30 teams in 88 or so days: New Orleans Hornets
October 16th, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Morris Peterson (four years, $22.4 million)
Melvin Ely (two year minimum)
David Wesley (acquired from Cleveland, to be waived)
Ryan Bowen (one year minimum)
Trey Johnson (two year minimum)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Julian Wright (13th overall)
Second round: Adam Haluska (43rd overall)
Jannero Pargo (re-signed, two years, $3,806,400)
Brandon Bass (signed with Dallas)
Devin Brown (signed with Cleveland)
Marc Jackson (signed in Greece)
Linton Johnson (signed in Spain)
Desmond Mason (signed with Milwaukee)
Cedric Simmons (traded to Cleveland)
It’s hard to see quite what New Orleans planned to do going into this offseason. If their intention was to surround Chris Paul with shooters, as it probably was and definitely should have been, then it’s a job well done. In retaining Jannero Pargo while bringing in Morris Peterson and Adam Haluska to replace Devin Brown and Desmond Mason, the Hornets’ outside shooting takes another step forward. And when combined with the returning Rasual Butler and Bobby Jackson, as well as the return from injury of Peja Stojakovic, the Hornets’ outside shooting will be a strength this upcoming season. The backcourt depth in general is pretty strong.
The frontcourt depth, however, is another matter.
New Orleans seems content to roll with only four recognised big men, two of whom are Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely. Ely’s pretty bad despite one season of decency (and a contract season at that, how coincidental), whereas Armstrong is coming off of an incredibly raw rookie year. This seems to me as though it should be more of a pressing concern to Hornets management, given that the two players they’re backing up (Tyson Chandler and David West) haven’t exactly been the poster boys for health at any point in their NBA careers.
Should injuries affect their frontcourt (and it will, because they’re the Hornets), New Orleans is left with the salivating prospect of having to play one of their six small forwards in a small ball line-up. This might not be too bad if Julian Wright proves himself able to defend most power forwards in this league, but if he can’t, Stojakovic may wind up having to do it. Which would be….carnage.
Why you would bring in Morris Peterson for such an amount of money when you already had Rasual Butler, all the while letting Devin Brown walk for $1.2 million and letting Linton Johnson fall out of the NBA, seems a bit dumbfounding. Peterson is better than all of those players, but it seems silly to spend your Mid-Level Exception on a medium upgrade from Peterson to Butler of what is basically the same player. Especially when you could clearly use a big man, just drafted a small forward, and also have the overpaid former All-Star Stojakovic for the role.
And why they then effectively sold their fifth big man who they had drafted not 18 months before (Cedric Simmons), trading him for an unguaranteed contract and nothing else, was flat out weird. Is it all finances already?
Nonetheless, despite my compulsory criticism, the Hornets did not lose a lot in these upgrades. Players such as Marc Jackson, Johnson and Brown made for some nice depth, but they weren’t rotation players in an ideal world anyway. And the Hornets rotation as it stands is quite good. It’s improved upon where it was, and this team would have been a playoff team last year with some better health.
But there’s still flaws here. The injuries are going to happen again, even if it’s to a lesser degree. You can’t assemble an injury-prone roster and then complain that injuries affect your season. You should know that in advance. The Hornets had it particularly rough last year with only Jannero Pargo playing more than 75 games, and he was supposed to be a third-stringer. But numerous injuries is a situation that is almost certainly going to happen again. That’s what happens when you spend big money on Bobby Jackson, Stojakovic and David West.
Also, there’s quite a bit of irony to be found in wanting to assemble a roster of shooters and then signing Ryan Bowen.
So much – perhaps too much – of the season relies on the starting frontcourt trio of Stojakovic, West and Chandler. While Chris Paul is the star player around whom the team is rightly built, he needs plenty of help to do so. Assembling a team of shooters around Paul helps, and the starting frontcourt pairing of Chandler and West is young and somewhat dynamic. But those two are also the only plus rebounders on the team, and only Chandler and Armstrong provide much interior defence. To rely on such fragile players and minimal depth is open to question, and so that’s what I’m doing.
Having spent huge amounts of money on this trio last year, the Hornets didn’t get too great of a return. Chandler enjoyed a wonderful bounce-back season, but West and Stojakovic played only 65 games combined, leaving the Hornets short of offence for much of the season. That won’t cut it if the Hornets are to crack .500 and make the playoffs, something which they have the talent to do.
Chandler, especially, needs to have an epic (or at least comparable) season. His career to date has gone:
1st year – Poor
2nd year – Decent
3rd year – Poor (injury permitting)
4th year – Really good
5th year – Yeesh
6th year – Really good
Last year he emerged as a an elite rebounder, and rediscovered some of his lost offensive skill. His offensive skill always peaked at mediocre, based largely around the unattractive but effective flail towards the rim, and an extremely mediocre jump/free throw shot. After taking the 2005 offseason off, though, Chandler lost these skills, and his subsequent confidence in his abilities. They look to be on the way back, which bodes well for the Hornets, but he needs to end this cycle for the Hornets to succeed this year.
And they can do that. They’re not in the West’s elite, and they’re not all that young any more (West is now 27, and their wing players are all veterans). Nonetheless, it’s a playoff-calibre team, which isn’t finished, but one which has an identity and is fairly well-rounded.
They just need to stay somewhat healthy.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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