COACH: Byron Scott | 2007-08: 56-26
New Orleans Hornets

Paul is poised for the next step.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
The time is now.

The New Orleans Hornets are no longer a team on the rise. They are a team that has risen.

Though it has been only two seasons since the Hornets were in the lottery and only four since they lost 64 games, they are now one of a few teams that have a legit chance to win the 2009 NBA Championship. Prodigies of the NBA, the Hornets have gone from freshmen to seniors faster than Doogie Howser.

They've followed the ascension of their point guard, Chris Paul, from Rookie of the Year to MVP runner-up, adding complementary pieces along the way to form a balanced squad that is strong on both ends of the floor. The Hornets ranked fifth offensively and eighth defensively when it comes to points (scored or allowed) per possession last season.

That propelled them to a 56-26 record and a trip to the Conference Semifinals, where they had the defending champs on the ropes. But they couldn't put the Spurs away, losing Game 7 at home. Still, they were right there in the fourth quarter, with Jannero Pargo missing a shot that would have tied the game with a minute to go.

This summer, the Hornets' new addition was James Posey, who helps them in the leadership and experience departments, where they were lacking in that Game 7. Posey is coming off his second NBA title, providing big shots and big stops for the Celtics. The Hornets may have overpaid for his services (he'll be 35 in the last year of his deal), but the acquisition was a clear sign that GM Jeff Bower believes his team is a title contender.

And why not?

In Paul, they've got the best point guard (and one of the three or four best players) in the league. In David West, they've got a go-to low post force. In Tyson Chandler, they've got a big man to clean up the boards and patrol the paint. In Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson, they have shooters to keep defenses honest.

Of course, after Posey, there are questions on the bench. Julian Wright showed promise last season and will certainly provide energy. But he's another wing. At the point and up front, Byron Scott may be grasping for straws when he needs a reserve (more on that below).

Fortunately, his starting lineup is as good as it gets in this league, his three best players are relatively young and Paul still has room to grow as a player. He's already drawing comparisons to the best point guards in NBA history and is only 23 years old. And while he's a media and fan favorite off the court, he's a fiery competitor on it. And he's got his eyes on the prize.

He was the runner-up for MVP last season and his stock is still rising considerably. More important, he believes that his supporting cast is capable of coming along with him.

"I'm a little biased," Paul said at media day, "but I think this team has what it takes to get to the next level."

Who can argue with him?

Nothing is guaranteed in this league. A team can show a world of promise one year and book a ticket to Secaucus the next in today's NBA. But by hitching their wagon to the star of Chris Paul, the Hornets are closer to their destination than they ever thought they'd be.
-- John Schuhmann

Half Season and 10-Game Plans get you to the Hive to check out CP and the Hornets take on the NBA's best.

There are a lot of "ifs" around the NBA right now, with many of them dealing with health. But none may have more of an impact than the health of the Hornets' starting five, because among the league's title contenders, there isn't a thinner bench than that of New Orleans.

Jannero Pargo is now in Russia, meaning Chris Paul will be backed up by Mike James or Devin Brown, about as big of a drop-off as you could imagine. And with Paul coming off a busy summer, winning gold in Beijing, it's not a good time to be lacking depth at his position.

Backing up David West, who injured his back in the playoffs last year, and Tyson Chandler, who came into camp less than 100 percent after injuring his toe in April, are Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong. Both are less than reliable.

So, it's up to trainer Terry Kofler to keep his starting unit intact and the Hornets in contention.

And of course, we only have to go back two years to see what injuries can do to this team.

In the 2006-07 season, Peja Stojakovic had back surgery and missed all but 13 games, David West injured his elbow and missed 30 games, and Paul missed 18 games with an ankle sprain. The Hornets, which in hindsight were ready to make some noise, finished 39-43, three games out of the playoffs.

Byron Scott is already taking precautions to keep Paul rested and healthy. He knows that his team is ready to go deep into the playoffs. They just need to get there in one piece.
-- John Schuhmann

19.3 The Hornets' opponents averaged only 19.3 free throw attempts per game last season. That number was the lowest of any team's opponents in the NBA.
The Hornets, behind Chris Paul, made believers out of everyone in the NBA. There are few guys in the NBA who make every guy on the floor with him better, but this is what Paul brings to the table night in and night out.
David West has emerged as one of the better power forwards in the West and gives the Hornets a considerable one-two punch.
Add Peja Stojakovic's ability to score from deep even with people hanging all over him and you have a very dangerous team.
Tyson Chandler is better than what they had even hoped for when they made the trade a few years back. And again, this may be the Paul factor.
James Posey gives them a steady hand off the bench and some depth, something they sorely lacked last season.
Mo Peterson can score in bunches and now that he's had a season to assimilate to his new team, watch for him to get back to his three-point form of three years ago.
The reason the Spurs get the nod over the Hornets is they have a little bit better depth and a lot more experience. But this is the team that will become the standard bearer for the Southwest over the next few years.
-- NBA Scout
The Dallas/New Orleans series in last year's playoffs served as a nice, formal "passing of the torch" as Chris Paul officially took the mantle of "best American point guard." This may be the season he makes a claim for "best player, period."

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Record: 53-29, 4th in Western Conf.
Playoffs: Lost in Conf. Semis to L.A. Lakers, 4-2
Scoring Leader: C. Paul, 26.0 PPG
Rebounding Leader: T. Chandler, 10.3 RPG
Assist Leader: C. Paul, 9.3 APG

Simulated Season Details
PG Chris Paul 21.1 4.0 11.6
SG Morris Peterson 8.0 2.7 0.9
SF Peja Stojakovic 16.4 4.3 1.2
PF David West 20.6 8.9 2.3
C Tyson Chandler 11.8 11.7 1.0

C-F Hilton Armstrong 2.7 2.5 0.4
C-F Melvin Ely 3.9 2.8 0.4
G Mike James 5.0 1.3 1.1
F James Posey 7.4 4.4 1.5
F Julian Wright 3.9 2.1 0.7
G-F Devin Brown Free agent
F-C Sean Marks Free agent
F James Posey Free agent
F-C Chris Andersen Free agent
G Jannero Pargo Free agent
G-F Bonzi Wells Free agent
PPG Chris Paul 21.1
RPG Tyson Chandler 11.7
APG Chris Paul 11.6
SPG Chris Paul 2.71
BPG David West 1.30
Points Scored 100.9 (9th)
Points Allowed 95.6 (5th)
Field-Goal Percentage .466 (8th)
Opponents' FG% .460 (16th)
Rebounding Diff. +1.01 (10th)
TV: Cox Sports Television
Radio: KMEZ 106.7 FM
Web: Official site
Local Coverage: New Orleans Times-Picayune