management. At that point, you’ve already been offered a higher paying job with more benefits and opportunities with a different company. You decide to put the promotion on hold and wait to see what the new bosses can do, and depending on if it looks good or bad, you make your decision to stay or go before it’s too late. Leaving New Orleans wouldn’t mean that CP3 hates us, but he understands the business side in that way. I have great respect for him, and I would do the same thing if put into that situation, and I believe you would too. Monty and Dell see things this way, and I have a feeling they’re going to pull out all the stops to keep Chris Paul, and if they fail, then they start from square one.

The Process

Building a contender has a few parts in it. As it stands, we need to do a few things to make sure that Chris Paul. Of course it starts with the draft, but it also requires a new CBA before anything can really happen. As it stands, next season’s outlook is very, very bleak, with a lockout nearly certain and the idea of losing part of the season hiding below the horizon. This is going to take a perfectly choreographed offseason tango by Dell Demps in order to get on the track, but no one said it was going to be easy.

Taking Stock

Before anything can be done with adding players, Monty and Dell need to take inventory on who they already have and see where they fit in. They have to make decisions on the expendability of their guys, especially if they want to add length (I’m looking at you Emeka). I’m going to assume that they see Paul and West as absolute keepers, here are questions about the other guys:

-Is Trevor Ariza really the answer at SF or do you package him with another player to get the superstar you need? *If we get Igoudala, Ariza has to go. There’s no way these two guys can co-exist as Ariza is a lesser version of Iggy

-Is Emeka Okafor big enough to bang with the other centers and power forwards in the West? Can he really maintain solid play in the post-season? If we trade him, what free agent center do we throw our money at? *If Mek stays, then we will need a big wing scorer, if he goes, then we could possibly look at a player like Monta Ellis

-Is Carl Landry necessary to keep around with West? Is it wise to pay a little extra to keep him as a backup? Do we look for more size and rebounding and let Carl go?

-Is Jarrett Jack a replaceable player? Can we package him to get a starter at a different position?

-Is Marco worth bringing back, and if he is, what do we pay him?

-Is Quincy a guy we want to develop or is he a player we could part with to sweeten a pot with no feelings attached?

-Is Aaron Gray a priority to have back? Or do we let him walk to a higher bidder?

So, depending on how Monty and Dell answer those questions, I believe changes will be made accordingly. Or they can stand pat entirely and watch Chris leave, but I don’t see that happening. Dealing Dell is too good for that. After those questions are answered, they move on to the draft.

The Draft

The process of stocking up for next season starts with the NBA draft. This is the first integral part of the offseason changes. If the team slips up here, it could cost them something down the line, so it’s extremely important that they get this right. Dell and Monty have stated multiple times that they need to get longer and bigger. This length is needed across the board as we are undersized at literally every position. So where do we upgrade? Before we think about what position we need to fill, we need to figure out if we need a first round pick. Demps has said that he doesn’t foresee us getting into round one, but he didn’t discard the possibility. In order to get there, we’d likely have to take on a nasty contract and maybe be the third wheel in a trade. Making a move like that has to be precisely calculated. Honestly, I think that we’ll be looking for either an athletic wing player, combo guard, or a banger down low that can rebound. We’d need to make sure the player we want is going to be available at the pick we get. Mid to late first round targets would probably include:

-Kenneth Faried, PF, Moorehead State

-Nikola Vucevic, C, USC

-Tyler Honeycutt, SF, UCLA

-Iman Shumpert, G, Georgia Tech

Each of those guys brings a different skillset to the table. To me, Vucevic would make the most sense as he’s a big player with a well developed body and a still developing post game. Faried is probably a bigger target because he’s an amazing rebounder, but he’s hugely undersized at about 6’7″ or 6’8″ and will have trouble with his limited offense and defensive capabilities. Shumpert and Honeycutt offer good height for their positions with exceptional athleticism.

Demps may choose against trading into the first round if he doesn’t feel like we get much better or open more room from the trade. And my gut feeling says that if we stay in round two, then we’re going to take a point guard. This draft has a good crop of second tier point guards that can swing between two positions. Getting a young player like Charles Jenkins, Norris Cole, or Nolan Smith would make Jack very expendable. Guards seem to have an easier time starting out in the league than big men, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see Demps pick one and get him into a solid role quickly. It’s also not unlikely that the guard we take could be Chris Paul’s replacement, so taking one is not a bad idea at all. In all, the draft could go a lot of ways. We could make a trade that lands us the star we need, a pick and a salary dump, or one that just doesn’t make any perceivable sense. But there’s no underestimating the importance of what happens that Thursday night.

Re-Signing Who We Want Back

After the draft, this is going to be the next important part of the process. We currently have just FIVE guys under contract. It’s not going to stay like that. Obviously our most important free agent is David West, who is coming off of ACL surgery. He’s going to either accept his option or decline it and gauge his worth on the free agent market. He may not like what he sees on it though. Like Mike Mac and Ryan Schwann have already said, the only team that truly needs a power forward and is willing to spend is the New Jersey Nets. That actually has me a little edgy because if the Nets really want West, they can and will throw the Russian Billionaire’s money at him. I think a deal of about 4 years, $44 million is near the top of what I would offer, with a max of about $48 million depending on the progress of his knee. If West goes, then we could re-sign Landry and sign Kris Humphries, which really isn’t a bad situation, but West is a key cog to keeping CP3 in town.

