The New Orleans Hornets’ Place in the Current NBA Landscape

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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 NBCSports.com:

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.

34 comments
NOH2313
NOH2313

Great article. It's indeed exciting to be a Hornets fan. The only team I think you overlooked in terms of being a title contender is the Celtics. They are insanely deep and have a roster of versatile players whom are capable of playing in multiple styles. They can go small or big, offensive or defensive, etc. Rondo, Lee, Pierce, Bass, KG looks good on paper but when you consider their bench which consists of Terry, Bradley, Green, Sullinger, and Fab Melo, I think they have a legitimate shot at giving the Heat a run for their money. Their staring lineup will still basically be the same as last year's Boston team, if not better (considering Allen's play at the time), and their bench will be much improved from the Celtics' roster that pushed the Heat to 7 games.

Max
Max

i hope you are right and that the Hornets won't do like Brazilians said of their country... (they said Brazil has got a great future...and it will always have...)

Josh
Josh

I'm so glad to be a Hornets fan right now. I think the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Celtics can all still compete, though.

Lucas Ottoni
Lucas Ottoni

2015? I don't know if I'm alive to see the Hornets wreak havoc. It's a pity we have to wait so long for a place in the sun.

JT's Hoops Blog
JT's Hoops Blog

I'm sorry but even with Antony Davis and Austin Rivers, the Hornets will still be the whipping boys of the league. I don't think that Anderson will be that much of a factor for NO because he had Dwight Howard drawing double teams to get him open and still shot just a shade over .430 from the field. I doubt Robin Lopez will be a major stalwart in the paint to draw double teams. Also, should we really bother about NO's cap situation. It's not like that can attract marquee free agents as their competitors. They had to pay Eric Gordon superstar money in order to keep him from fleeing to Phoenix. I doubt he will stay for the duration of the contract as he too will be looking to leave the Big easy within a couple of years.

Nate
Nate

As far as whipping boys Wizards Suns Rockets Hawks Trailblazers Bobcats Pistons and as of last Friday, your lottery contending...... Magic

Nate
Nate

Maybe not Blazers.

Nate
Nate

I don't see Lopez as a major OR minor part in our offensive scheme. He is simply here so that the Hornets won't have to double-team bigs such as Howard/Bynum. The double-teams will be drawn by the penetrating guards Gordon/Rivers/etc. This will open up Ryan/3s and Davis/lobs. Gordon can create his own shot. I'm really hoping the Hornets offense will become like the Saints: So MANY WAYS to hurt you!

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

There is reduced need to attract free agents when you can make trades. And how does Dell operate? Anyone had to pay Gordon max money to attract him, and we didn't pay him the max... we oaid him the max that Phoenix could pay him.

Kosher Cajun
Kosher Cajun

Should add that the new luxury tax rules do not kick in for another year or two, so by the time Davis, Rivers hit that third-year maturity, the big market teams will have to give a little more thought to spending above the cap limits. Really good article from Yahoo explaining the hit the Lakers are taking by adding Dwight Howard, and how the same move would be 2-4 time more expensive in just a year: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/dwight-howard-tow-lakers-facing-huge-luxury-tax-235034960--nba.html

NOLA_Fredo
NOLA_Fredo

The only team I'll be worried about in 3-4 years will be the Thunder -- and that hinges on them managing to keep their core intact. I still think a team like Dallas or Atlanta will make a run at James Harden and the chance to be the big dog in a big city and get paid like a super-duper star might be too tempting. As it pertains to the Hornets, I think 3-4 years might be a bit positive. I'd say it's more realistic to look at 5 years. Davis and Rivers will be 24 years old each and entering their primes. Anderson and Gordon will be 29. We'll have added other pieces to complement/replace the ones that haven't worked out. We forget that this is a very young team (only Warrick and Mason are over 5 years in the league). They're going to grow and adapt and challenge together. I'm not worried about this season. I'm excited. Whatever happens is just the start.

Steve
Steve

I'm just worried that in this new volatile NBA environment where top teams are not subject to rebuilding could steal David away by 2015-16 when he rookie contract ends. If he's as good as advertised we'll need to really open our wallet to keep him and even then will we not be subject to a Lebron situation?

mazonmafia
mazonmafia

This is the beauty of RESTRICTED free agency!

Ron
Ron

+5. If he's s good as the h247 pundits say he'll be, then he's gone after his rookie contract.

