Two years ago the New Orleans Hornets were in a potent position to dethrone the Los Angeles Lakers as the best team in the Western Conference. At current it seems that those days are long-gone memories, and I think it’s quite sad that the fondest memories of the Hornets were winning in the first round and then losing to the Spurs in seven games.
Not only have things changed for the Hornets, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are now a team at the bottom of the barrel, with their messiah leaving the humble city for bigger horizons. The Lakers rather than being dethroned have gone on to win two championships and are still the team to beat. The Oklahoma City Thunder (Sonics) has replaced the Hornets as the "up-and-comer" in the league. Now it seems that Paul wants to follow in the foot-steps of Lebron rather than create his own. It’s sad, but that’s the way sports work. If a team doesn’t put in place a short term and long term plan to remain consistently relevant it can fall apart at the seams and quickly disintegrate.
Lebron: Lebron says…cover your mouth
*Chris covers his mouth
Damage Control for Nouvelle Orleans
For the Hornets it is a state of damage control and immediate repairs are needed. A team once filled with shooters is now a team that is a mix of youth (Collison and Thornton) and aged, slow veterans (Stojakovic and Posey). After Monday’s meeting with Paul the Hornets are putting together a plan to help build an immediate championship contender, "we have to be creative and Dell’s got his work cut out," Monty Williams said at a Press conference on Tuesday, "going into the year with Marcus as our only two [shooting] guard we’re certaintly going to have to shore up that spot. Nobody is the starting two guard on this team, that spot is up for grabs." Williams went on to say, "there may be a creative trade to fill that void." It’s clear the team isn’t settled heading into the season and that something must be in the works for Williams to immediately identify a weakness. But even if a trade were to be pulled off before the upcoming season, many believe it may not be enough.
There is however still the issue of the starting small forward and the backup center positions. It seems however that Demps, "has his work cut out" but that he’s up to the challenge. Monday’s proceedings left me with somewhat renewed confidence of the Hornets current situation. But rather than feel relieved of the Hornets prospects it became immediately obvious that there is some external force at play, motivating the already current shifting dynamics in the NBA.
Shifting dynamics in the NBA, a superpower league
Old-timers like Jordan and Magic acknowledge that, "Kids these days had opportunities we didn’t," but that Jordan says, "I wasn’t looking to play with those guys I was hoping to beat them." Magic says something quite similar, "I came into the league looking at ways to beat Larry not to play with him." The days of competitive rivalry between the upper echelons of basketball talent within the league are fast becoming obsolete. An Olympian pact in Beijing is what is driving the league these days and the opportunity to be able to market this is at an all time high.
That is why the NBA landscape is changing. Is it for the better? Well if you’re a Heat fan you certaintly think so. Lebron’s management is pushing a two team superpower league, an advancement of the Magic-Bird rivalry, a shift towards the bigger city markets. There’s no doubt that if your team is in a big city that the financial benefits are there. But when I look at competing sports it becomes clear that the NBA is very different to the NFL and NHL in that facet of spreading the competition.
Only just last season the New Orleans Saints won a Superbowl and in the past decade cities like New Jersey, Anaheim and Detroit have won the Stanley cup. Yet in the NBA only the Spurs have seemed to won a championship and it’s debatable whether they are even a small market themselves (they are in Texas).
The NBA is becoming eerily similar to that of Premiership Soccer in England. For those of you not familiar there are really only four clubs in contention for the title. The next 4 clubs are in contention for qualifying spots in the European cup. While the rest just try and stay in the league and not to get relegated.
What ever happened to standing up for the little guy?
What happened to the Cavaliers is more than devastating it really is a tragedy that not even Shakespeare could conjure up. Sure there are sports nations out there who’ve never won a championship in decades, but Cleveland has done it in style. The NBA is trending and Chris Paul is the next target for Lebron’s moguls to get him in a big market where he can surround himself with other superstar talents. Now there’s nothing wrong with a firm trying to fill their clients need to win championships, but the problem is they are exercising options that really only involve big market franchises, what I’d like to see is LRMR try and assist the New Orleans Hornets rather than hinder their plan to help build a championship team in the Bayou city.
