As part of CelticsBlog's annual round of previews, it's the Hornets' turn.
Team Name: New Orleans Hornets
Last Year's Record: 49-33
Key Losses: Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler, Antonio Daniels, Ryan Bowen, Melvin Ely
Key Additions: Emeka Okafor, Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton, Ike Diogu, Morris Peterson, Darius Songaila
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
New Orleans did its fair share of wheeling and dealing. Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor was the headliner, with the Hornets swapping out a defensive ace with injury questions. Okafor enters the season nursing his own injury, but the hope is he can offer more consistent minutes than Chandler did in '09. The Hornets also saved money by offloading Rasual Butler and Antonio Daniels. Via the draft, Chris Paul's new backup- Darren Collison- joined the team, as did Marcus Thornton, a potential scoring threat off the bench. Toss Darius Songaila into the forward mix, and the Hornets enter 2009-2010 with a significantly different look and feel- three new players will step into the starting roles (Peterson, Julian Wright, Okafor), and a plethora of backcourt and frontcourt minutes should go to Collison and Diogu.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The point guard position. Obviously, that's been the strength since 2005; however, the Hornets seem to have the backup PG position locked down for the first time in a while. The organization has shown continual confidence in UCLA's Darren Collison. On draft night, they took him over a variety of front court options. They unloaded incumbent 2nd string PG Daniels relatively early in the offseason. And instead of bringing in a veteran 3rd string standby, they decided to roll the dice on Minnesota's Bobby Brown. If things go according to plan, not only will Chris Paul be awesome, his backup will allow him a couple more minutes of rest a game.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
One of New Orleans' biggest issues last year was an utter lack of offensive rebounding ability. Only 5 teams went one and done more often last year (now, granted 2 of those were Orlando and San Antonio... but they made up for it in many other areas). Granted, a lot of the problems had to do with severe injury issues. However, neither Okafor nor Ike Diogu is an o-rebounder in the ilk of a healthy Chandler, so that weakness could persist.
On that same note, front court depth was another huge issue. While the addition of Diogu should help, Sean Marks and Hilton Armstrong still figure to get decent minutes off the bench. That shouldn't need much elaboration. The bench sucked in general last year, but more on that under Question 5.
Finally, the team still lacks a creative scorer outside of West and Paul. Obviously, having three marquee scorers on one team might be a little too much to ask for, but having a creative wing would help snap the stagnant stretches the offense is prone to fall into. Some have hyped Thornton into the role. I'm not saying a 6'0" shooting guard can't get that job done; there are a few examples across the league. But I'll believe it when I see it.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Hard to say. From a media perspective, the Hornets certainly won't have too much expected of them after last year's disastrous ending. From a player perspective, I'm sure a few guys are feeling some pressure. David West will be 29 next year. Chris Paul's only 24, but his chances at a title have taken a step back from 2007. From a fan perspective, I feel like a first round series win would satiate the majority of New Orleans appetites. Realistic goals will only become clear at least a couple weeks into November. Between Okafor, Wright's starting job, Collison, and Diogu, there are simply too many new pieces to say for sure.
5. Will the bench suck as badly this year?
The second unit was arguably the Hornets' biggest shortcoming last year. Antonio Daniels is the only guy I can possibly defend. Julian Wright, serious step back. James Posey, mediocre. Morris Peterson, invisible. Sean Marks, eh. Melvin Ely, bleh. And that's without even getting to the unmentionables, Hilton and Devin. Speaking of which, we should combine them into one player this year. Delton Browstrong. Okay, that sounds way cooler than this combo player possibly deserves to. Helvin Brownarms. There we go. Helvin Brownarms.
The overall point is that the bench can't possibly be this bad again. I mean... it could. But it can't.
Darren Collison is a respectable player by all accounts. Ike Diogu can be rock solid if healthy. Peja Stojakovic could have a rebound year and keep his back healthy, coming off the pine. Of course, Marks, Armstrong, and the rest are going to pick up some minutes. But a second unit of Collison/Thornton/Peja/Posey/Diogu with light servings of Bobby Brown and some Kiwi sprinkles should easily outperform last year's. It simply has to.
So to answer the question, no the bench will not suck as badly.
Projected Finish: 53 wins
Projected Finish Rationale: None whatsoever