THE NEW ORLEANS HORNETS AND THE NEW NBA

According to reports, the new CBA will take up to another 10 days to be ratified, meaning temporary overseas hoopers will stay put for the time being. But various details have already been worked through and leaked so let's take a look at how the new CBA affects the Hornets.

SHORT TERM (THIS SEASON)

Training Camp Opens: December 9th, 2011

NBA Season Opens: December 25th, 2011

# of Regular Season Games: 66

Trade Deadline: Early March

In less than two weeks, NBA training camps will open, and in less than a month, we'll have a Christmas opening day. The originally scheduled Christmas day triple-header will remain on the schedule; as far as we know now, those will be the only three games from the original 82-game schedule that will make it to the new 66-game season.The 2012 All Star Game will still be played in Orlando on, for now, the normally scheduled date, with the trade deadline possible pushed back a few weeks later than we'd normally get it.

Nobody else knows who they'll be playing opening day. And, perhaps more importantly, 66 games implies that not every opponent will travel to New Orleans arena this year. You'll recall that the Miami HEAT's scheduled November visit to the Arena was already wiped away. It's still possible that we'll get in a few marquee games that were originally lost of course. On the bright side, this also leaves open the possibility of a few more nationally televised games than the Hornets were granted under the previous structure.

Since the league has lost almost two entire months of play and just 16 games per team, the speed of the season is accelerated quite a bit as well. Each team will play an average of 4 games per week so we can expect back-to-backs to be the norm. What that means for Chris Paul's knee, David West returning from injury, or Aaron Gray's lumbering power remains to be seen.

The big news, of course, is that the Hornets' 10,000 season ticket holders - achieved through a commendable push by the team and new NBA ownership over the long offseason - won't be needing full season refunds and will be filling the Arena. Before we even get to the CBA specifics, the fact that we'll be getting (such a substantial portion of) a season after all is pretty huge for the future of the franchise in New Orleans. It doesn't feel an exaggeration to say that new, local ownership - perhaps Gary Chouest and minority partners, as planned all along - is right around the corner. So major props to team management for their "I'm In" campaign as well as the addition of multiple million-dollar corporate sponsors this summer. Just when it looked like their efforts would be in vain, it's all been flipped around.

SHORT TERM (FREE AGENCY)

This is where it gets messy. Here's our current roster:

Chris Paul / Jarrett Jack
Marco Belinelli / Nobody
Trevor Ariza / Quincy Pondexter (qualifying offer)
Nobody / Nobody
Emeka Okafor / Nobody

That's four of ten missing players, and depending on how you feel about Belinelli, one or two missing starters. The front court hole appears particularly ominous; no matter how much Bill Simmons attempted to randomly convince us to the contrary this summer, David Andersen isn't a New Orleans Hornet, and for the time being, neither are last year's duo of David West and Carl Landry.

Free agency opens on December 9th, the same day as training camp. Essentially, New Orleans has two weeks and a couple days to gather a starter or two, assemble a bench from scratch, and round out its roster with back end guys. That's a lot of work.

Here's how our cap situation looks:

2012 Projected Cap: $58 million

2012 Projected Tax Level: $70 million

Hornets Committed Cap Space: $44 million

The Hornets will enter free agency with the sixth highest free cap figure of all teams, behind only the Clippers. Unfortunately, as CBS' Matt Moore twatted me earlier today, "it's a really big gun with nothing to aim at." "Nothing" might be a bit of an overstatement, but I do largely agree with Moore here. It's a relatively weak free agent class, especially given our needs, and it's certainly not a great year to have a ton of cap space. What makes free agency a little more interesting is the new amnesty clause (rumored to have been included) where each team is granted one amnesty player they can axe from the roster. Not everyone will use it of course, and it's unclear whether teams will need to use it before the season opens, but the clause figures to beef up the market at least a little.

Unrestricted Free Agent Possibilities (italics for what I'd like to see)

David West
Carl Landry
Jason Smith

Troy Murphy
Kris Humphries
Reggie Evans
Chuck Hayes
Craig Smith
Brandan Wright
Chris Wilcox
Nene
Tyson Chandler
Joel Pzryzbilla
Aaron Gray

Caron Butler
Tayshaun Prince
Shane Battier
Kelenna Azubuike
Jason Richardson
Jamal Crawford
Shannon Brown
J.R. Smith (if he can get China to release him)
Michael Redd
Roger Mason Jr. (how u)

Amnesty Probables

Baron Davis (CLE)
Brandon Roy (POR)
Richard Hamilton (DET)
Vince Carter (PHO)
Gilbert Arenas (ORL)
Rashard Lewis (WAS)

Much, much, much more free agent discussion to come this week. For now, let me just say that a 12-man roster that looks like the following would be the dream:

Chris Paul / Jarrett Jack
J.R. Smith / Marco Belinelli
Trevor Ariza / Quincy Pondexter
David West / Carl Landry / Jason Smith
Emeka Okafor / Joel Pzryzbilla / Aaron Gray

How likely is it we'll achieve something like this? We'll take a closer look at contracts and financials this week; for now the odds of filling all the openings with such talent seems low, but let's see if we can at least get some of them.

LONG TERM

And then there's the reason the lockout even happened - what does the future of the NBA hold for small markets, its limited supply of superstars, and its financial growth as a league? It's still much too early to answer these questions definitively (not that I'll be able to even months and years down the road). But here are the early facts:

  • Two mid-level exceptions - a $5 million one for non-tax teams, and a $3 million one for tax teams. This should be a boon to smaller teams looking to pick up quality players as they enter playoff or title windows.
  • $2.5 million exception - a newly created exception: teams that begin under the cap and cross the threshold can sign another player using a special $2.5 million exception. The quality of player that would be completely covered by such an exception is debatable, but it's another small step forwards for small markets.
  • Birds rights players can sign for a maximum of 5 years, non-Birds for 4.
  • BRI is in a 49% to 51% range, which would ostensibly help cover team losses (old one was 57%) assuming David Stern and owners weren't lying about them. It's another (theoretical) positive for bridging the gap between small and big markets.
  • Rookies can sign their first extension for a value of 30% of the cap level, increased from 25%. This could be another small win, though it seems doubtful that a 5% increase convinces a player wanting to leave his original team to stay. There's no change in the rookie pay scale itself.

At a quick, early glance, it seems pretty clear that while the new CBA isn't perfect for small markets, it's almost certainly a step in the right direction from the 2006 agreement. It's important to remember that the truly revolutionary cap changes -- those in the mold of the proposed hard cap -- were being fought against by not only the players but by many of the bigger market owners as well. As many close to the negotiations continuously reported, a longer lockout was never likely to bring the sides closer to such goals. In the end, it looks like it will still be relatively difficult for small markets to compete, but losing an entire season was never going to change that.

In conclusion: welcome back, NBA, and Go Hornets.

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