The rumors are according to the wonderful Ken Burger that, "According to multiple people within the NBA who are familiar with the Hornets' predicament...[CAA] are continuing to push Paul's exit strategy from New Orleans -- something members of the organization are well aware of and expected." Why does Paul’s agency seek out ways to get him out? If they had Paul’s best interests at heart they would help the Hornets task of bringing in top flight talent. But no, they have Lebron’s grand scheme at work.It is somewhat Lebron’s fault because he and his agency are pushing him out, so blaming him is quite a rational thought. They must not only get Chris out, they must re-shape the NBA and for two teams that are superpowers a kin to the Cold War. There is a bigger picture at work and NBA fans of New Orleans, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Sacramento and even Washington are not part of this.
The Hornets and their action plan
For the Hornets there are three things that have to happen in the next 12 months.
1. Gary Chouset must purchase the Hornets as soon as possible
I stated back in a piece I wrote a while back, that in order to set a common direction the organizations first priority would be to sort out the ownership situation. I never fully understood the importance of a steady ownership, but what it does to the marketability of the club is staggering. The financial implication is that with Chouset the Hornets will be willing to go out and spend. It must be noted that previously the Hornets have spent money on Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, James Posey and Tyson Chandler. But with Chouset not only can the organization fund more for player salaries but it can fund an expanded front-office, conditioning, facilities and other important investments in building a championship team. To free agents ownership stability is often an important trait of an organization.
2. The Hornets must win more than 50 games
This is essential to retain Chris Paul. Last season the 8th seed in the west scraped through with 50 wins. That probably won’t happen this year but 50+ wins ensure to Paul’s group that the organization is heading in the right direction. If you win it puts the media at large to rest, the hype settles and ultimately free agents seek you out rather than avoid you. Winning solves everything, from revenue for an organization to a disgruntled star. It is possible to win 50 games, I do believe that but it all depends on the health of the team. Players missed a combined 300+ games last season for the Hornets. If we can remain healthy I can assure you that we will make the playoffs. Remember the Hornets haven’t been truly healthy since the 2007-08 season and remember what happened there.
Byron Scott look-a-like contest winner, Monty Williams, makes an announcment that Chris Paul loves 'stash
3. The Hornets must acquire top-flight talent
This comes from the above two, but the front office realizes that acquiring talent to the roster is a must. There’s no joking about this time. If we screw around like we did this free agency Paul is really going to demand a trade. The real question is when?
I look at three time periods when the Hornets are likely to acquire new players to the roster. The first is before this season starts. As previously noted, Monty feels that there is a need for another 2-guard. I expect this to happen before the season begins. Nothing major will happen before the season starts. The second will be towards the trade deadline. If the Hornets aren’t playing well expect rumors to fly around that Chris is leaving, but I think also that if this is the scenario the team will really make a push to get rid of Peja’s big contract and bring in a big-name to turn the season around. Even if we’re playing well, expect the Hornets to shake things up a bit. The third period will be next year’s free agent period. People are talking ‘Melo and I think if he opts out there’s a case to be made for him. But there must be something done in this period at all costs. We will have 22 million dollars in expiring contracts so there’s no excuse to be made.
It’s not inconceivable that the Hornets get together a championship roster in the next season. But I think we must pinch ourselves because the reality is that it really is difficult to put together a roster that can compete with the Heat. Any slip up in the next year (and by slip up I mean not winning and not acquiring talent) you can bet your bottom dollar that Paul’s agent will be pressing hard to get his client out.
We’re not out of the woods yet. The NBA is changing drastically and if New Orleans can’t accommodate for their superstar then the trend of small markets becoming irrelevant in the NBA will only be hastened.