New Orleans Hornets 2008-2009 Season Preview

Last Years Record: 56-26
Key Losses: Jannero Pargo, Bonzi Wells
Key Additions: James Posey, Devin Brown

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Ron: The biggest move for the Hornets this past summer was getting a new deal worked out with Chris Paul, ensuring he'll be running point in New Orleans through at least the 2011-12 season. Huge news for team, the fans, and the Crescent City.

In free agency, the Hornets targeted two-time champ James Posey and were able to land that fish despite some serious interest from the likes of Boston and San Antonio. The clincher for the 31-year old Posey was that the Hornets were offering a four-year deal, while everyone else would only commit to three. That might come back to bite New Orleans down the road, but for the next couple of years at least, Posey should bring some tough defense and clutch shooting to a bench that often disappointed last season.

The Hornets' biggest loss was reserve Jannero Pargo, who starred against Dallas in the playoffs but opted to bolt to Russia during the offseason. Devin Brown has been brought in to replace Pargo, and he's expected to provide steady minutes at either guard position. Brown can't create his own shot quite like Pargo, but he's not likely to turn in many 1-for-10 shooting performances either.

Other than that, the Hornets didn't change much. The draft yielded nothing but some spare cash that helped reel in Posey. Bonzi Wells is still a free agent, but the Hornets, much like every other team in the league, don't appear to have any interest in re-signing him. Ryan Bowen was re-signed, Melvin Ely picked up the final year of his contract, and some tall dude named Sean Marks was found wandering through the French Quarter one night so the Hornets signed him, too.

Oh wait, you wanted significant moves? In that case, just ignore the last paragraph.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Ryan: The team concept. Yeah – I know most are expecting me to say Chris Paul, the starting five, or maybe the beams of light generated by Byron Scott's shiny dome. The Hornets' GM Jeff Bower and Byron Scott have done what many teams fail utterly to do: put together a starting five that have talents that compliment each other. When you have a floor general with uncanny passing, ballhandling and explosiveness, what do you do? Find an excellent pick and roll partner, and then space the floor with shooters – one of whom needs to be able to manufacture their own offense if the high screen is defended properly.

Tyson Chandler's offensive talents are limited to finishing a pick and roll – but other than Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, and maybe Bynum, there aren't many other big men who can do it as well right now. Check. Peja can hit threes from anywhere, and Peterson is deadly from the corner. Check. David West hits an insane 56% from 20 feet from his two favorite spots on the floor, (elbow extended and top of the key) but is also an extremely creative scorer, able to unleash at least five highly effective post moves, as well as face up and drive. Check.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Ron: The team's biggest weakness remains pretty much the same as last season: depth. The Hornets are stacked for 48 on the wings, but point guard and pivot become problem spots when the starters take a break. Mike James and Devin Brown may be able to keep the boat afloat when Chris Paul rests, but an injury to any of those quarterbacks (CP in particular) puts too many minutes on the others. There's no telling what to expect from James either, since he went from 20ppg to 5ppg in just two short years. Maybe he just needs consistent minutes to contribute, or maybe that 2005-06 season was a fluke.

But it's up front where the Hornets are really thin. Behind Chandler and West, Byron Scott has at his disposal Melvin Ely, Hilton Armstrong, Ryan Bowen and Sean Marks. Deep like a puddle of mouse tears. If Tyson or D-West get hurt for any significant stretch, the paint will not be a happy place for New Orleans.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Ryan: The Western Conference Finals. Last year it was the playoffs, and anything after the first round was gravy. This year, all of the Hornets are talking about taking it to the next level – which means going where they didn't last year: The Western Conference Finals. Of course, anything after that becomes gravy as well.

Of course, this is the West, and one of the Western big five – Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz and Rockets – won't even make it out of the first round. What a season this will be.

5. Can Chris Paul get any better?

Ryan: A player can always get better. Paul's stats were simply amazing last year, propelling him into the discussion of the greatest Point Guards not only in the game now, but ever to play the game. However – he still has a few parts to his game he can improve on. Offensively, he's not very good shooting when driving to his left. He will almost always try to come back to his right, look for a shooter on the wing, or simply dribble his way back out if he's forced left near the basket. His three point shot is still erratic. He's improved at it every year, but it's still not too much better than the league average.

Defensively, he lets himself get rubbed off a little too easily on screens – or almost always goes under them. That's partially a function of his size, but sometimes it's a function of his effort on that end. He's also sometimes pretty ineffective rotating out on shooters on the perimeter. Again – part of that is his size, even if he's there, bigger shooters aren't going to be bothered by him – but a lot of that is effort.

6. Seriously though, does anybody in New Orleans care about the Hornets?

Ron: Hell yeah! Every sports fan in town is paying attention to pro basketball these days. The Hornets' on-court success and off-court efforts last season were impossible to ignore and easy to appreciate. Ticket sales are higher than ever entering the new campaign; almost 15,000 showed up for the first preseason game! Rest assured, folks in New Orleans are already amped for the new season.

7. How do you feel about Byron Scott? Can he lead this team to a championship?

Ron: Hey, if Doc Rivers can do it…

Predicted Record: 59-23

Ryan: When I did some number crunching, I predicted 61 wins for the Hornets, and I'm tempted to stick with it, but like last year, when I got scared of predicting 50 wins after doing a similar number crunching, I'm going to drop it back 2 wins. In essence, the Hornets won 56 last year and have improved their team. Posey and Devin Brown are better than Pargo and a half-season of Bonzi Wells, and any decline due to age for Peja(31), and Peterson(31) should be offset by improvement by Paul(23), Chandler(25), and Julian Wright(21). A 3-win improvement isn't out of line.


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