New Orleans Hornets
Last Year's Record: 39-43
Key Losses: Desmond Mason, Devin Brown, Marc Jackson, Cedric Simmons
Key Additions: Morris Peterson, Julian Wright, Melvin Ely
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
When the Hornets get a hankerin' for a player, it appears it never goes away. They signed Morris Peterson to an offer sheet three years ago and tried a couple times to trade for Melvin Ely, but the Raptors matched the Peterson offer, and the trades for Ely never panned out. So the first summer they became available, the Hornets went and signed them. While Peterson isn't going to knock your socks off, and can best be described as "solid" or "average", he'll be replacing Desmond Mason, and the descriptions Mason earns are "tries hard", "plays with energy" and "Shoots as poorly as an Imperial Stormtrooper". So you can guess that "solid" will be a big upgrade for the Hornets. Ely will replace Marc Jackson as wide-body backup. No word yet if he shrieks as loudly as Marc when he gets stripped, but I'm hoping.
The other significant move was letting Devin Brown walk. The impact may be negligible, since Peja Stojakovic is back from injury and rookie Julian Wright seems to be a player, but Devin was an integral part of this team last year. I can't say enough for the versatility he showed while Chris Paul, Bobby Jackson, David West and Peja Stojakovic were all modeling suits on the sidelines during games.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
A youthful core. It's a basketball maxim that the two hardest positions to fill on a team are Center and Point Guard. Well, those happen to be the two biggest positions of strength on the Hornets. Chris Paul is only 22 and a consensus top 5 point guard in the league and Tyson Chandler is 25 and an exceptional rebounder and shot blocker. Add the 27 year old David West at Power Forward, and you've got three positions filled with good players for a very long time. If 20-year old rookie Julian Wright and 22-year old back-up big man Hilton Armstrong, both of whom seem to have all the tools for success, can contribute in a year or two, this team will contend for a long time.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Aging wing players. Though the Hornets have solid youth everywhere else, the primary wing players are a veteran bunch. Peja Stojakovic is 30, was never fast, and won the "Most Likely to Need a Walker" award last year when his back turned to goo. Morris Peterson is also 30 and has never displayed blazing speed. At least Peterson has proven to be injury-resistant in the past, something Bobby Jackson, the backup shooting guard, can't claim. Bobby is 34 and loves contact, but unfortunately his bones and tendons are as durable as balsa wood, so he's only averaged 52 games over the last five seasons. There is a little youth behind them in Julian Wright and Rasual Butler, but Wright is an unproven rookie, and Butler is a proven 8th or 9th man at best, so the Hornets have to hope Peja's back won't collapse again until Wright is ready.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Playoffs. As would be expected in a team blogger, I think they are capable of more, but this team's success will be entirely measured on whether they reach the playoffs. The players expect it, the coach expects it, and what's more, the owner expects it, which means the coach's job depends on it.
5. Hey wait - aren't the Hornets playing in New Orleans again?
This is, and should be, the biggest story for the Hornets. I'm a little bemused at the difference between the Saints return to the Crescent City and the resounding silence about the Hornets return. The best(or worst, really) I can find in print about it is brief paragraphs about how the Hornets will never succeed in that devastated market.
At least it seems that the Hornets are giving it every effort to make it work. In the past, the Hornets have never come across as the most savvy organization out here at marketing itself,(it was run out of Charlotte, you know) but even a jaded cynic like me has been fairly impressed with the recent marketing push to reintegrate with their home city. From obtaining a local owner in Gary Chouest to a new "Fleur de Bee" logo to local appearances and a wonderful new website(really, check it out: http://www.nba.com/hornets/dontcountneworleansout.html), this team has been making a real effort to succeed in the New Orleans area. They've gone so far as to have their Director of Marketing, Michael Thompson, become active on the fan boards, pushing team initiatives and giving fans sneak peaks into the Hornets organization.
Sadly, the national networks don't see much potential in this story, giving the Hornets only 2 nationally televised games all season. When the Saints returned, they opened on Monday Night Football against a premier opponent. The Hornets home opener is against ailing Sacramento on the second night of the season, And ESPN is carrying Cavaliers v. Dallas starting at the exact same time. The Hornets hit national television November 7th at 10:30 EST against Portland in what was clearly supposed to be a "Here's Greg Oden" game. Hopefully, when the Hornets do well, we'll see more national games and more of a focus on the return to New Orleans. Anything that brings the national attention back to New Orleans is a good thing.
Predicted Record: 48-34
I crunched the numbers on my Blog, using stats gleaned from Dave Berri's Wages of Wins Journal, career averages for games played per season, and my own estimated rotation, and got an result of 50 expected wins for the team. But 50 is a big, impressive round number, so I'm going to make myself feel better and drop two wins from it, using a much less intimidating 48.
(Make sure you check out Ron Hitley's Season Preview over on Hornets247.com. His predicted record makes him, and anyone else who might predict a similar number, look like a genius.)