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Latest News, NBA / Jan 27, 2010 / 7:00 am

The Hornets May Have Won The Battle, But Lost The War

I’m not saying anything profound by declaring that the NBA is a business. Dollars and cents clearly take precedence over loyalty and feelings. But while this harsh reality may often come as a surprise to devoted season ticket holders, the bottom line is the bottom line. There’s a reason teams fire coaches and let the GM take a seat on the bench. Perhaps it’s not the correct basketball move, but the Band-Aid is much cheaper than the surgery.

After the Hornets dealt Bobby Brown to the Clippers yesterday in exchange for a conditional 2014 second-round draft pick, the New Orleans franchise made it clear to the rest of the League what had been apparent for months: they’d rather receive the approximately $5 million rebate that all teams with payrolls below the $69.9 million luxury tax threshold in 2009-10 get, opposed to writing a check to Mr. Stern.

Since July 28, 2009, when New Orleans shipped Tyson Chandler to Charlotte in exchange for Emeka Okafor, the Hornets have rid themselves of millions in payroll through several tax-motivated salary-shedding trades. These have included:

August 12, 2009: Rasual Butler and cash traded to L.A. Clippers for a conditional 2016 second-round pick
September 9, 2009: Antonio Daniels and a 2014 second-round pick traded to Minnesota for Bobby Brown and Darius Songaila
January 11, 2010: Hilton Armstrong traded to Sacramento for a conditional 2016 second-round pick and cash considerations
January 25, 2010: Devin Brown traded to Chicago for Aaron Gray
January 26, 2010: Bobby Brown traded to L.A. Clippers for a conditional 2014 second-round pick

Five trades later, and all the Hornets roster has to show for it is Songaila (who’s playing almost a career low 17.4 minutes per game) and the newly acquired Gray (who has appeared in only eight games for the Bulls this year). As for the glut of conditional second-round picks, those will most likely never materialize.

After 44 regular season games, the Hornets currently sit 24-20 and tenth in the Western Conference. With Brown’s trade to Clippers, the Hornets are now left with only 12 active players (as Ike Diogu, who signed as a free agent this summer, underwent season-ending micro-fracture surgery to repair his left knee in December); and oft-injured Morris Peterson, who has only appeared in nine games so far this year, is not likely to contribute much. Still, the Hornets faithful stand behind their team’s moves – both personnel and fiscal.

“I think the overall goal, from the very beginning, was to get under the tax line,” says Rohan of AtTheHive.com. “As one of the NBA’s only owners without an additional side venture, George Shinn, by all indications, needs the NBA’s $5 million dollar payout for teams under the tax.”

“I don’t think it’s cost-cutting, rather prudent business,” says Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune. “If you look at the overall standings, the Hornets are right in the thick of the chase for anywhere from the fifth through the eighth seed in the playoffs. Hilton Armstrong was a non-contributor. Marcus Thornton had become much more reliable than Devin Brown. The Bobby Brown trade isn’t part of any roster dismantling because he’s not part of the rotation.

“Why pay a luxury tax unless you’re a team such as the Lakers? The Hornets have proven they can win with a modest payroll.”

Have they though? The Hornets lost their series to the Nuggets in the First Round last year 4-1, after pushing the Spurs to seven games in the Conference Semi-Finals the year before. Hornets coach and general manager Jeff Bower feels that the deals have helped the Hornets avoid the tax, while also keeping their core players.

“You’ll notice who they’re not trading away,” says Sarah Tolcser of HornetsHype.com. “Everyone assumed they couldn’t get under the luxury tax without trading someone like Okafor or [David] West or even CP (but the very idea of that is so insane that they might as well fold the franchise).”

“Jeff Bower has slowly been whittling at the team,” adds Ryan Schwan of Hornets247.com, “but here’s the cold, hard truth about the players the Hornets have traded away: Hilton Armstrong, Bobby Brown and Devin Brown should be a team’s 15th, 14th and 10th best players respectively. Only Devin Brown should be in any team’s rotation – and then only for a bad team.”

So who is the future? Even with the scrubs gone, the Hornets are still fighting for a playoffs spot. And with Paul, West and Okafor locked in for at least the next couple years, it’s not exactly clear that the Hornets have the pieces to win now and keep CP3 happy. But as Tolcser points out, none of this works if second rounder Thornton (who the Hornets traded their second round picks in 2010 and 2012 for his draft rights) doesn’t come out the blocks strong this year.