Nate
Nate

I worry about that EVERY DAY! At least I'm not the only one.

Andres
Andres

I am looking to 2015 and beyond. Until then I will enjoy the ride and Keep Calm And Chive On.

Mike Wr
Mike Wr

Injury to a key player will likely determine which of the three top teams wins next year. And, the window won't remain open long for different reasons. The Lakers have a one season window IMO. Kobe is finally getting old and I don't see him playing at a superstar level beyond next year. If LeBron or Wade get hurt and can't play at 90% efficiency or better, MIA will be had. Who will OKC let go, Ibaka or Harden? Or, will they keep both and deal Westbrook? In any case, their window is fast closing. The Hornets have enough cap room to acquire an outstanding PG or SF but not both. They will need to get lucky again in the draft to acquire one of these two final pieces.

NOS-3RD GEN
NOS-3RD GEN

In A Hopesake sort of way I hope that OKC keep both and trade Westbrook to US in a 3-Team or 4 team Trade, and if we keep our current pick for the next Draft , draft a SF kill two birds w/one stone.

Jordan
Jordan

^Unless Rivers turns out be our outstanding PG..

Jordan
Jordan

I think the Jazz, Cavs, and 76ers are closest to us as far as "which team do I want to be a fan of other than the Lakers, Heat, Thunder" category. That being said- This trade didn't make me too upset, other than the fact that it's just annoying that the Lakers end up with the best Center of each decade over and over and over. I didn't expect the Hornets to contend for a title in 2 years anyway, and in three years tops they could be near the top of the conference. But if you look at the teams title windows, the Lakers have no more than 2 years of contention considering: Nash is turning 39 this year, Kobe is turning 34(?) Gasol is turning 33. So unless they flip Pau for another lopsided deal in the near future (kind of possible given their history), when the Hornets dynasty roles around they shouldn't be as powerful as they are now. The Heat's big Three are all on the market in two years, and Wade is just going to get older (I think he's 30 right now), but nonetheless they still have a good chance to be at the top for a while with Lebron. The Thunder could be broken up if they can't pay Ibaka and Harden. But hey, if the Lakers win a title oh well.. At least the Heat won't.

Nate
Nate

I'd rather the Heat win than Kobe's arrogant self. Then all we'd hear is how he's "as good as Jordan" cause "they both have 6 rings". Heat all the way, until the Hornets knock "The King" off his "throne". That's the most quotations I've ever used in a post. NEW RECORD!

bywas2008hornetfan225
bywas2008hornetfan225

I'm sorry but I'm a hornet fan first laker fan second and a fair weather clipper fan (cp3) and I need la to beat the heat! I root for their arrogant proclamations of seven + championships downfall!

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

I agree that I'd rather see the Heat win than the Lakers, mainly for the same reason of not wanting Kobe to get his 6th ring. The Thunder are built quite well to beat the Lakers in a playoff series - insert Kendrick Perkins laughing at everyone (including me) for thinking he should be amnestied after next season) - but if the Lakers get by OKC, I think they match up much better with Miami.

D$
D$

i agree haha, as long as the lakers can keep the heat from winning a title until the hornets get there in a couple years its all good!

Hkc
Hkc

How are the kings on the right path? Other than that, great article.

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

Tons of young talent and cap flexibility. Isaiah Thomas, MT5, T-Rob, Cousins, and even Jimmer. All fall into at least two of the following three categories - young, talented, low-priced. Cousins, Thomas, and Robinson land in all 3. If the goal is to be successful in 2-3 years, the Kings are better positioned than many other teams. And thanks! Much appreciated.

coach44
coach44

Great article, Mason. And I agree, we need to be patient and enjoy the ride.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Good assessment. Patience. Enjoy the ride to the top, let others enjoy it while they can.

Nate
Nate

Indeed.... WHILE THEY CAN... MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

lsutigers33
lsutigers33

Dirk to the Hornets wouldn't allow us to compete?

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

Not for a title, in my opinion. It'd vault the Hornets into the playoffs for sure, but that team wouldn't be on the same level as the top 3. The best possible addition to the Hornets would probably be (ironically enough) Chris Paul, and even a core of CP3 Gordon Anderson Davis wouldn't contend for a title this season. That group could possibly get close to contending in 2013-14, but only if Davis made a HUGE leap between his rookie and sophomore seasons. You're more than welcome to disagree with me about that, though!

Who Dat
Who Dat

really nice article. really excited to for the hornets upcoming season

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