A future superstar coming into his own in his second year in the league. Two major pieces being added in the offseason and paid big money. A team that looks good when completely healthy, but suffers injury after injury and winds up missing the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. It sounds like I am discussing this years’ team, doesn’t it? I am not, though. I am talking about the 2006-07 New Orleans Hornets, but the similarities are a little eerie.
In the summer of 2006, the Hornets were excited about what Chris Paul did with a terrible roster the year before, so they expedited the rebuilding process. They traded for Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic, two guys who were scheduled to make $20 million combined that season. The early returns were good, as the team started the season fully healthy and raced off to a 8-3 start. Then, guess what happened? Yep, the injuries took the team down. First Peja, then David West, and finally Chris Paul. The Big Four of CP3, David West, Tyson Chandler, and Peja Stojakovic missed 126 games. The team finished 39-43.
You could imagine the panic from fans and writers. They rush the rebuilding process and now they were right up against the cap and “stuck” with this team. The 2007 draft was good, and they should have tried to tank that year instead of adding Peja and Chandler. All hope was lost, and we were going to lose CP3 once his contract was up. We could have had Greg Oden! Ugh.
But then, what happened? The team gelled and stayed healthy the following season, and had the best year in franchise history. Chris Paul went to another level and the team won 56 games and pushed the defending champion Spurs to Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals, which was enough to convince CP3 to sign a contract extension. Future years were plagued by injuries, but a lesson was learned. When you add big pieces over the summer, it is not a guarantee that you will see the results the following year. Sometimes circumstances dictate that the process will take a little while.
In the case of the 2006-07 Hornets, CP3 was still a year away from true superstar status, and injuries to him and others didn’t let them reach their full potential. You can argue that we are seeing the same thing with this years’ Pelicans. Davis is great, but he can still take it to another level or two. And this team, when healthy, is very good, but unfortunately it looks like they will only get 6 games together over the first 35 or 40.
Did the team want to win immediately, and make the playoffs in its first year? Yes, both teams did. It didn’t happen for the 06-07 squad, and it probably won’t happen for this team either, but does that mean that the whole summer was a failure? If only the first year matters, maybe. But this is a process, and every guy in the Big Five is under contract for multiple years. And unlike the 06-07 team, none of these guys are at the end of their prime. Ryan Anderson just entered it, while Jrue, Gordon, and Tyreke are just about to enter theirs. AD is probably 2-3 years away, which is scary.
The 06-07 team showed us all that putting a team together this way is a process. The 07-08 team rewarded fans for their patience the previous year, as Lady Luck finally smiled upon a team that was ultra talented. It is hard to see the forest for the trees, as we live and die with every game as fans. We want to win and we want it now, especially when we acquire proven players with eight figure salaries like we did this season. But sometimes things take a little time, and because of youth and contract status, this team does have some time to stick with the process.
And hey, if this is 2006, you know what’s coming next year!