“The Hornets are looking like they lucked out with that pick,” says Tolcser. “In his starting debut he put up 19. He’s a faster, more athletic, young guy. If you watch Chris Paul, he spends a lot of time both on court and on the bench talking to Thornton and [Darren] Collison, and you have to think he’d be psyched about playing with a young shooting guard who’s a better fit for his abilities – even if he is a rookie.”

Hampered by the virtually untradeable contracts of the Three P’s – Peja, Posey and Peterson – New Orleans has somehow found light at the end of the end of the tunnel. But if I’m a Hornets fan, I’m more concerned with the happiness and well-being of my superstar point guard.

“He’s really savvy about what he says and typically says the right things,” notes Schwan about Paul. “I think he was more bothered by what happened over the summer – Chandler for Okafor and Butler for nothing – than what the Hornets did in-season. Chandler was a friend of his, and Butler was the only player other than West whom he’d played every season of his career with.

“At least in Chandler’s case, I think Paul’s able to see that the trade was good for the team – Chandler has missed 17 games already in Charlotte, while Okafor has played every game and duplicated Chandler’s production.”

“Overall, I think CP understands [the trades],” adds Rohan. “At the end of the day, he probably sees that even the bad contracts were failed attempts to make the team better. I’d feel a lot more uneasy had New Orleans not locked him up last summer, but I’m not worried he’s gonna demand out or something.”

So with 38 games left to play, time will only tell what will become of this year’s Hornets squad. After all the trades and roster movement, if the Hornets don’t make the playoffs, you better believe Paul will let his discontent be known.

What do you think?

Follow Aron on Twitter at @the_real_aron.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag.

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  • b

    but when peterson, stojakovic money comes off the books they could have some $$$ to spend. especially with west not far behind (if not same year??) they could make some noise 2, 3 years in free agency.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com Amar

    I’m impressed with the work put into this article. much better than others on the website that have spelling, grammatic and factual errors. (eg “Ronnie Miles” when talking about CJ Miles) Still it ends up looking like independent research, and not news. (IR, as the term that the editors of wiki deal with — and not some empirical advance)

    Smaller market teams have to play the game by a different set of rules. Save for the Spurs, or Jazz of the 90’s, which other small market franchises have consistently been considered playoff threats? You usually have to be really lucky with your drafts as free agents do not often search out the smaller markets.

    Saving money is also a big deal. Not every team is owned by internet/computer billionaires. A lot of teams are owned by hard working businessmen/people. These people come from more conservative growth strategies. Sure, running an auto dealership is a money making issue — and sometimes you go for broke trying to win a ring — but in the greater context of these groups, saving money to increase the bottom line isn’t something to scoff at. (It is for us fans, because we’re not the ones paying silly money to scrubs) The Utah Jazz, for example, are the 5th or 6th largest money making ‘franchises’ for the group that owns them. This probably means to us that they could stand to pay the cap (and the Jazz brass has said that they would — if they were worth it, on the court); but this means to the board of directors that this ‘franchise’ needs to toe the line and follow the business model that has made the larger company.

    For whatever reason this website seems to have it for the hornets — consistently poking and prodding their fanbase with issues of CP leaving/demanding a trade; David West going; the team’s issue of making financial moves instead of basketball moves; etc. Also it’s not entirely dissimilar to the naked attempts to stir up Raptors fans (Bosh leaving, suggesting Toronto is a small market, etc). Some of this seems to be Dime channeling their inner Peter Vescey.

    Thrid and final reference to Utah Jazz (as a jazz fan who isn’t from Utah, I feel proctective of New Orleans) — the Jazz were still in poor financial shape when they moved to Utah. So poor that they essentially had to sell the draft rights of a player to another team for cold hard cash. Of course, this player was Dominique Wilkins — and the prospect of having him run with Stockton, Malone, Eaton, Griffith, Bailey et al would have been really awesome. That said, it wouldn’t have been the Utah Jazz for much longer, as the franchise would have had to have been sold to another group — and most likely moved.

    Ask Seattle Sonics’ fans just how awesome it is for THEM, that the Thunder has a bright future — a future that should have also been for Seattle?

