In part one of our Western Conference Southwest Division preview of the off-season, we look at the New Orleans Hornets.
The story for the Hornets last year, besides their alternate home in Oklahoma, was undisputed Rookie Of The Year Chris Paul. But the league also took note of the standout play of David West who stepped into the starting rotation after the trade of Jamaal Magloire.
Combined with the usual inspiring play of Speedy Claxton, the Hornets spent a substantial part of the season within reach of the playoffs. This despite the falling out between J.R. Smith and coach Byron Scott.
Smith's second season fell very short of the expectations from his rookie year. So much so, he was almost traded to the Spurs for Brent Barry during the season and his name has remained in trade rumors ever since.
With Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton, the Hornets had as solid of a rotation at the point guard spot as any team could desire. Claxton's impending free agency is some cause for concern given that he often played both guard positions. The shooting guard position remains a problem since Smith was unable to fill the void last season. P.J. Brown and David West present a solid Center and Power Forward line-up. Although, the 13 year veteran is not getting any younger or faster.
Desmond Mason, Rasual Butler and Kirk Snyder represent the most solid guys on their roster beyond that. With the 12th pick in the draft on Wednesday the Hornets are unlikely to land a game changing player like Chris Paul again.
Even though they are picking at the latter end of the lottery they should be able to land a solid player for the future. This year's draft is difficult to predict as there are a lot of talented players available but few who appear to be "sure things" for stardom.
Given their overall lack of depth, unless the Hornets make a trade to move up into the first 5 picks of the draft, they will likely aim to draft the highest rated player left on the board when their turn comes regardless of the position (except perhaps point guard). They will have to hope that they did a good job of rating the players who are left at that point.
History will almost certainly prove that at least one future all-star will be available at the 12th pick. The trick, obviously, is figuring out which one is it.
The Hornets also have the 15th pick in the draft. Thus, they should be able to draft a big man to help with their front line and still add some scoring punch via a shooting guard or small forward at the 15th pick. For a team lacking depth, these two picks could prove very useful for the team's growth.
The biggest hole in the Hornets line-up is at shooting guard. Claxton played out of position there much of the season and Snyder handled the position adequately. But they lack an established starter at that spot. If the draft does not deliver a starting shooting guard, it will likely be their top priority in free agency. Claxton's free agency must be a concern for the Hornets brass.
As previously mentioned, the team lacks overall depth as well. As such, they will be looking for quality guys, at most every position, willing to fit into Byron Scott's system and hungry for the chance to earn some playing time on a growing team. The team will also have to decide if it can and will bring back Rasual Butler who is also a free agent.
With the trade of Magloire and the suspension of colorful Chris Anderson, the Hornets are especially lean at the center position. Any help they can get there in free agency or the draft will be welcomed.
J.R. Smith is the obvious guy on the trading block for the Hornets. His name has been rumored in several cities leading up to the draft. His youth and potential make him a desirable target despite his sub-par second season. Every coach worth his salt will believe he can get the best out of Smith and undo any harm that Byron Scott did to his confidence.
The yearly rumors of somebody trying to trade for P.J. Brown are almost an NBA tradition at this point. His solid rebounding, consistent numbers, reputation of toughness, and veteran leadership make him an ideal target for just about every would-be contender in the league.
Of course, all of those qualities make for sound reasons for the Hornets not to give him up too. This team had the playoffs within reach during much of this past season and a veteran like Brown could be key to realizing those goals next season.
This team was expected to be among the worst in the league last season, but Chris Paul, Speedy Claxton and David West hauled them into respectability much earlier than anticipated. However, with so little depth, it would not be surprising to see the Hornets go after young guys and build for the future.
On the other hand, with West and Paul already in place they may feel sound in their future and instead aim for adding some veterans who will be ready to help them move up to the next level and claim a spot in the playoffs. In the ultra-competitive Western Conference and especially in the loaded Southwest Division, it will be difficult to find a way into the playoffs.
The Hornets will need to be very successful in their draft picks, trades and free agency moves to make it to that level. But with Chris Paul at the helm, the New Orleans Hornets' future is bright.