Yes, it's official -- our team is now called the New Orleans Pelicans.
Before we go on this wonderful, exciting and new run with Tom Benson at the helm, let's first take a trip down memory lane and see what the Hornets name meant to the city of New Orleans.
Hornets' early New Orleans days
The New Orleans Hornets adopted a really good team from Charlotte in 2001-02. Before the Hornets (and George Shinn) left Charlotte, they appeared in three straight playoffs (from 2000-2002) on the back of Jamal Mashburn, Baron Davis and PJ Brown (and apparently, Eddie Jones, who I did not remember in that playoff team during Baron Davis' rookie season). Those three (along with Lebron James and Yao Ming) were my first memory of basketball post Jordan (yes, including that horrible Wizards seasons he had.)
I was a kid back then whose only idea of "basketball" was getting the ball through the hoop and preventing the other team from scoring. That's why my love affair with Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis lasted for a couple more years before I started playing organized basketball (despite both being really inefficient shooters).
Nonetheless, one key, defining aspect of that New Orleans team was their defense. Their defensive ranking (in terms of defensive rating) was 8th, 6th and 10th. And despite the relative inefficiency of their top two scorers (they still hold a soft spot in my heart for being my post-Jordan childhood heroes), the Hornets would find a way to get into the playoffs. Coach Silas (who I briefly followed when he transferred to the Cavaliers and the Bobcats, again because of my childhood affection for that team) was able to carve out an effective defense by limiting second chance opportunities (3rd, 1st and 6th in DRB% rate). Most important in all these defensive schemes was a. Baron Davis' ability to wreak havoc in the perimeter and b. PJ Brown's quiet but effective way of playing defense.
The Hornets would unexpectedly not re-up Paul Silas contract even after a strong finish in the season. The continuous early exits might have played a role (two first round exits and two Eastern Semis defeat) but it came as a surprise to everybody (especially to the young old me).
Tim Floyd would be re-hired and would lead the Hornets despite injuries to Baron Davis (16 games missed) and Mashburn (64 games missed). I remember that year in particular because of Dwayne Wade's Game 1 floater over Davis. It hurts to know that we were one of Wade's first victims.
Soon thereafter, a new era would begin.
The arrival of a Point God
Tim Floyd would be replaced with the more exciting Byron Scott (who just had 2 NBA Finals appearance with the Jason Kidd-led Nets). An injured Mashburn and "disgrunted" (reportedly) Davis were traded right before the deadline in Scott's first season. As a bright spot, the Hornets drafted David West out of Xavier University.
That season in particular was hard to read on the newspaper -- Lee freaking Nailon and Dan Dickau were the regular headlines on the news for the Hornets back then.
And despite holding the 2nd most lottery balls at that time, New Orleans would drop by two spots, leapfrogged by Milwaukee - who won the #1 pick - and Portland who won the #3 pick (They'd trade that pick for #5 (Martell Webster) and #27 (Linas Kleiza) ).
In some ways, it worked out for the best for us because we got the prospect we (and Coach Byron Scott) really wanted -- the diminutive point guard from Wake Forest, Christopher Emmanuel Paul. I can still remember the clip on my TV set showing someone from the organization dropping the phone (with a seemingly worried Byron Scott in the background) followed by a crowd of cheers and hugs with a small TV windows showing Chris Paul finally walked up to David Stern to get his New Orleans Hornets hat. I still remember Byron Scott saying in an interview (not verbatim): "We got the player we wanted. This kid is going to be special."
And special he would be...
Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans
I had no details about this incident outside of reading it on the newspaper in the first couple of days but I remembered this not only because the Philippines (my country) was one of the most flood prone places in the world (I think) (and therefore, I know, to a degree, what a strong storm can do) but also because it affected my NBA team.
I distinctly remember at that time, the confusion and sadness. I did not have any idea how the New Orleans Hornets would play (or if they would play at all). The city (and its citizens) had other priorities (rightfully so). And for two season, the Hornets would find a home in Oklahoma (while still bearing the New Orleans name with it). It was a time of gloom and doom.
But Chris Paul - and the New Orleans Hornets - would be a beacon of hope for everybody. Taking the league by storm (no pun intended), Chris Paul would go on to win the Rookie of the Year by a landslide. Reinforcements would arrive slowly in the form of a 24 year old Tyson Chandler (for the longtime Hornet PJ Brown), 33 year old Bobby Jackson a 30 year old Morris Peterson, young and seemingly talented (*vomits a little bit*) picks in Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright and 29 year old Peja Stojakovic.
