2012 NBA Off Season Preview: New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets

2011-2012 Record: 21-45, 5th in Southwest
Stat Leaders: Jarrett Jack, 15.6 ppg, 6.3 apg. Chris Kaman, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Depth Chart

C - Emeka Okafor, Gustavo Ayon
PF - Jason Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu
SF - Trevor Ariza
SG - Greivis Vasquez, Xavier Henry
PG - Jarrett Jack

Restricted Free Agents: G Eric Gordon
Unrestricted Free Agents: C Chris Kaman, F Carl Landry, G Marco Belinelli, G Jerome Dyson, F Lance Thomas, C Darryl Watkins

2011-2012 Season Recap: The Hornets were the talk of the short pre season, as Chris Paul was traded to the Lakers, then overruled by King Stern and sent to the Clippers instead. Analysts thought the Hornets received a kings ransom for Paul, but Eric Gordon missed most of the year, Al-Farouq Aminu didn't really improve his game and the Timberwolves finished with a better record then expected. Injuries ravaged any chance that New Orleans had to be competitive, as they suited up an amazing 22 guys throughout the year.

The Good: The Hornets finally have an owner for the first time in almost two years. Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, purchased the team and will keep them in New Orleans. That is great news for a franchise that has had one foot out the door since Katrina hit the city. The roster does not look that great, but other then the contract of Emeka Okafor, they are in great financial shape. They aren't saddled with bad contracts like a lot of other teams. Jarrett Jack and Greivis Vasquez were both bright spots for the Hornets, helping lead the team to a better then expected 21 wins. Both guys showed that they could possibly be starting point guards in this league. Young big men Jason Smith and Gustavo Ayon both showed nice flashes and should be a part of the rotation going forward. I think Monty Williams is one of the best young coaches in the NBA. He did a very good job getting 21 wins out of a team with so many injuries and D Leaguers.

Which fly by night hipster trend will Al-Farouq Aminu
jump on next? Stay tuned!
The Bad: There really is not a lot to build around with this current roster. Eric Gordon needs to be brought back by any means necessary. He was the key piece in the Chris Paul deal and if the team only gets 9 games out of him that would be a travesty. Assuming he is resigned the team needs to find long term starters at the other four positions. Al-Farouq Aminu is still only 21 years old but it was troubling that guys like Jerome Dyson and Solomon Jones were getting minutes over him. Emeka Okafor continues to become more and more mediocre with each passing year. His legs aren't holding up and he might become a very highly paid Erick Dampier soon. He is not worth the money, but unfortunately, no team is going to trade for him.

Key Free Agents: Eric Gordon is one of the top free agents available. Fortunately for the Hornets he will be restricted. I could see a team out there offering him near the max, and New Orleans should match. Gordon is one of the most efficient and best scorers in the NBA. Even during an injury ravaged season, he still averaged 20 points per game in 9 games played. The problem is that he is one of the most injury plagued guys in the league, and you might only get 60 games per season out of him. Is that worth the max? We will see. Other then that the Hornets will probably let their other key free agents, Chris Kaman and Carl Landry, walk. Both guys are productive veterans who will probably want to help contending teams win a championship.

Projected Cap Space: $21,155,550. Other then Okafor's unbearable contract that still has two years and 14 million per left, and Trevor Ariza's two years at 7 million (last year being a player option), the Hornets are in incredible shape. They still have some guys to fill out the bench on the roster who are not making too much money. Even if they resign Eric Gordon at about 13 to 14 million per year, they can still add a couple more pieces. But more likely they will hold on to that space and build through the draft with two lottery picks.

Amnesty Possibilities: You have to think long and hard about Emeka Okafor. He is still somewhat productive, but not worth anywhere near the money they are paying him. The problem is if they amnesty him, it will create a huge hole at center that they probably won't fill during free agency. It will depend on if they draft someone who can step right in and play center. Otherwise they might as well keep him around to provide minutes at center. The team is rebuilding and in no danger of going into luxury tax waters.

Draft Possibilities: This draft is the key to the Hornets future. They have two picks in the top ten. They should be in on one of the six blue chip guys in this draft. I will talk about each of those guys. Anthony Davis obviously would be the ultimate prize. He is a game changer on both ends of the court and one of the most complete and unique talents to come into the NBA in years. He would instantly be the face of the post Chris Paul Hornets and put New Orleans basketball on the map. But if they aren't lucky enough to land the top pick there are other options. Thomas Robinson would be the best guy to draft after Davis. He does not have the pure athleticism, but has a strong motor and will be a very good post player. The Hornets do not have a guy who can create any type of offense in the box. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would struggle to get minutes behind Trevor Ariza and Al-Farouq Aminu, the only young player the Hornets have to develop. Having Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon would be a bit redundant. I think if they don't land Davis or Robinson this should be the team that takes a chance on Andre Drummond. They have two picks and a frustrated disinterested fan base. They can afford to and need to hit a home run. Drummond has the potential to be an All Star center, and if he washes out, so what? He is worth the risk for certain teams, and New Orleans is one of them. At 10 they can afford to draft a guy with a lower ceiling but someone who should be productive. Tyler Zeller, Damian Lillard, Arnett Moultrie or Jared Sullinger are all guys who should have nice, long careers. If they go with someone like Robinson with their first pick, they could go the upside route here with Perry Jones, Austin Rivers or Terrence Jones.

Free Agent Possibilities: The Hornets are a rebuilding team that plays in a city that is less then desirable to live in, so they will not be in on the top free agents. But they have the money to add a young starter that they can develop. They could be one of the many teams that will bid for Goran Dragic, who will be a well paid starter and a good consolation prize for teams that don't land Deron Williams or Steve Nash. They should spend their money on a big man who can rebound and defend the paint. The Hornets had so much trouble defending the block last year, and can't go into this season with only Emeka Okafor as their big man. They could sign JaVale McGee to an offer sheet or go after someone like Omir Asik or JJ Hickson.

Rebuilding, Contending or Status Quo?: Definitely rebuilding, and it will be a long process. The first step of a true rebuild is trading off your only star for parts that can help with the process. New Orleans got a top ten pick, a young guy to develop and a potential All Star in return for Paul. Year one wasn't great for those returns, but we will have to see in a few years how all of those guys turned out. This is a team that will get a few more lottery players on the roster before hopefully returning to the playoffs. Monty Williams is a very good coach and someone who should get a long leash during this process.

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Jonathan Carrano

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