[Bumped from the FanPosts. I've obviously been on record as supporting the current rebuilding plan; 504life provides a great opposing viewpoint here, both in terms of short and long term implications. - Rohan]
Remember back in the fourth grade how there was that one dorky kid, a loner, and completely awkward with pretty much everything? Then, as you began to grow up and progress through each and every school year and witness certain changes in your body, voice, and hormones, you also witnessed that dorky kid hit a serious growth spurt over the summer, and he had apparently started working out, not to mention he ditched the glasses for contacts, rediscovered styling gel, and recently got his braces removed. Everyone was pretty shocked on the first day of school to see this "new" guy. He was still not totally different, as there were some nuances with his personality that may or may work themselves out, but on the whole, he was a drastically different person on the outside. That guy is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It's interesting to see a team that had been a joke for the last few years finally start to turn it around, and the Wolves are apparently doing just that. Paying top dollar to land Rick Adelman was perhaps GM David Kahn's best move, and at last, there's someone in the coaching position who has the ability to get the young talent of the Timberwolves to mesh together into a totally cohesive unit in all phases of the game. The franchise is renewing trends it hasn't seen since the prime days of Kevin Garnett when he sported a Minnesota jersey. The experienced coach Rick Adelman has a fantastically talented group of players in their youth who have shown incredible promise for the future. Kevin Love is playing like a top five NBA player; he simply does it all, from everywhere. No one in the league now rebounds like he does night in and night out, and it's a shocker when he DOESN'T rip down at least fifteen boards a game. Ricky Rubio has at long last made his triumphant arrival to the NBA where he has thus far dazzled columnists, bloggers (I'm looking at you Zach Harper, with your puppy breath and cinnamon hashtags), and spectators alike with his smoothness on the court as well as his antics off of it that let the media and all who watch him fall in love.
Also, note that Adelman is getting good work from Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, and Luke Ridnour, turning one time afterthoughts into serviceable and often productive starters on his youth-laden squad of basketball squires. Sprinkle in a little bit of J.J. Barea and Derrick Williams and you have quite the exciting team. This is a complete 180 of what fans saw last year when the Wolves ended with yet another top lottery selection after yet another putrid season. The Wolves are working their way back to relevance in not just the Western Conference, but in the rest of the league, and that is incredibly unfortunate for our New Orleans Hornets.
Witnessing the Wolves actually play to their potential was a sneaking truth that many Hornets fans did not want to admit. Many of us had talked ourselves into honestly believing that we could have the top two picks in the draft. Though it's still possible, it's highly unlikely to happen barring a disastrous (and also unlikely) meltdown. Hornets fans will more likely be looking at a draft pick in the late teens instead of what many suspected to be a surefire top ten selection, and that can do quite a bit of damage to the outlook of this team and their plan to build with aspirations of a championship team built around Eric Gordon (maybe).
Should the pick wind up becoming anything less than a mid-lottery pick, the Hornets MIGHT be in trouble down the road primarily because the plan to rebuild through the draft will have taken a turn in an unknown direction when the outcome is much higher up in the air. Now, how do you sell that to a fan-base lacking the masses that keep even the worst of teams profitable? Let's be honest here, you will have a hard time getting prospective fans to bite on "potential", draft picks, and future cap space, especially in a city and region completely dominated by football. So, as we start to witness what this season is going to look like and gauge the reactions and feelings to losing of us die-hard fans, we can only imagine how this looks to casual and prospective fans; it's a sharp detractor.
I really, really hate to be a downer, and normally I'm as optimistic as they come, but there's really a lot riding on this plan. Perhaps not as much as I'm suggesting, but one thing is obvious, and it's that things are really screwed up. Not just with the Hornets organization, but with the entire league and the foundations it is built on. Any direction the Hornets take is a cop out to the fans. Rebuild now and the ten thousand fans that bought into the "I'm In" campaign get a huge slap in the face while attempting to convince them that Eric Gordon, "pieces", and future savings is a huge return for Chris Paul.
Acquire established players and you can fool the audiences with what appears to be a contending team, but really it's just enough to grab a middle seed in the post-season and get washed out by the second round. But the team led by David Stern and the NBA has made sure that the Hornets rebuild. If Chris Paul was going to leave the Hornets on Stern's watch, he was going to leave under Stern's rule. Stern made a choice that assured the team would struggle this year and probably next, with the future hopefully getting brighter after that. But the risk is enormous. The plan could backfire completely and leave Stern, the Hornets, and whoever the next owner is, looking like utter fools.
Making a successful rebuild in a similar model to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder requires far more luck than careful planning and positioning. Remember that the Seattle SuperSonics, not the OKC Thunder, drafted Kevin Durant; I'm insinuating that the team moved shortly thereafter. When the Sonics arrived in OKC they were greeted by a humble and excited fan-base that would support them win or lose, something the New Orleans Hornets simply don't have. People don't show up to games because they've been given nothing solid to look forward to. Warriors fans filed in for games the past few years to see an exciting offense that could put up 130 points a night. Clippers fans packed the Staples Center to go goo-goo at Blake Griffin's explosiveness. The bad teams offered excitement in the form of explosive offense to draw in people to watch games. Organizations knew that their teams weren't going anywhere that year, but they still managed to make profit by supplying an entertaining product that reeled in those casual fans. Of course, they also benefited from being in large markets.
Again, the Hornets just cannot win in this situation. They're not going to win a whole lot of games this season, and they are not going to score in any special fashion. Winning and offense is what get those casual fans into the arenas, none of those things are in New Orleans. The icing on the cake is the open comments by Monty Williams that this team has no offensive philosophy. If you're not going to win games any time soon, the best option would at least be to put an entertaining product on the floor so that the team may show up on the good side of ESPN's top 10 plays, but that is not the way our team is currently constructed, and likely never will be under Monty Williams.
