The New Orleans Hornets’ Place in the Current NBA Landscape

Published: August 14, 2012

With the NBA now more top-heavy than it has ever been before, what does that mean for the Hornets both now and in the future? Mason gives his take on the answer.

On Friday, a four-team trade was completed which sent the top center in the NBA, Dwight Howard, to the Los Angeles Lakers. There are many trickle-down effects of this deal, but the most notable of them all is the creation of a third elite power in the NBA to go along with Oklahoma City and Miami. Matt Moore explained the situation best over at Pro Basketball Talk on

The best team in the NBA features one of the following: 1. the best player in the NBA, the second best shooting guard in the NBA and a top-ten power forward, 2. the best scorer in the NBA, two NBA All-Stars, and three members of the 2012 Olympic gold medal team (and a member of the 2012 Olympic silver medal team), or 3. Three future Hall-of-Famers, the second best shooting guard in NBA history, a former two-time MVP, the best center in the NBA, and a power forward who was the best big man in the league two years ago.

There are two ways to interpret this information, and how fans choose to do so will determine their own level of optimism:

A) Barring a major injury, the only three true championship contenders over the next two seasons are the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

B) Aside from the three franchises listed above, teams building for two to three years down the road are in much better shape than those risking their future to win now.

Those who care only about the here and now will focus on point A and ignore point B, leaving fans of 27 out of the 30 NBA teams quite depressed. People who prefer to look towards the future and potential will focus on the latter point and may choose to pretend the next season or two don’t matter (they do). The most realistic of fans will accept that both points are true, and while the short-term title window is only cracked open with enough room for a select few, it should be smashed wide open in about three years.

How secure are the teams at the top right now? If you asked me to create a fourth title contender by moving just one player from one team to another (not including those top three teams), here are the only ones that I could come up with:

  • Chris Paul on the Pacers (runner-up: Knicks)
  • Dirk Nowitzki on the Spurs (and the world explodes)
  • Kevin Love on the Celtics (the Spurs or Nuggets would work great here as well)
  • LaMarcus Aldridge on the Nets (eclipsing a $100 mil payroll for Prohkorov)
  • Joe Johnson/Manu Ginobili on the Bulls (assuming a healthy Rose)

That’s it. Tons of other combinations could get teams close, but those are the only surefire moves that, in my mind, could leapfrog a team into the MIA/OKC/LAL tier. To maintain elite status, each of those moves would also require that the added player was acquired for peanuts, which would obviously be impossible (unless you’re the Lakers), not to mention clearly violate salary cap rules. Think about that for a second. Even if allowed to complete one completely irrational and illegal transaction that requires the beneficiary to give up nothing, there are only a few obvious possibilities that could turn a second tier team into a real title contender. That is how wide the gap is for the upcoming 2012-13 season (and likely the following year as well).

So, there’s the bad news… or is it? As Hornets fans, should we really be that devastated about the fact that our team’s championship odds are essentially zero over the next couple of years? I’m not. In fact, if anything, this news makes me optimistic, because it helps me realize how much of a better position New Orleans is in when compared to so many other teams around the NBA. In fact, apart from the big three at the top, it could be argued that no team is in more ideal shape than the Hornets. Below, the other 26 NBA teams are listed in order of least preferred situation to most ideal. Obviously, the position and ranking of these teams can be argued and moved around based on the eye of the beholder, but the following is how things appear to this Hornets writer:

  • The Suns, Wizards, and Bucks are all stuck with middle-aged, sub-par rosters that have absolutely no shot at a championship and not much room for change.
  • The Bobcats, Magic, Raptors, and Pistons are many more steps away in their rebuilding process than the Hornets.
  • The Warriors and Rockets both have some nice rebuilding pieces, but also a couple of contracts that make you wonder if they’re trying to rebuild and compete at the same time, a strategy that could end up costing them dearly in the future.
  • The Celtics, Nets, Knicks, Spurs, and Grizzlies are all veteran teams locked into their current rosters that are all on that second tier, but have virtually no way of rising to that top level without injuries to the top three squads.
  • The Mavericks and Hawks have both wisely put together rosters full of players on short-term deals, but the amount of elite talent that will be available in the next season or two of free agency is questionable at best.
  • The Bulls are unique because of the Rose injury; they had a real shot to take down Miami last season before he went down, but their bench has deteriorated and their core beyond Rose and Noah looks incredibly suspect. That being said, they could turn things around in a hurry by dealing Deng for some useful assets and then exercising their amnesty clause on Boozer.
  • The Pacers, Clippers and Nuggets are all young and talented, but are also committed to their respective rosters to varying degrees and have no clear path to reaching the level of the Lakers, Thunder, or Heat.
  • The Cavaliers, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Jazz and Timberwolves are all at different points on the right track to possible title contention in the near future, but are all safely behind the Hornets purely due to a guy by the name of Anthony Davis.

Knowing that your title window is basically shut for the next two seasons (maybe even three), would you rather be a fan of any team right now than the Hornets? Sure, the postseason is fun, and the shot at a gigantic upset is always awesome – watching the Hornets take down the Lakers to tie their first round playoff series at two games apiece in 2011 was far and away the most exciting NBA game that I have ever attended – but when reality sets in, is that the ultimate goal? A team like the Grizzlies may have two or three really fun playoff series over the next couple of seasons, but has virtually no shot at anything more in the current NBA environment. The Hornets, on the other hand, are at least a couple years away from a deep playoff run, but should be in prime position to wreak havoc in 2015 and beyond. What side do you prefer?

I’ll take the Hornets, and couldn’t be more excited about the journey ahead.


  1. Pingback: Gulf Coast Rising News | The New Orleans Hornets' Place in the Current NBA Landscape …

  2. Pingback: One Last Look Back at Summer 2012 | New Orleans Hornets |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.