However, injuries would derail the Hornets two seasons outside of New Orleans. But that was all a prelude to the magic that was about to happen.
The Magical Season
I think everybody can agree that the 2007-08 season was where everything fell into place. We were practically healthy (I don't remember any long injuries back then). David West and Tyson Chandler finally came into their own, each providing a specific and important role on the team. David West would be the go-to scorer in the post and a solid midrange spacer while Chandler was the interior presence that we needed. He provided rebounding, ground defense (especially in the post), bonecrushing picks that were followed by dives (and lobs) to the rim - all of which were instrumental throughout the season. Peja would (for one season) re-find the magic that allowed him to become one of the most deadly off-the-ball scorers in the league and be an MVP candidate some time in his past.
For that season, the Hornets would rank as the 3rd best defensive rebounding team (by DRB%) and the 13th best offensive rebounding team in the league (by ORB%). Chandler's long arms and Chris Paul's controlled havoc in the perimeter, allowed the Hornets to be 7th best defensive team in the league despite allowing a below average defensive effective field goal percentage (17th) because they didn't concede a lot of free throws (1st in the league in FT/FGA).
Peja's (and Mo Pete's) 3PT shooting, along with David West's midrange shooting and TC's threat of what we famously called "Crescent City Connection" (CCC) and strong dives to the rim were the perfect atmosphere for Chris Paul to excel.
And that Chris Paul season. Wow. Words (and numbers) could not describe CP3's 07-08 season. It was like the stars and planets aligned for the Hornets to have this magical season after the three years of turmoil that we experienced.
The NBA would reward New Orleans with an All-Star Game hosting that I truly enjoyed (the logos and designs were particularly awesome). All in all, the Hornets would finish the regular season with the 5th best offense (111.5 points per 100-possession) and the 7th best defense (105.7 points per 100-possession), as per basketball-reference. They would have the 4th best in the league and homecourt advantage until the Western Conference Finals.
Sadly (but only for a brief moment), the Hornets would lose to the San Antonio Spurs. In all honesty, had Robert Horry not (intentionally or unintentionally) injured David West, I really thought we could advanced all the way to the Finals (yes, I picked us winning against the Lakers because of how weak the Lakers were at PG, Peja torched this bad boys for 10 of 13 and because Tyson Chandler was REALLY awesome at defending the post back then).
The beginning of the end
As Rohan stated, there was evidence to support that the Hornets' 07-08 season were "a piece or two away from greatness", which was probably why the James Posey signing (after his great run with the champion Celtics) was defensible. There were limited options at that point and the horrible seasons that our picks had (Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons and Julian Wright) forced us to rely heavily on a bare free agent market for another shot at a title. That made the Darrell Arthur trade perplexing (cheap source of talent).
The season would start on a "good" note when we won 7 straight games in the pre-season behind some torrid shooting from Posey. Of course, pre-season is very different from the regular season. The Hornets would have an inconsistent season that was hampered both by expectations and by injuries to key players (Peja, TC, Mo Pete). The injury on Chandler was particularly damaging. I still remember that Indiana Pacers game. After grabbing a rebound, Tyson Chandler would walk gingerly towards the half court line (he didn't even reach the half court line).
That was the beginning of the end. It was even exacerbated by the game-that-must-not-be-named against the Nuggets. That was a hard playoff series to watch.
Luxury Tax would scare the bejeezus out of Shinn and forced Bowser to trade Chandler for a healthy Okafor.
Peja would never be the same. Same with Mo-Pete.
Our stars (Tyson Chandler, David West, Chris Paul) would slowly, and one-by-one, disappear.
Chris Paul would suffer a partially torn meniscus on his left knee. The Hornets would miss the playoffs that year and were buoyed by two freshman (Darren Collison and he-who-must-not-be-named) and the ever reliable David West. Dell and Monty would try to right a (clearly) sinking ship. However, Shinn's finances were in the red and the NBA would swoop in to "save" the day and created more chaos on top of the CP3 crisis. Attendance benchmarks, threats of relocation, bidding from non-local buyers, yada yada yada.
A playoff appearance would not help the least (because it was pretty clear that the team was broken). A team that had too few offensive options relying on ground defense (and a short and non-imposing center in Emeka Okafor). Chris Paul in particular, played differently -- playing more facilitator than creator (as detailed by Rohan here). He would give us a glimpse of what he CAN do with a six game dominance in a loss to the Lakers in the first round.
Everyone understood that CP3 and David West was a "buy one, take one" type of a deal. So when CP3 was traded to the
Lakers Clippers, it was clear that David West would not return (he went to Indiana).
