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Coach Monty Williams inherits a team that lost its two best players this offseason.
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Long offseason could pay dividends for Hornets

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:40AM

Maybe one day Eric Gordon will look like the king of a Mardi Gras parade as he sits on top of a championship float and soaks in all of the cheers as he rides down Bourbon Street.

Maybe one day Al-Farouq Aminu will have taken those raw skills that he possesses and harnesses them into a career that makes him an All-Star forward.

Maybe one day general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams will look back and see that all of their troubles and suffering were worth it.

Right now, the Hornets and their fans have to keep themselves warm at night wrapped in the knowledge that commissioner David Stern and the NBA office were looking out for the long-term health of the franchise in New Orleans rather than the short-term prospects for this season.

Chris Paul, the face of the team since the franchise relocated to The Big Easy, is gone to L.A. to play for the Clippers, while the Hornets -- if all goes according to plan -- are going to play the lottery game and come away with two high picks in the June 2012 draft.

"I think the future of the Hornets in New Orleans is looking better today than it's ever looked before," Stern said. "I'm very excited about that because I think the NBA sort of implicitly made representations to the community that it would do the best it could providing (team president) Hugh (Weber) and (chairman) Jac (Sperling) with additional support on the marketing side, giving Dell whatever he needed from a basketball advice, and actually within approved budgets, supporting the team financially. And we feel that we're well on in accomplishing that goal."

That it was accomplished in a quite circuitous manner, with Demps first hammering out a three-team deal with the Lakers and Rockets that would have brought in more veteran immediate help, and then having it vetoed by Stern, turned the first week of the Hornets' so-called training camp into a soap opera cliffhanger. From day to day, nobody knew who could practice and who couldn't, who would still be on the team by the afternoon and who wouldn't.

It was definitely not a way to foster cohesive and bonding on the floor, not to mention even teach the playbook. The affair, of course, was the result of the All-Star point guard Paul being unwilling to sign a contract extension with the Hornets because he didn't feel the team was doing all that it could to put him into championship contention like his Olympic team buddies in Miami and New York and L.A.

Landing the package of players from Houston and the Lakers -- Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and Lamar Odom -- would have likely kept the Hornets competitive right now, maybe even clawing their way to one of the final playoff spots in the West again.

But from the perspective of the league office, the overall health and viability of the Hornets was far more important than any short-term gain.

The deal consummated with the Clippers bestows a ton of potential and salary cap space in the form of blossoming star Eric Gordon -- the first big-time shooting guard to play for the franchise since Glen Rice was the standard bearer back in Charlotte -- along with center Chris Kaman, second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu and an unprotected first-round pick from the Timberwolves in June. If the Hornets and Minnesota, as expected, both miss the playoffs, then New Orleans has two chances to land big time prospects in the next draft from a class of players that is highly rated.

"We're glad to get that process over," Demps told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We are set for the future and I think get got some hard-playing guys with some vets mixed in with some young guys.

"I think our basketball IQ is going to be really good. I think we're going to share the ball and be a defensive-oriented team."

Most important, the trade package leaves the Hornets with salary cap space and future payroll flexibility that should make them more attractive to a buyer who will commit to keeping the franchise in New Orleans.

For now, the Hornets fans that pile into New Orleans Arena -- more than 10,000 season tickets sold -- will suffer the bumps and bruises along with a young, thrown-together-in-a-hurry team whose real potential is helping to put down the kind of roots that could eventually pay off big.

Maybe one day.

The three-step plan:

1. Pop all of the new guys into a microwave oven and hope they can cook up some instant chemistry in an already rushed season.

2. Keep Eric Gordon on upward career path that's taken him from 16.1 to 16.9 to 22.3 ppg over the past three seasons.

3. Keep Chris Kaman healthy and on the floor for more than the 32 games and 15 starts he gave the Clippers last season.

Three points:

1. Resigning hustling forward Carl Landry to a one-year deal could pay off dividends for a team with many questions up front.

2. No attendance worries this season as summertime sales campaign should ensure virtually full house every night.

3. There's a big burden on Jarrett Jack to go from Chris Paul's good pal and backup to his replacement in the starting lineup.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Team Site | Schedule | Tickets

Video | Fantasy | Team Store

LAST YEAR: 46-36, 3rd in Southwest

FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs

2010-11 Regular Season Standings

2010-11 TEAM LEADERS

David West

18.9 PPG

Emeka Okafor

9.5 RPG

Chris Paul

9.8 APG

2010-11 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 94.9 94.0
RPG 40.1 39.3
APG 20.6 21.2
FG % 0.459 0.457
3PT % 0.360 0.357
FT % 0.765 0.770
  Complete 2010-11 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

JARRETT JACK, POINT GUARD

8.9 PPG | 2.9 APG | .850 FT%

He won't be Chris Paul, but Jack has produced in the past when given solid minutes. He is a bit turnover-prone, though, and won't win defensive awards, either.

ERIC GORDON, SHOOTING GUARD

22.3 PPG | 4.4 APG | 1.3 SPG

A true talent who is developing a solid all-around game, Gordon hit career highs across the board last season. As New Orleans' go-to guy, expect those stats to rise.

TREVOR ARIZA, SMALL FORWARD

11.0 PPG | 5.4 RPG | 75 STARTS

Streaky wing -- he's not as good as he was as a bench player with the Lakers -- proved to be an OK third scoring option in New Orleans despite his often poor shot selection.

EMEKA OKAFOR, POWER FORWARD

10.3 PPG | 9.5 RPG | .573 FG%

Great shot-blocker (1.8 BPG) and post defender who's still unpolished on offense, he'll be a bit out of position at PF. Barely gets off seven shots a game.

CHRIS KAMAN, CENTER

12.4 PPG | 7.0 RPG | 1.5 BPG

Injuries robbed him of all but 32 games last season. When healthy -- as he was in 2009-10 -- he scores in the post and perimeter, rebounds well and is an elite shotblocker.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Marco Belinelli6-5200GHit 41 percent from behind 3-point range last season.
Carl Landry6-9248FStarter at end of season could (eventually) have gig again.
Al-Farouq Aminu6-0215FAthletic, but his shooting range and shot selection are poor.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: F Al-Farouq Aminu, G Eric Gordon, C Chris Kaman

LOST:  G Chris Paul, C Aaron Gray, F David West

MAN ON THE SPOT

MONTY WILLIAMS, COACH

Now that commissioner David Stern and the NBA office have told him what cards he’s been dealt, the second-year coach has very little time to implement a system and turn the Hornets into a winning hand. While the long-range future of the franchise might appear brighter, Williams is the one under the gun to make the product palatable to the fan base right now.

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