Posted Sep 7, 2012 9:44 AM
This is the eighth in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. Coming Thursday: the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not that anyone ever needs an excuse to raise a glass in New Orleans, but if there's ever been a summer to toast the future of the NBA in America's most unique city, this is it.
The Hornets have a new owner in Tom Benson, a long-term commitment to the future, the No. 1 Draft pick in Anthony Davis, a potential All-Star guard re-signed in Eric Gordon and one of the bright young coaches in the game, Monty Williams, freshly locked up with a four-year contract.
Perhaps best of all, it's just a start, considering the maneuverings of general manager Dell Demps have left the club with plenty of salary cap space to add more pieces in the future. For the first time since the league returned to the Big Easy a decade ago, there is real hope and optimism surrounding the team.
There's more work to be done to turn the Hornets into a playoff team, much more to make them real contenders. But this is a real start, deserved and long overdue.
It was a little more than four years ago when the Hornets thought they had arrived in the NBA. That was the season when they finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference, defeated Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, pushed San Antonio to seven games in the second round and figured they were going places behind Chris Paul and David West. So how ironic that the first real steps to solidity were taken in the first season that Paul and West were gone.
A season that began in the disarray and discontent over the voided trade of Paul to the Lakers by commissioner David Stern ended with the worst record in the Western Conference. But even if they didn't win many games, the Hornets got the victory that counted, winning the Draft lottery that produced the No. 1 pick.
Davis, the No. 1 pick, is fresh off his gold medal experience with Team USA in London, and is a game- and possibly franchise-changer. The influx of frontcourt talent hardly stops with him. The Hornets also have brought in sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick and Darius Miller.
The positive of adding Davis would have been negated if the Hornets had allowed free agent Gordon to fly the coop. Even though he had one foot out the door to Phoenix and said he was ready for a change of address, that piece of key business was taken care of when his offer sheet was matched. As soon as Gordon gets accustomed to running the floor with Davis, any lingering discontent will likely disappear. There were those who still question the selection of rookie guard Austin Rivers, but on a team where Davis will get most of the focus this season, he'll get a chance to develop and could eventually shine.
Williams already has been hammering defense into the Hornets' psyche since the day he took the job as head coach. The addition of the long-armed, aggressive Davis will make that kind of thinking easier for everyone.
In less than a year's time the Hornets have gone from having the best point guard in the game, Paul, to having no dependable veteran point man at all. Their offense is in the hands of Greivis Vasquez and sheer hope. It's a hole that has to be filled. A team oozing with youth can't afford to be completely rudderless while it's learning to play together.
Forward. Not to Seattle or Anaheim or Kansas City or any other town that saw the Hornets as ripe to be plucked from New Orleans. The purchase of the club by Benson makes the long-term future viable.
Of course, having Davis to salve the wound of losing Paul certainly helps. Then the Hornets followed up on their pledge to keep Gordon. They signed Williams to an extension that says they believe. They will have salary cap space next summer to fill in more pieces.
A return to the playoffs is at least a few years away. There will be plenty of bumps and bruises before all the youth is served. But the Hornets are finally headed firmly in the right direction.
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