Searching for an identity
The years after CP3 left was characterized by more confusion and "WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING" than at any point in the past 9 years. No one knew their exact role. Players were thrust into roles they previously never had (and for a good reason, of course). It did not help that the centerpiece of the CP3 trade played just 9 games.
The Hornets, were lost, left to rely on a Minnesota team (that thankfully) floundered under the weight of Ricky Rubio's injury and the lack of depth. We had too many average to below average guys who played only particular roles before they came here (Jack as a scorer off-the-bench, Belinelli as a spot up shooter, Ariza as a wing defender, Okafor as an interior defender, etc...)
And then Benson bought the team (after years of another fat guy trying to buy the team, what was his name again? Cho? Chouwiwi? Lary Bhouest? whatever) and we no longer had to look yearly at the attendance benchmarks (a time when I felt so hurt that I could NOT do anything to boost those benchmarks since I was an international fan).
The Hornets, armed with 148 combinations, were left hoping against the odds (remember, we had an 85.2% chance to NOT win the #1 pick) to earn the right to draft freshman extraordinaire Anthony Davis.
On the day (it was morning in the Philippines) of the NBA draft lottery, I was on the floor of our apartment, shaking with my hands clasped together in prayer and my sweat dripping down from the forehead all the way to my toes and I only had one thought in my head:
I DESPERATELY WANTED THAT PICK.
Being a man of numbers, I knew it was improbable. But, what the hell, we had such a crappy last 3 years that I didn't even care.
I watched (with my other eye closed because I was too afraid and my TV's volume lowered) as the envelopes were opened, one-by-one.
14th pick, Houston Rockets. 13th pick, Phoenix Suns. 12th pick, Milwaukee Bucks. 11th pick, Portland Trailblazers. 10th pick, New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota). TV Commercial.
As each pick went by, I clasped my hands harder and harder.
9th pick, Detroit Pistons. 8th pick, Toronto Raptors.
Sweat started dripping profusely from all over my body. I understood that the Hornets 137 lottery balls were finally in play in the 7th pick.
7th pick, Golden State Warriors.
*SIGH OF RELIEF. CLASPS HANDS HARDER*
6th pick.... Brooklyn Nets (relayed to Portland)
*deep inside -- OMG OMG OMG*
5th pick, Sacramento Kings.
*PHEW NOBODY LEAPFROGGED US*
At this point, I was telling myself -- "we'll probably land at 4. Might as well be happy" (All the while still hoping we win).
4th pick, Cleveland Cavaliers
*JUMPING ALL AROUND!*
WE LEAPFROGGED TO THE TOP 3 PICK.
Again, at this point, I was telling myself -- "we're getting at least one of Davis, MKG or Robinson, we'll be fine."
3rd pick, Washington Wizards
*heart starts pumping more blood, eyes glued to the TV screen, arms clasped so hard they turned red, kneeling on the floor like I'm about to die, my eyes still half closed in fear*
DEAR GOD WE NEED THIS. PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE.
"The 2nd pick goes to ..."
"the..." (F*** F*** F***)
"CHARLOTTE BOBCATS" (jumping like crazy, shouting, drawing a freaking unibrow on my forehead, tweeting like I just won the lottery and hugging and high-fiving anybody).
"Congratulations to the New Orleans Hornets"
We'll probably have a New Orleans Hornets, Season in Review edition for this year. But this emotionally filled recount of the history (in my view) of the Hornets in New Orleans hopefully gave you some sense of nostalgia. From the Baron Davis era to the wonderful yet devastating first few years of CP3's career, to that magical 2007-2008 season. And then the slow, painful decline of 2008 to 2011 before a sudden influx of good news from the 2012 off season (Davis, Anderson, new owner, new practice facility, etc...). The numbers 4-9-6-7 will be forever remembered in my mind since those are the lottery combinations for the #1 pick in 2012.
It was definitely a roller coaster of a ride for the Hornets in New Orleans. Now, as we close the doors on the Hornets name, we say hello to the Pelican name -- a name that, although awkward, will usher in the new generation under Tom Benson. We say goodbye to the Hornets name that we've grown to love (and that wonderful and unique teal colored jersey) and welcome this Pelican name.
It's definitely fitting that the new name of the basketball team in New Orleans is a Pelican. For me? It's fitting because our next potential savior closely resembles a Pelican -- awkward, dangly, long-limbed but with a mean stare, a strong body and brave spirit. What about you? What are your best and worst memories as a New Orleans Hornets fan?