NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
By Justin Phan
Starters Chris Paul and David West carried the team throughout the season, playing heavy minutes from start to finish. By the time the playoffs came around the two were running on fumes. That, combined with the injury bug hampering the effectiveness of Chandler and Peja Stojakovic, resulted in an embarrassing first-round exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. The Hornets hit an all-time low in the series during Game 4, where they were routed by a final score of 121-63.
The offseason presented general manager Jeff Bower with an interesting challenge: get under the luxury tax while keeping the team competitive. Bower managed to do just that with a series of trades headlined by a Emeka Okafor-for-Tyson Chandler swap. The trade not only netted them the clearly superior talent of the two (Okafor), but it also cut more than $1 million off their luxury tax payment.
The Hornets head into the 2009-2010 season with many unresolved questions at the swing positions, but their stability at the point and in the frontcourt alone should be enough to keep them in playoff contention.
It gets a bit murkier at the swing positions, where nothing has been concretely set in stone yet. Morris Peterson and Julian Wright are expected to be the starters at shooting guard and small forward, respectively, with James Posey and Peja Stojakovic coming off the bench. The minute distribution between those four players ultimately boils down to how well they perform. We could be seeing a fairly equal split in minutes between Peterson and Posey at shooting guard if Peterson embraces that starting job and succeeds. The Hornets' primary focus with Peja is to keep him healthy for the duration of the season and to also prolong his career, so he'll likely come off the bench behind Wright and may see his minutes dip below 30 per game for the first time since his sophomore season back in 1999. Rookie Marcus Thornton and Devin Brown will also be in the mix for some garbage minutes at shooting guard.
Ike Diogu: Diogu will give the Hornets something that they sorely lacked last year: a frontcourt scoring option off the bench. While he does have his shortcomings (turnover-prone, not the best defender), Diogu was a fantastic bargain at his minimum salary price tag and should give New Orleans a solid interior threat in the post who does a decent job of rebounding the ball.
Hilton Armstrong: In 2006, the Hornets drafted Armstrong with one of their lottery picks hoping that he would be able to step in and become a regular rotation player. Three years later, Armstrong continues to disappoint and still has not cracked the rotation. After a disappointing rookie season, he followed it up with even worse campaigns in his second and third year. With Ike Diogu ahead of him on the depth chart, Armstrong looks to be the odd man out in this frontcourt.
Julian Wright: Wright is a good athlete at 6-9 who can handle the ball and use his long arms to be a very good defender. He will likely take on the starting small forward role in place of Peja Stojakovic this season and has the potential to be a valuable late-round sleeper if he can get a consistent 25 minutes per game and improve on his three-point shooting. He'll offer owners multi-category potential (rebounds, blocks, steals) and should be more than worthy of a late-round selection in standard leagues.
Peja Stojakovic: Stojakovic had one of the worst seasons of his 11-year career in 2008, as he was hampered by a back injury from the get-go and limited to just 61 games. His production dropped off significantly even when he was on the court as he averaged just 13.3 points (lowest since his sophomore season in 1999) while shooting an anemic 39.9 percent from the field. The Hornets are just trying to salvage his career at this point and keep him healthy for a good part of this season.
Morris Peterson: Peterson has been given golden opportunities to start the past couple years but has failed to capitalize on them. He will likely get the chance to start at shooting guard once again with Rasual Butler jettisoned to the Clippers, but is far from a sure thing at this point. It's really his starting job to lose to James Posey, and given his unimpressive track record, it may just be a matter of time until Peterson hands it over.
James Posey: Posey will challenge Peterson for the starting shooting guard with Rasual Butler gone, but will likely head into this season assuming his standard sixth-man role. There's not much upside to be had by drafting Posey, but he's a viable late-round option in deeper leagues because you really know what you're going to get with him - a steal, 1.5 treys, 4.5 rebounds and a solid free-throw percentage impact.
Article first appeared on 9/25/09