Where Do The Hornets Go From Here?
For the past year the New Orleans Hornets have been in a state of flux. On the court, the team has started the rebuilding process after trading Chris Paul last December. Off the court, the future of the Hornets was up in the air until New Orleans native Tom Benson purchased the franchise last week, guaranteeing that they’ll remain in town through 2024. Now, one season removed from dealing Paul and with their ownership situation behind them, the Hornets can begin to build for the future.
The on-court product hasn’t been pretty this season, with the Hornets going 18-42 and currently holding the worst record in the Western Conference. However, the team has already started to stockpile young talent and has a lot of flexibility going forward. They have strong leaders in place and will be able to add talent through free agency and the draft this offseason.
The Hornets have only eight players under contract for the 2012-13 season. Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry, Gustavo Ayon and Greivis Vasquez are on the books for next season. New Orleans has several key contributors who will be entering free agency this summer including Eric Gordon, Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli and Chris Kaman.
Gordon will be a restricted free agent once the Hornets extend a qualifying offer this summer and he’s expected to attract plenty of interest from teams this offseason. The Hornets can match any offer the shooting guard receives and he’s definitely part of their plans going forward. Gordon was the main piece they acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Paul and the team doesn’t want to lose him after one injury-plagued season.
The Hornets will consider re-signing Landry and Belinelli as well. Landry tested free agency last summer and ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Hornets, mainly because their ownership situation was up in the air. Now that the franchise has some stability, Landry could see himself signing a long-term deal with New Orleans. Belinelli has emerged as a significant contributor for the Hornets in Gordon’s absence.
Kaman will likely leave as an unrestricted free agent. The Hornets attempted to trade the veteran center prior to the trade deadline, but couldn’t find a deal that they liked. Kaman spent part of the season away from the team as the Hornets shopped him. The two sides discussed a buyout, but weren’t able to come to an agreement. After the season, the 29-year-old will weigh his options and may leave to join a contender if the right offer comes along.
The Hornets will have some decisions to make this summer. Some of the same faces will be back in New Orleans, but the team could look very different after the draft and free agency.
Management and Coaching
Dell Demps deserves credit for the job he has done as general manager of the Hornets. He inherited a disgruntled superstar and messy ownership situation, but has started to change the culture in New Orleans. There was some speculation that Demps’ days with the Hornets could be numbered, especially if the franchise had been purchased by the group that included former coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy. However, with Benson purchasing the team and Hugh Weber likely remaining team president, Demps’ job appears safe for the time being.
Monty Williams also has some job security going forward. While the team has struggled to win many games this season, Williams isn’t to blame. In his first year with the team, Williams led the Hornets to a 46-36 record and gave the Los Angeles Lakers a difficult six-game series in the postseason. Now, as the team rebuilds, Williams has shifted his attention to developing the young talent on his roster. Williams has built many strong relationships in the locker room and solidified himself as a players’ coach. He has also emphasized defense and the Hornets are allowing the eighth-lowest points per game in the league.
Demps and Williams played together on the San Antonio Spurs in 1995 and the duo has tried to duplicate San Antonio’s model for success. They are attempting to change the culture in New Orleans and their jobs appear safe for at least one more year.
The Hornets have just $36,844,450 committed for next season, which means they can be active in free agency this offseason. New Orleans is one of 10 teams that have $10 million or more in cap space they can offer a free agent. Re-signing their own free agents will likely be their top priority, but the Hornets will have enough money to sign another key contributor or two this summer.
With only eight players under contract next season, the Hornets will have to fill out their roster with draft picks or free agent signings. It’ll likely be easier for New Orleans to pursue free agents with their ownership situation resolved.
June 28, 2012 is a big night for the Hornets. Not only will New Orleans have their own lottery pick, which may be a top-three selection, they’ll also have the Minnesota Timberwolves’ unprotected lottery pick. Since the Timberwolves currently hold the tenth-worst record in the NBA, it’s very possible that the Hornets will have two top-ten picks in one the best drafts in recent years.
New Orleans will have the opportunity to draft two cornerstones for their franchise, similar to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. The Hornets will find out how lucky they are on May 30, when the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be determined.
In HOOPSWORLD’s latest mock draft, the Hornets are projected to hold the third and tenth overall picks. With the third selection, we have New Orleans drafting center Andre Drummond from the University of Connecticut. With the tenth selection, we have them picking Marquis Teague from the University of Kentucky.
A lot will change between now and June, but there’s no question that the Hornets will have an excellent opportunity to improve their roster on draft night. There are plenty of players with star potential in this draft class. New Orleans definitely picked the right year to stockpile first-round picks.
The last year has been hectic for the Hornets, but the team appears headed in the right direction. With the right moves, the future could be very bright in New Orleans.