As they do every year, Celtics Blog has organized a great round of NBA team previews. It was our turn earlier this week, but as it is said in certain parts of the world, "it is more preferable to be unpunctual than... never." If you haven't seen it, please check out MrWayneKeller's terrific season preview as well. It's way better than this one.
But if you're still here, jump on it.
In bold are the questions posed to bloggers across the land.
Team Name: Hornets
Last Year's Record: 39-43
Key Losses: Darren Collison, James Posey, Craig Brackins, Darius Songaila
Key Additions: Trevor Ariza, Jason Smith, Pops Mensah-Bonsu (?), Marco Belinelli, Quincy Pondexter
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Darren Collison's departure was surely the most hyped. After a very decent season as Chris Paul's understudy, Collison was shipped to Indiana. Though many speculated that New Orleans could solve its front court or off-guard issues via a Collison trade, the team picked up small forward Trevor Ariza instead.
Ariza figures to improve a defense that ranked among the league's worst in 2009-2010. Offensively, New Orleans will look to utilize him the way the 2008-2009 Lakers did- off the ball and in open space, instead of off the dribble, a role he struggled to adapt to with Houston. Monty Williams has promised an increase in team pace, which could also facilitate a rebound in efficiency for Ariza.
Two of the more significant events of the offseason were moves that never actually materialized. The first- Louis Amundson to the Hornets- fell through when Golden State offered more money. Amundson figured to bring rebounding and interior defense, two things that outgoing Darius Songaila never provided. While Jason Smith- acquired from Philadelphia- did post a productive preseason, he's still a question mark. The second move- Chris Paul to anybody but the Hornets- thankfully never did go through. It's unknown at this point how close Paul was to actually leaving, but a winning year in 2010-2011 is imperative.
In other odds and ends, New Orleans lost Julian Wright and draft pick Craig Brackins, picking up Marco Belinelli and Willie Green in return. Rookie Quincy Pondexter posted a great summer league, but didn't get too much time in the preseason. And as of today, the backup point guard situation is still largely unresolved, with Willie Green- a (mediocre) shooting guard and Curtis Jerrells- an unknown entity- the depth behind Chris Paul.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Chris Paul, obviously. The outside shooting looks solid, between Marcus Thornton, Marco Belinelli, and Peja Stojakovic.
The front court- much maligned, heading into the offseason- is now reasonably deep. Aaron Gray, a solid rebounder, backups up Okafor. Pops Mensah-Bonsu will hopefully get a chance to grab boards behind David West, a very poor rebounder. D.J. Mbenga should provide some situational defense (or just situational fouls) off the bench. If Jason Smith can even come close to replicating his preseason activity levels, the front court will have taken a major step forward from 2009-2010.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
On paper, the Hornets have a shot at fielding a great defense. Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza are two of the best defensive players at their positions. Monty Williams has spoken at length about the sweeping defensive changes he'd like to see take place in 2010-2011.
But for now, I'll still list this as a weakness. The team played very, very poor interior defense last season. While that did start with poor perimeter defense, Emeka Okafor and David West must shoulder much of the blame. West struggled especially, and it seems foolish to expect drastic changes from him this year.
Backup point guard is the other glaring weakness. Many pointed to the team's weak bench in 2007-2008 as the single reason it couldn't get past the Spurs in the conference finals. That second unit was headed by Jannero Pargo, a guy I'd probably take over either Willie Green or Curtis Jerrells. Team management has indicated that it would like to keep Chris Paul's minutes in the 32-35 minutes per game range. It's going to be one sad season in New Orleans if that does turn out to be the case. The rest of the second unit has improved, but point guard depth is more nonexistent than ever.
4. What are the goals for this team?
I know a lot of these previews list goals their team "should be" aiming for every year (etc, the goal is always a championship). That's fine, and I've written similar things in past years.
This year, I'm looking at it in terms of "what is the minimum level of success I wouldn't complain about?" Realistically, that level is probably a fuzzy range, not an exact line. So what is the range for this season? I think this team is talented enough to make the playoffs for sure. Combining a borderline All-Star PF, a decently deep front line, and an athletic perimeter defender with the league's best point guard surely ensures that as a minimum expectation. I think if the Hornets can win one playoff round, I think I'd be satisfied.
So yes, that's really highly arbitrary, but I'll go ahead and call Round 2 the goal.
[Insert your own answer here].
6. No, seriously, insert your own question here.
Okay fine. "What is the worst case scenario for this team?" Umm, Chris Paul goes down, Marcus Thornton regresses significantly from Year 1, Aaron Gray reverts to past form, Pops gets cut before the season opener, and Willie Green is Willie Green. Yeah, that would suck.
Predicted Record: I dunno.