Monday, October 25, 2010

New Orleans Hornets: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 37-45
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Additions: Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Jerryd Bayless, Willie Green, Quincy Pondexter, DJ Strawberry, Pops Mensah-Bonsu
Key Losses: Darren Collison, James Posey, Morris Peterson, Darius Songaila, Julian Wright
Projected Rotation Players: Chris Paul, David West, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thornton, Marco Belinelli, Jerryd Bayless, Peja Stojakovic, Aaron Gray

Look for the wheel to come flying off the New Orleans Hornets franchise in 2010-11… early and violently.

Duck and cover Hornets’ fans! This is gonna get ugly!

Regardless of how hard Chris Paul tries to sell us on his continued devotion to the Hornets (the people of the city of New Orleans are a different story. I believe he’s devoted to them), his displeasure with the franchise is palpable. He continues to say all the right things, but given the downgrades to the roster, it’s pretty tough to imagine that he actually means a single syllable of what he’s saying.

While the Hornets have about $19 million worth of expiring contracts ($15.3 for Peja Stojakovic and ~$4 million for Willie Green) that could be parlayed into significant on-court help for CP3, as one of the NBA’s least financial viable (and cheapest) franchises, they’re unlikely to commit to making the most of the opportunity.

Additionally, the team’s second best player, star PF David West is, for all intents and purposes, a free agent at season’s end (he’ll make ~$8.3 million in 2009-10 and has a player option for 2011-12 for $7.5 million, a pay cut if 9%). He’s already stated that he’ll be testing the market next summer, as one of the Association’s top free agents. This sets up a brutal Catch-22 for the Hornets, as they likely have NO chance of convincing Paul to stick around without a happy and committed West. However, West would be crazy to commit the remaining years of his prime years to this organization with one of Chris Paul’s feet already out the door.

So, with West committed to free agency and unlikely to return and second-round steal and budding star SG Marcus Thornton becoming a restricted free agent after the season, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza are the only legitimate NBA players to which CP3 would be guaranteed to in 2011-12. Yikes.

Combine all of these ingredients- a cheap franchise that’s drowning in red ink and in the midst of a talent exodus- with the Hornets’ poor attendance in NOLA and David Stern’s recent insinuation that contraction is very much on the table as part of the effort to cut players costs by $700 million (I hear the contracted owners do quite well in these transactions), and suddenly fans in the Big Easy should be worried not about an extended period of rebuilding for the Hornets, but their swift disassembly.

Bottom line: Like I said, this is likely to get ugly. Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Hornets at 41.5. With relative full and productive seasons from both Chris Paul and David West- in other words, the dream scenario- an over-.500 finish would be very much in play, but still not a lock.

With Chris Paul and David West seemingly already thinking about their next NBA homes and unlikely to both end the season in New Orleans, another losing record is all but guaranteed.

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