Last Year's Record: 46-36
Key Free Agents: The six players under contract (whatever that means these days) are Chris Paul, Jarrett Jack, Quincy Pondexter, Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, and Emeka Okafor. Everyone else - notably David West and Carl Landry - is up for grabs.
Team Needs: Possibly a starting and backup power forward. A backup center. A starting or backup shooting guard depending on your level of taste or lack thereof for M. Belinelli.
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
Other than an owner:
Everything revolves around the decisions of David West and Carl Landry. The Hornets, as constructed, really require both on the team to be successful; of course, their ownership situation makes dual retention relatively farfetched. The departure of either would necessitate just the filling of a backup spot (and a subsequent 6th through 10th seed), but the loss of both could be catastrophic.
The need for post depth persists (as it has for the past decade) but takes a back seat to the West-Landry story for the time being. In a similar fashion, starting Marco Belinelli at the two isn't something anybody really wants, but again, if the West-Landry situation is resolved favorably, that's another grievance that won't be voiced very strongly.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)
The biggest strength is Monty Williams. As crazy as the last year and change has been, the current situation only underlines how vital the hire of a strong defensive coach (whether that was the team's first choice of Tom Thibodeau or Monty Williams) was. For really the first time in the CP3 era, the team has a legitimate identity outside of Chris Paul - that of their defense. Obviously defenders of the caliber of Paul and Trevor Ariza contribute greatly to the end product here, but the schemes, game-to-game adjustments, and team cohesion were all outstanding last year.
Sadly that (and Chris Paul) is about as far as the 'strengths' list extends. Weaknesses on the other hand... count 'em:
1. The team is owned by the NBA.
2. If contraction is real, well, yeah, let's not finish this thought.
3. The team's second best player - West - suffered a gruesome injury mere months ago; nobody knows how he'll recover.
4. If he recovers well, there's a decent chance he'll be playing for another team.
5. There's a decent change the team's third best offensive player - Landry - is also gone.
6. If there's no season, the team's best player has played his last game for them, and the team holds essentially no bargaining power
7. For having just six players under contract, the team has shockingly little room to maneuver financially, given the deals of Okafor, Ariza, and Jack.
8. Years of traded and mostly sold draft picks have led to a total lack of youth
9. The team is owned by the NBA.
It's tough times.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
Very, very, very poorly. See, especially, points 5 and 6 above.
A total loss of the season could also bode very poorly for the team ownership situation. While the team has done a very commendable job in acquiring new season ticket holders throughout the summer, it's a fair question as to how much of that momentum is lost if no basketball is played for more than a year. That specific issue is one that will affect NBA basketball as a whole, of course, but may well be exacerbated in New Orleans.
If there's no 2011-2012 season, the Hornets will have three players under contract for the '12-'13 season. The optimist will say this affords the team a fresh start under a brand new CBA, with a front office that, to this point at least, I largely trust. And in all honesty, if the franchise can make it through a season without basketball unscathed, this is a pretty nice silver lining. Unfortunately, those three players - Okafor, Ariza, and Jack - stand to make upwards of $26 million between them next season. That's steep under basically any new variation on the CBA.
Between the team potentially not existing in the near future, its best player on the cusp of skipping his final season by default, and its second best player leaning between "never being the same again" and (for the sake of argument) "Indiana," it's a perfect storm
4. If you could make one change to the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
The obvious truth is the Hornets are, at best, a second tier market and need revenue sharing from other teams to remain competitive. That said, even with revenue sharing, the Hornets won't have the capacity to exceed the salary cap too often, and as a result, a hard cap, which the players are against at this point and for the foreseeable future, would be be another crucial step towards leveling the playing field.
Of course, the Hornets have literally no negotiating power at this point because David Stern casts their vote. Their opinion is worth less than a Greek fish. Of course, Stern et al. want the hard cap, so..
5. Whither Chris Paul?
Without a stable ownership and without reasonable hope for a strong supporting cast, what can the Hornets do to keep Chris Paul around?
Is that even the right question to be asking?
Are we elevating Chris Paul to a level above that of the franchise?
If the team goes back to the drawing board, how do they rebuild with absolutely no semblance of youth?
Without a superstar, and for that matter, without a playoff level roster, how can the team expect to retain both its new season ticket holders as well as its old fans?
So many questions, so few answers.
It feels slightly hyperbolic to say the 2011 lockout has simply frozen in time a slow, inevitable march towards "The End," but not by much.