Now I'm not knocking Monty as a coach, but I will admit he's still got some growing to do. In the current system of the NBA, fans are not attracted to defense, and solid defenders named Okafor and Ariza are not going to put fans in seats. People are attracted to the offense brought by a player like Eric Gordon who may or may not become a superstar, and no one is talking about those other guys. A rebuild in this market is perhaps the worst case scenario for Monty. He's a defensive minded coach with an offense that lacks serious playmakers and regularly bottoms out the league in offensive pace. It's difficult to watch this team night in and night out, especially for people who don't quite understand the sport, and couple the slow pace with more and more losing efforts and you are bound to struggle to sell your product to consumers.
In the Lakers trade, you could sell prospective fans on the idea of Kevin Martin being your leading scorer, Scola averaging 20 and 10, and Odom being a dynamic player off the bench. Prospective fans would definitely buy into that because they could YouTube those players and see some brilliant play. The team would be lacking a potential star, but the media could feed fans information that would suggest a bigger move coming next or the pieces possibly luring a superstar to come and play for the team next season. It would have hugely benefited the team in the short term enough to continue to build off of the momentum of the "I'm In" campaign, and it also would have left the team with more movable parts in case they planned on going into full rebuild mode. Instead, Stern chose a different business model for the Hornets, one that halted ticket sales momentum and is far less likely to work and requires an incredible amount of luck.
You rarely see teams build through the draft anymore. Yes, the Thunder did it, but it took them quite awhile and a ton of luck, and even still they're probably not going to beat a team like the Heat in the Finals. This is why I question the business model that David Stern has chosen. This sort of rebuild can work in certain markets, ones that are not struggling to meet attendance benchmarks, but in this small market, it's a giant risk, one that was blindly taken. There's a bit of a double standard for the real philosophy of teams in the NBA. Many fans believe that the ultimate goal is to win a championship, at all costs. But depending on the size of the market, that may only be half true. In big markets like Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Dallas, and Miami, that is very true. All of those organizations have shown the willingness to spend the money needed to win a title. Notice I said "spend money", not "develop the talent".
In smaller markets, the plan is different and the goal is to win enough, not necessarily a championship. Occasionally, a small market team will come across an elite level talent or two and develop them into great players and have a championship run for a few good years, and then eventually they fizzle out and have to flounder in obscurity for years before/if they catch lightning in a bottle again. That's essentially what the Spurs have done as they wave goodbye to the Tim Duncan era.
Rebuilding through the draft takes a long time and a lot of bad basketball, two things that this team is not in position to handle, but Dell Demps (or really, the ghost of Dell Demps) has said that the team is not going to cut any corners in the process, but really, they already have by acquiring Eric Gordon who's already due for an extension. With the already rapidly declining value of the Minnesota pick, a headliner of the Chris Paul trade, it would be a wise move to ship it out in a package for a rising young player that has already shown something in the NBA. Trading away the pick and Okafor for a player like DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute steal, and that's something the Hornets should be looking at potentially doing. Something like that can expedite the rebuilding process while still maintaining your own draft position, perhaps bettering it in the short term. As a fan, I would have a lot of interest in a core of Gordon, Cousins, and whoever this year's first rounder is. That's something you can really sell to fans because the core is already in place and now they must grow with each other and front offices must surround them with the right veteran players and system.
Whatever the case, one thing is certain and it's that this organization needs more changes in a lot of areas in order to milk the market it is in. They cannot use the "Lakers trade business model", and must commit to David Stern's ideal vision of rebuilding. This basically puts the team in an impossible spot, and a place that requires many random variables to fall in the right direction. If this team ever wants to rebuild successfully, there's no room for an Okafor, an Ariza, a Landry as a starter, or a Jarrett Jack as a team captain. Those guys will all have to go sooner rather than later, and the sooner they go, the better it will be for the outlook of the team. But until those guys go, we will continue to have one of the least effective offensive teams in the league and be a burden on the eyes and mind to watch play. For now, the goal should have been to round up a team of players that can win some games and compete in the Western Conference. It would have allowed casual fans to become more involved because the team is winning, developing them into more of a hardcore type fan. This establishes a firmer fan-base that the team can use to make riskier moves like a rebuilding process. Seattle opted to rebuild without a large enough, dedicated fan-base, and in the end, the Sonics became the Thunder of Oklahoma City because there was no profit or patience in that market. And since the team left, more and more people have cried out wanting a team back, proving the coined phrase "you don't know what you've got until it's gone". That's something New Orleans is all too familiar with after losing the Jazz years ago.
Where does the team go from here? How can it be consistently successful and profitable? How long will fans have to wait for this to happen? The organization can rebuild the old fashioned way, they can rebuild in a hybrid sort of way, or they could acquire veteran players to win enough for the next few years. In any case, there's still a lot of waiting needed before this team can achieve the stated goal of winning a championship, but no matter what route they take, it may all be for nothing because uncontrollable aspects just did not work out in favor of basketball in New Orleans.
The Hornets can't win in any scenario without a miracle, and miracles don't happen often in the NBA. That's especially true if you don't have a superstar player. But miracles are something that sports fans in New Orleans have come to expect and have hope in, and this hope is probably unfounded, yet it still resides in the backs of our minds. For now, there will be no miracle though. Not until the Hornets can gain more footing in New Orleans rather than have one foot out of the door. The only thing I can say is that for right now, we all need to care about our team because they're a big deal to us. So, Hornets fans, keep those fingers crossed because this could be an even longer, more tiresome journey than we could have ever anticipated.