Hornets, Vasquez welcome drama-free training camp

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

During what was supposed to be his first NBA training camp as a Memphis Grizzlies rookie, an injury forced Greivis Vasquez to undergo ankle surgery. His second offseason consisted of a prolonged NBA work stoppage, followed by a Christmas Eve trade to New Orleans.

As he enters Year 3, to say that the point guard is thrilled to experience a less tumultuous lead-up to basketball season – with no injuries, address changes or distractions – would be an enormous understatement.

“I’m very, very excited,” the Maryland product said on the eve of the Hornets’ initial 2012-13 practice. “I’m happy. I love the game so much. This is the right way to start the season. Finally, this is the way it should be. I’m excited and can’t wait for (Tuesday’s opening morning practice).”

Vasquez could’ve been speaking on behalf of his teammates, as well as an entire organization. The weeks prior to the 2011-12 regular season could hardly have been more chaotic. Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers, but the deal was not completed until Dec. 14, less than two weeks before the Dec. 26 opener at Phoenix, leaving scant time for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman to get acclimated.

With the Hornets shorthanded at point guard, they finalized a trade for Vasquez on Dec. 24. Out of pure necessity, the “new kid” was forced to log 27 minutes in a dramatic 85-84 victory over the Suns.

Hornets players – many of whom had just been introduced to each other – somehow managed to start 2-0 after a blowout win vs. Boston on Dec. 28, but dropped 23 of the next 25 games for a 4-23 record.

“At the time, you didn’t want to say how tough it was,” Vasquez admitted of not publicly blaming the unusual circumstances for the team’s dreadful start to ’11-12. “It was tough. It was hard, but when you’re young and in you’re in this league, you want to play no matter what. I love playing. When I got traded, I knew it was a good opportunity for me to play (more than in Memphis). But now obviously, it’s to our advantage to start out together and build chemistry from the get-go.”

This summer, numerous players participated in voluntary workouts in both New Orleans and San Antonio, an ideal opportunity for the Hornets to familiarize themselves with each other and start to build off -court camaraderie.

“That’s definitely going to help,” the University of Maryland product said. “Even before training camp, we’ve had a month together. But like Coach Monty (Williams) says, it doesn’t really mean anything to just come here and work. We’ve got to put it together right now. We’ve got to send our statement to the whole league that you better come to play against us. We’re here to compete.”

Several Hornets players mentioned on Media Day that qualifying for the playoffs is a team goal, something they believe is realistic despite the formidable talent and depth of the Western Conference. After experiencing the incredible atmosphere of the postseason as a Memphis rookie in 2011, Vasquez would like nothing more than to return to playing in May.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to the playoffs,” he said. “How sweet will it be if we get to the playoffs, after what we went through last year? This season is a new start for us. That’s how we’re looking at it. We have high expectations. We want to do well. But we don’t want to be satisfied because we have a good roster. We want to push it to the top. It’s not going to be easy, but if we put it together, we’re going to reach what we want, which is to go to the playoffs and make a run in the playoffs.”