Hornets Hope to Repeat Early Success of 2010-11

Hornets Hope to Repeat Early Success of 2010-11
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 7, 2011

Back in the fall of 2010, a few factors led many to believe the New Orleans Hornets might trudge through a poor start: A brand-new front office. A first-year NBA head coach. An overhauled roster with only a handful of returning players. Ominously, the Hornets appeared to verify widespread concerns about their early competitiveness by going just 1-7 during preseason.

To the surprise of just about everyone around the league, however, New Orleans began the regular season with a franchise-record eight straight victories, including wins over elite clubs Miami and San Antonio. Largely due to a defense that quickly gelled and a locker room that appeared to immediately come together, the Hornets defied conventional wisdom.

That experience helps explain why – despite a series of roster questions that must be quickly answered by Dell Demps and Co. in what promises to be a hectic free-agency period – the players are optimistic about the team’s prospects. One of just five players who are currently under contract for the upcoming season, Jarrett Jack believes the attitude and work ethic instilled by Monty Williams have become the Hornets’ new M.O.

“Working hard – that’s our calling card,” said Jack, who has joined Trevor Ariza, Chris Paul and Quincy Pondexter at the Alario Center for initial pre-training camp workouts. “That’s our coach’s calling card. As long as we work hard, effort cures all evils. It cures not making shots, it cures not playing together as long as we would’ve liked, or (not) having a typical training camp. If we come out and play hard every night, that will be the thing that pushes us over the hump more times than not.”

“I felt we did pretty well considering we had so many new players,” remembered Ariza of 2010-11. “With a first-year coach, we did a great job. There are a few things we could’ve done better, but those things take time. I don’t think any team has come together and gotten everything together all at once. Even the Heat struggled a little bit, despite some of the unbelievable players on their team.”

Based on the NBA’s defensive-efficiency ratings, the Hornets were the fourth-most improved team in the league at that end of the floor in 2010-11. That drastic increase in effectiveness enabled New Orleans to occasionally win “ugly” on nights when the offense was not clicking, most evident in a 75-71 victory in November at Sacramento.

“A lot of teams don’t gel defensively until later in the season,” Pondexter said. “But with the anchors we have on defense like Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor, it helps everyone else have a defensive mindset going into games. It really helped us and made a statement. Even though our offense wasn’t always up to par, we were doing a great job of defending.”

With five players under contract (a sixth, Marco Belinelli, is a restricted free agent whose status will be determined quickly), the Hornets could have as many as nine or 10 new players again in 2011-12, though that depends on the number of re-signings. Either way, the Hornets understand that they’ll need to adjust rapidly to whatever combination of teammates is in place when an abbreviated training camp and two-game preseason schedule commence.

“I hope we get everyone back on our team from last year,” Ariza said of the Hornets’ numerous unrestricted free agents. “But if not, we’ve got to keep pushing. Everyone (who is a free agent) has to do what’s best for them.

“It’s going to be different (preparing for this season). We’ve just got to work. But everyone wants to win. There are no excuses here.”

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