Opener vs. Bucks carries significant intrigue

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Given Hornets general manager Dell Demps’ relatively late start on the 2010 offseason – he was hired July 21, after the bulk of NBA free agency was over – it probably shouldn’t be surprising that he was still making major moves four days before the season opener. Saturday’s acquisition of guard Jerryd Bayless was the fifth trade Demps has executed over the past 90 days, a dizzying period that results in an opening-day roster with nine new players.

Demps has been so active, in fact, that when he casually walked over to say hello to a few New Orleans media members on Monday, the reporters jokingly asked if Demps was approaching to inform them of another trade. Demps good-naturedly smiled and replied “no,” but that doesn’t mean there may not be more moves to come. When asked later if he’s comfortable with the composition of the current New Orleans roster, Demps said “(Ask again) in 10 games.” Turning serious, he added, “you always have to evaluate your team as they play, and if there is an opportunity to make your team better, you have to look at it.”

Although the season opener always answers at least a few questions about each NBA team, for the Hornets, Wednesday’s game against the highly-regarded Milwaukee Bucks could be extremely enlightening on a number of fronts. Partly due to there being so many new players wearing the team’s special-edition “Believe in Blue” uniforms, it’s difficult to get an accurate read on how things will play out Wednesday and during this 2010-11 season. One of the only things that appears to be set in stone is New Orleans’ starting five, which will include Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West and Emeka Okafor. A few questions that may begin to be answered during the Milwaukee game:

1) Who will be included in Williams’ rotation?
After the aforementioned starting five, Williams has not committed to which players – or even how many players – will come off the bench for the Hornets in Game 1. Based on Williams’ and Demps’ comments, it appears that Jason Smith (backup at 4 and perhaps some 5) and Jerryd Bayless (backup 1) have nailed down roles, but for several others, it may be a wait-and-see approach. Entering his official NBA debut as a head coach, Williams was up front in explaining that Game 1 and beyond will be a learning experience for him, too. “I don’t know (how many players I will use),” Williams said. “This is my first time going through it. I wish I could play everybody. It’s yet to be seen what I’m going to do with my rotations, because I haven’t done it before.”

2) How will the chemistry develop among the new starting five?
The first unit looked outstanding during the first half of preseason game No. 1 against Memphis, but due to injuries and the desire to rest key players, that was the only extended look we had of them. Several impartial outside observers have written that this may be the most talented starting group the Hornets have had since Paul debuted in 2005. That’s up for debate, but setting aside the talent element, this quintet – on paper at least – seems to complement each other very well. You have a distributing point guard; a floor-spacing shooting guard; a versatile, defensive-minded small forward that the team has been lacking; a major offensive threat at power forward; and a rebounder/shot-blocker at center. Several past Hornets starting fives have often contained a noticeable weak link, or duplication of skills (for example, a combination of wings that are both primarily spot-up shooters).

3) Who will be the team’s inactives?
One reality resulting from the Hornets’ roster upgrades is that it’s going to be impossible for Williams to give playing time to everyone who may merit it. In fact, the improvement in depth has created a potential situation where there may be healthy inactives that some fans believe should not only be active, but also receiving playing time. Williams and Demps have made many positive comments about the long-term potential of first-round pick Quincy Pondexter and free-agent pickup Joe Alexander, for example, but when the Hornets had to submit their three “inactives” by Monday’s official leaguewide deadline, both were listed.