On December 9th, 2011, the New Orleans Hornets traded Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic (from the Rockets), Lamar Odom (from the Lakers), and a pick that would become the 16th pick in this year's draft (from the New York Knicks by way of the Houston Rockets). Devastated, we convinced ourselves that losing Paul for a competitive team (even if losing Paul to the Lakers) was worth it and once the deal got held up, we suffered embarrassment and scorn from the fans outside of the New Orleans area until Chris Paul was eventually traded (for good) to the Clippers on December 15th. After acquiring Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a pick that would end up being the 10th pick (from the Clippers by way of the Minnesota Timberwolves), we convinced ourselves it would be a long season and began waiting for tonight.
Through it all, we've put up with a lot. Just last season the NBA famously had to make the unprecedented move of acquiring the franchise from George Shinn and faced scorn from other franchises when they made a move to remain competitive in taking on the salary of Carl Landry at that deadline. The Hornets again were the punchlines of the league and of the fans in the league and we scrambled to make sense of that as well. Chris Paul and David West probably left as a result of that (or it, at least, was a huge factor) and we again waited for tonight.
The team was threatened for both relocation and contraction and was rumored to go everywhere from Kansas City to Seattle. Through it all, the city responded by meeting the attendance benchmark (doesn't that seem so long ago) and then stood strong again with the goal of 10,000 season ticket sales (in the middle of a lockout and with no ownership). Paul leaving after those goals were achieved seemed to be a slap in the face of those goals being accomplished but we remained unified through one commitment to the team. We were "in." And we still waited for tonight.
Eric Gordon got injured on the first game of the season. After that, injuries to Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, Jason Smith and Carl Landry followed and so did the losses. At one point, the Hornets won only two out of twenty six games from December 30th through February 13th. Through it all, the team remained competitive and stayed in games they had no business being in. Monty Williams was a huge reason for that and it gave a sense of pride in a team that just tried their butts off but weren't good enough on those nights. We took solace in waiting for tonight.
They followed that up by getting healthy at the end of the year and actually winning games. During that time, people wondered aloud whether that would ruin our chances at the number one pick; the one thing that would probably salvage our time spent this year with a losing team, having our franchise player ripped from us and having to deal with all of the uncertainty off the court. Even still, we waited for tonight.
Along the way, Tom Benson bought the team, the Hornets signed a new lease agreement with the New Orleans Arena, the NBA announced the All-Star Game was returning to New Orleans in 2014, the state provided the team with a tax break over the next ten years that would include money committed to renovations on the New Orleans Arena, they signed a brand new television deal to broaden their viewership in the Gulf South region and, finally, things looked good for the NBA in New Orleans. And then tonight happened.
Grabbing the top pick and locking up Anthony Davis is huge for this franchise. They finally have a legitimacy that wasn't previously around in the team's run in New Orleans. There's still that question of bringing back Eric Gordon, but with the good will that's happened to the team lately, Gordon coming back should be inevitable. The Hornets fans and the Hornets franchise deserved the good will. The talks of a conspiracy will come but let them talk. They talked before about how we couldn't support a team, how we were a joke after the league decided where Chris Paul went, how we didn't deserve a franchise over the city of Seattle. Yet here we are.
The number one pick guarantees nothing except for that on one night, all the people talking about New Orleans will now have to talk about New Orleans with the most promising prospect in years along with it. And I feel justified in waiting for tonight.