NBA previews: Athlon picks Hornets to win NBA title

Friday, September 5, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

When the calendar flips to the month of September, many sports fans are focused on the opening weeks of college football and the NFL, as well as the pennant races in Major League Baseball. For avid NBA fans, one of the best aspects of this month comes when numerous national media entities begin publishing their season preview magazines.

As part of Hornets.com’s preview of the 2008-09 season, over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at what several of the major publications are writing about the team. We begin with highlights from Athlon Sports’ preview of the 2008-09 Hornets. The magazine couldn’t be any more enthusiastic on New Orleans, predicting that the Hornets will defeat Boston in the NBA Finals:

ATHLON SPORTS
On the Hornets as a threat to win the 2009 NBA championship:
“If the Hornets stay healthy and capitalize on the momentum gathered during last year’s run to the playoffs, they should be considered one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference this season. … (If the Hornets’) young stars continue to progress, the Hornets could give the nation’s No. 1 party city something to celebrate.”

On the team’s altered focus from the future to the present:
“Coming off the best season in the 20-year history of the franchise and a first-ever division championship, the New Orleans Hornets no longer have an eye to the future. ‘This is a team of now,’ says coach Byron Scott, a runaway winner as NBA Coach of the Year last year. ‘We’re not any more a team of the future. We’re not looking two or three years down the line.’
“A team of now. A team led by arguably the most exciting point guard in the league, built around a nucleus of young players who paved the way for 56 wins. … It won’t get any easier for the Hornets in a conference loaded with elite teams. But the foundation upon which to build a winner couldn’t be much stronger than it is in New Orleans.”

On the Hornets’ significant homecourt edge:
“The homecourt advantage toward the end of the season was critical to the Hornets’ success. Playing in front of enormous crowds at New Orleans Arena, the Hornets won 12 of their last 13 games at home with an average margin of victory of 14.3 points. New Orleans had 13 sellouts during the regular season last year.”

On the addition of James Posey:
“It didn’t make huge headlines, but James Posey’s decision to sign with the Hornets was one of the key offseason developments in the Western Conference. … Posey’s tenacity on the defensive end gives Scott the kind of player who can slow down Western Conference stars such as Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili and Tracy McGrady. He can also provide scoring off the bench … a glaring weakness in New Orleans a season ago.”

On Chris Paul:
“There’s no question that the face of the New Orleans franchise is Paul, the runner-up to (Kobe) Bryant in the MVP voting. The No. 1 offseason priority for the Hornets was to lock Paul up with a contract extension, and that got done with a three-year extension signed in early July that will keep him in New Orleans for at least the next five seasons.
‘New Orleans is where I want to be,’ Paul said, much to the relief of Hornets fans. ‘We have a great franchise and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a Hornet.’
“There were times last year when Paul simply carried the Hornets on his back, and he’ll shoulder the load this season if he has to, though he continues to be a pass-first, shoot-second point guard."