Last Years Record: 56-26
Key Losses: Bonzi Wells, Jannero Pargo
Key Additions: James Posey, Devin Brown
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The most talked about addition was James Posey, and for good reason. In my mind, New Orleans definitely overpaid for him. But Posey gives the Hornets something they sorely lacked last year: a legitimate defensive stopper. He probably won't start, but I envision him getting big minutes against premier scorers in the Kobe/TMac/Carmelo ilk. Throw in that he's among the best rebounders at his size and his three point ability, and it's a great addition.
Three less talked about moves may end up being just as important though: the addition of Devin Brown, the renewal of CP3's contract, and the decision to let Jannero Pargo walk.
Brown figures to see a lot of minutes at the off guard, a position sorely lacking in production for the Hornets last year. Furthermore, he offers some insurance behind backup point guard Mike James. Theoretically, this should reduce the defensive workload on Chris Paul. Since Byron Scott often played the Pargo-Paul backcourt last season, CP was left guarding taller, stronger off guards (notably Benjamin Gordon and Richard Hamilton). With Brown in the mix, that's less likely to occur.
Christopher Paul's extension, obviously, was the biggest goal for the Hornets this summer. The fact that he signed so quickly and then declared that he never considered leaving New Orleans for a second is just gravy.
Finally, the Jannero Pargo departure is often portrayed as a negative; however, statistically speaking, it was a brilliant move by GM Jeff Bower not to seek Pargo's services. Mike James will get those highly inefficient minutes played, and should turn them into slightly inefficient minutes.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Point guard. Duh. Chris Paul has a great complement of talent around him- great finisher in Chandler, great individual scoring option in David West, great shooters in Peja and Mo-Pete. But at the end of the day, this team is all about Chris Paul.
Digging a little deeper though, I think the defense of the second unit will be something to watch for. With Posey being the vaunted defender he is and Julian Wright hoping to build on his terrific D as a rookie, the bench could end up playing some very good defense.
And finally, the secret to the Hornets' defense: not fouling. They were last in the league in opponent FT/FG last year; expect a similar result again.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs. Back up bigs.
Back up bigs. Behind Tyson Chandler, New Orleans literally has nobody. Third year player Hilton Armstrong was toeing the line between abysmal and I've-seen-high-schoolers-better-than-this-guy last season. Melvin Ely was pretty shabby himself. If an opponent can get Chandler in early foul trouble, the entire Hornets' team will be thrown off kilter. It happened repeatedly last year, and there's no reason to think anything has changed this season.
The flip side of FT/FG also haunts the Hornets; they simply cannot and do not get to the free throw line enough. It's not because they don't get "respect" from the refs or anything like that. Other than CP, West, and Chandler, the Hornets don't take the ball to the hoop strong enough and get too large a proportion of their inside shots blocked.
Back-up point guard could potentially be a weak spot. However, I see Mike James returning to semi-respectable form as he gets consistent minutes.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Finals. There's no reason a 55-60 win team should be thinking anything less. Posey has around 2, maybe 3, good years left. Peja's on the wrong side of 30. David West is in the prime of his career, as is Tyson Chandler. The goal needs to be the Finals, starting this year, and for the next few years.
5. Will the Hornets' selling of their draft pick come back to haunt them?
My initial impression was yes. Guys like Billy Walker, CDR, or JRG would have provided some terribly needed depth at off guard. A big man, any big man, could have provided the hope that Armstrong and Ely do not. The more I think about it, though, the less likely it seems that any of those guys could help that much this year. Maybe a few years down the road, CDR will be the next Scottie Pippen. But for the immediate future, the Hornets did what was right. They saved up the money, and turned it into an extra year (and the clinching incentive) for James Posey. Thinking short term over long term is often a recipe for disaster, but when you have your sights on a championship, you gotta roll the dice.
Predicted Record: 57-25