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Bad Start

I guess I should have seen this -- even with the recent success the team has enjoyed. They essentially had one elite season at 56-26 in 2007 -08, their first year back in New Orleans after two in OKC. That team snuck up on the league. Chris Paul made the whole thing work, and still does, but the Hornets haven't drafted or played the free-agent market well. The result is an inferior bench and a lack of alternatives to Paul and David West.

Since 2005 when Chris Paul fell to them at No. 4, none of the Hornets' draft picks have played a significant part in the team's success. Picking 12th and 15th in 2006, New Orleans selected Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, respectively. Armstrong has ridden the pine for three seasons, never moving ahead of players like Marc Jackson, Linton Johnson and Melvin Ely. Simmons was last seen in Greece playing for Peristeri. Julian Wright, the 13th overall pick in 2007, has been given the starting small forward spot now, but only because Peja Stojakovic is unreliable. Last year's first-round pick, Darrell Arthur, was sold to Portland and later dealt to Memphis. This year's first-rounder was Darren Collison, who plays the same position of the team's star player. Two draftees that got away, Brandon Bass (2005, 33rd overall) and J.R. Smith (2004, 18th overall), are two NBA rotation players contributing to other teams (Denver, Orlando). And to rub salt in the wound, they play positions of need. Smith being a scorer who can take advantage of Paul's drive-and-kicks, and Bass a first big off the bench who can defend the paint.

Free agency hasn't been kind, either. Stojakovic has been injury prone with a chronic back limiting his time on the court and sapping his effectiveness has a scorer. And not that he could defend much at his peak, but he's doing less of it now. The Hornets have another year beyond this one left on his deal. Like Stojakovic, Mo Peterson has been a disappointment and has another year beyond 2009-10. James Posey is a nice complementary piece, but only when they is a bounty of other talent on the roster.

On Monday, the Hornets moved ahead in the third quarter with Paul, West and Emeka Okafor doing the damage. Okafor, incidentally, is definitely an offensive upgrade over Chandler. I've always thought Okafor's offense didn't get a lot of respect in Charlotte, but he's worked on that end of his game. But with Paul on the bench to begin the final period, and a lineup consisting of Bobby Brown, Posey, Stojakovic, Darius Songaila and Armstrong, the offense stagnated and the Knicks took the lead for good. New Orleans got into the penalty early and the Knicks made them pay. Yes, the Knicks didn't settle for 3-pointers. They showed good ball movement and worked David Lee and Al Harrington inside for buckets and free-throws. New York scored 40 points in the fourth quarter, while outscoring New Orleans 50-36 in the paint to post their first "W" of the season. It's early, but I'm thinking things will get ugly in New Orleans.