Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
It's easy to understand why everyone is getting excited about the Hornets. Everything seems to be falling in place. In hindsight, David Stern squashing the first incarnation of the Chris Paul trade has worked out wonderfully. That still doesn't excuse how poorly the NBA handled that situation, but it's nice for Hornets fans. After all, would Hornets fans rather be rolling with some combo of Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic, or The Brow?
By saying the Clippers trade was the better option for New Orleans' future, Stern quietly acknowledged what many around the league have known for years; you never want to be in the middle. Of course, a little luck goes a long way. While injuries are never considered lucky, Eric Gordon's prolonged absence certainly helped the Hornets to lose a few extra games. All of that, combined with a little lotto luck (or conspiracy, if that's your bag), landed franchise-altering talent Anthony Davis in New Orleans.
The Hornets finally got a new, local owner committed to keeping the team in New Orleans for the long haul. The offseason also featured a sign-and-trade to acquire Ryan Anderson from the Orlando Magic. The team is finally out from NBA ownership, landed a new franchise centerpiece in Davis, landed a marquee free agent, and there's every reason to understand why people are getting excited about this season. But I still think it's a bit premature to get excited, for several reasons.
The first reason is the Hornets' other draft pick. While Grievis Vasquez did nicely off the bench for the Hornets last season, I still do not believe him to be a starting-quality point guard. I also do not buy the idea of Austin Rivers as a point guard. Everything about him screams undersized shooting guard. I firmly believe the Hornets made a huge mistake passing on Kendall Marshall, who is a quality distributor and is likely to contribute right away at the NBA level.
I'm also concerned about how that mistake might impact Ryan Anderson. I really like Anderson, and I think the Hornets absolutely stole him. As Aaron Bruski pointed out, Anderson isn't as reliant on Dwight Howard as one might believe. Instead, he's reliant on receiving the ball for spot up shots. I'm concerned the lack of a proper facilitator will limit his effectiveness.
I also think it's too early to expect Davis to alter the franchise. Long term, he absolutely can. This year? I'm not sure. While he'll be in early contention for Rookie of the Year honors due to draft position and playing time, I think Davis will struggle with NBA bigs. Davis will struggle to hold position against NBA centers on both ends of the floor. And if New Orleans' guards can't get the ball to Davis in good position in the post, his offensive limitations will be glaring.
Eric Gordon also remains a question mark. Although he's easily one of the top young shooting guards in the league, he needs to show himself capable of playing an entire season. He's missed at least 20 games each of the last three seasons. He's great when he's on the court, but the team can't count on him to be there all year. The thought of a Vasquez/Rivers back court for a quarter of the season (or Grievis/Xavier Henry, or Rivers/Henry) is an ugly idea. With Gordon, there's also the question of how committed he will be. Gordon signed an offer sheet with the Suns, and then complained loudly and publicly, begging New Orleans not to match. I'm not saying this will derail the season, but it certainly can't help the locker room camaraderie when one of the highest paid players in the room publicly whined about how he received that money.
As a side note, it's still baffling the way players seem to fail to understand how restricted free agency works. It's a huge issue, likely stemming from agents not willing to risk waiting a season when a max offer is already on the table. Still, if agents aren't educating their clients on how these things work, you have to wonder why players are sticking with them.
All in all, didn't last season prove that another down year might be for the best? New Orleans will have plenty of opportunity to play and develop their young stars, and adding another lotto pick next year will only help in the long run. The future is once again bright for the Hornets, but I predict another season of growth and losses.