Bringing back Landry has been a big point for Demps because they see Carl growing into his role and getting even better as he settles into the system. The team needs to get an accurate price range on Landry so they don’t over pay, but they also don’t want to get caught in absolutely having to re-sign him because we can find bench scoring elsewhere and substitute him with some rebounding and defense. Still, Landry is a good player and I would use the word crafty to describe his style of play. He’s a lower-end starter in this league, but his abilities are best suited for the role that he would play here. A deal where he’s making $4- $6 million a year is the range I could see him signing for.

Next up on the list would be Aaron Gray. This guy has worked so hard to get to where he is today. He dropped around thirty pounds last summer, worked on his conditioning, and definitely improved his game around the basket. He didn’t get as much run during the season as we would have liked to see, but once the playoffs came around, he looked like a totally different player. He’s the epitome of a hustle player, but he’s got some great things going for him; great size and strength. The option for his contract is close to peanuts for a player of his caliber, but rumor is that he’s still working out here in the city and really wants to stay. If we could work out a deal where he makes about $3-4 million a year, then I think we get fair value, but there may be teams out there willing to spend more on a big man. Gray has decent starter potential and may opt to take his talents elsewhere, but I think bringing him back would fill the hole at backup center.

The final player on the re-sign list is Marco Belinelli. Marco is a bit of a paradox to me because I’m not really sure how much Monty Williams values him in the system. He’s had his ups and downs and a constant battle with consistency, but I think he’s a pretty decent player to have on your team. He’s still young with the ability to score and shoot the 3, but his shortcomings in the other aspects of the game will cost him. I imagine that we will tender him, but we may just work out a much smaller deal for a couple of years and see how he progresses. He’s still got a lot of potential, but he needs to put all the pieces together before he should be a regular part of the rotation, much less a starter.

Of course re-signing these players means that they are likely to stay, which means we would have to make some changes still. To this point, the Hornets have added no extra length or athleticism, and re-signings like these could only mean that we are looking to be players in the trade and free agent markets. This is the year to spend.

Trades and Free Agency

The reason I put these two together is because if we get a big-time player in a  trade, we would likely have to fill a spot via free agency. Or we may need to sign a player in free agency as a precursor to a big trade. There are endless amounts of trades we could do, but the stress of this entire write up is to keep Chris Paul happy NOW, so it’s vital that we get a star to play alongside him. We’ve got a gaping hole at shooting guard, and it just so happens that two star shooting guards can be had in a trade. Those guards being Monta Ellis and Andre Igoudala. While we don’t appear to be the likeliest of landing spots for those two players judging by the media, I really think that Demps is angling to get one, mainly Iggy. While he doesn’t offer the type of instant, automatic offense Monta Ellis brings, and we seemingly need, he does bring the exact kind of defense and well-roundedness Monty Williams implements in his system. Demps tried to get Igoudala last summer to no avail, but now that we can offer Okafor and sign another center like Tyson (hopefully, but doubtfully) or Samuel Dalembert to be our starter, we have a little more fuel to the trade mill fire. Of course, all of this depends on how much other teams value Okafor, but I think we’d be willing to take a bad contract off of their hands and throw in Ariza and/or Pondexter, or just give them the entirety of Peja’s $9 million TPE. Getting Iggy would mean that Ariza has to go because the two players cannot co-exist, we would NEED another viable offensive weapon like Jamal Crawford. If we get Monta, then we’d need another defensive weapon like Wilson Chandler. This would obviously lead to serious spending in FA with about 3-4 guys getting big, new contracts. That’s not going to happen, so it would probably lead to us dropping Landry and signing a lower wage guy to fill the spot. I really hate to fantasize, but I have a couple of starting five’s in mind that look like legitimate contenders:

PG- Paul

SG- Igoudala/Ellis

SF- W. Chandler/Ariza

PF- West/West (Landry goes to GSW in a sign-and-trade)

C- T. Chandler/T. Chandler

Those above are my two fantasies, highly unlikely, but still possible. Of course no championship team is complete without a solid bench, but I feel like we could make that happen through trades and free agency. The idea is to surround CP3 with players he can really work with, but also ones that really give us a good chance to win. The reality of it though is that it could go in a variety of ways, but I’m going to keep the faith and trust that Demps is not resting on his laurels and will pursue any avenue to keep this franchise from rebuilding post-CP3. If it comes down to it, we may have to swing for the fences with Portland, crossing our fingers with Roy and Oden. There are ways to make this team into a contender and it may look similar to the formula that Dallas used this season, but we’d obviously have to tone down the spending a bit. It’s a tough spot to be especially with the looming lockout.


If I’ve burnt out your retinas with this, I truly apologize, but it’s time that we start to see a clear-cut plan that this team intends to follow. I have no doubt that one is in place, but I, like many of you, want to see some progress. The center of this entire write-up is bent on the assumption that this is Chris Paul’s final opportunity he’s extending to us, and that something drastic must take place. It’s extremely hard to predict what will happen, and even harder to get the right pieces to win a title, but I feel like this is our last chance to make a huge splash. Not only does the future of Chris Paul hinder on this, but also five years from now there may not be basketball in the city of New Orleans. This is a make it or break it season, so I’m asking Dell Demps, what’s the plan?


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