    Hornets Fans / Bloggers have a right to expose the positive spin from moves like this. There is more to this game than basketball moves. The financial aspect is also a huge one. (Otherwise, Kobe’s people wouldn’t have bullied the nets into balking on Kobe, and taking Kittles instead)

  • Celts Fan

    Shinn doesn’t have a side venture AND the team’s in New Orleans (and making a legitimate try at making it work, unlike the Saints’ owner who really wanted to move the team to SA.) I understand what he’s doing, and as long as they don’t dump Emeka, West, or CP3, they still have pieces in place to build around. They may be taking a slight step back right now, but they’re put together in a way that they should jump right back up into legit contender status when “the 3 P’s” come off the books over the next 2 years.

  • Celts Fan

    @Amar – umm, wouldn’t you call the Spurs a small market team? They’ve done pretty well too.

    Also, Dime points out the issues in NO and Toronto BECAUSE THEY’RE REAL ISSUES. Calling Toronto a “small market” was a poor decision, but it is indisputably true that most NBA players with the choice would prefer not to play there (outside the US, cold, etc.) so while small market wasn’t the right term, the point was correct. And yes, Bosh is gone. About NO, they mention that BECAUSE it’s a legitimate concern and thought that TONS of other sites have brought up. At what point does CP3 say, “You don’t care about building a winner. Get me out of here!” They sold off a draft pick last year that could have been pretty solid and are giving guys away. While I agree with it financially, there’s another aspect that they ahve to cover. Get over yourself and off this fake indignation BS like you’re only hearing it here.

    /preorders Chris Bosh Rockets jersey

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    People seem very critical of “purely financial” moves, but why NOT save yourself $5 million if you can? Is that wrong? Devin Brown is a backup not a starter, Rasual Butler clearly did turn out to be replaceable (just like he replaced Mo Pete by being the random guy at the end of the bench who jumped into the starting lineup and played OK, Devin jumped right in and replaced him), Bobby didn’t play, Hilton didn’t play. Hornets are in the playoff hunt with them or without them.

    Why is it when “small market” teams trim the fat off their roster it’s a huge deal, when the fact is that teams do this stuff all the time? And look, Denver lived without Camby– they went to the WCF and he is a HELL of a better starter than Devin freakin Brown.

    I cannot stand the assumption that “OMG CHRIS PAUL MUST BE SO UPSET BECAUSE THE HORNETS CUT 3 OF THEIR WORST 4 PLAYERS”. Why would he be? Seriously. You all are saying yourselves he wants to win. No. Chris Paul was upset they traded Tyson Chandler for expirings. The franchise clearly realized it was a mistake and went a different direction. He would have been upset if they’d traded West or Okafor for nothing. I find it hard to believe he’s that upset about random scrubs getting cut. He is, again, a winner.

    The disclaimer to all this is that I think CP and Bobby Brown hung out some off the court, but it’s just the facts of the NBA that, no matter WHAT team you’re on, if you get close with minimum contract bench guys you should always know they might be traded or let go.

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    Oh, and by the way, if we are gonna have 30 bazillion articles about Chris Paul and the Hornets, why don’t we ever talk about Dwyane Wade and the Heat? His team is WORSE and I can tell you from what I see on TV there are WAY more butts in the seats in New Orleans than in Miami.

    So I do agree with Amar that “small market” teams get unfairly dumped on by the national media sometimes. Just because the Knicks can afford to be way over the luxury tax while putting a team that sucks onto the court doesn’t mean it’s a good business model for other teams.

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    $25 million. That’s how much money they have to spend when Peja & a couple other contracts expire in ’12. Or to turn into a good young player this summer/next season.

    I do agree that not drafting in ’08 was a mistake. I said so at the time. I really think that had a lot to do with Byron Scott’s weird old-school bias against rookies. And look, he got fired for not playing his rookies. So that’s not a problem anymore.

    Sorry, that’s a lot of thoughts. And I’m also in the post too. I’ll stop. LOL

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    @ticktock6

    Thanks for the thoughts – in the article and in the comments. But here’s what people don’t understand. If I’m CP3, it’s not the fact of how good the players traded are, but it’s the fact that I see soldiers leaving the battlefield and no replacements coming in. Clearly Chris knows this is a business, but when he’s out there fighting every night, and other teams have deep benches because their brass pays for it, he’s gotta wish he had that type of support.

    As for D-Wade, we have talked about him before, but the Heat are better than the Hornets this year. They might be a couple games behind right now, but in the end, they’ll be in the playoffs ready to do some damage more so than the Hornets. 2012 is a long time away, and the Heat have set themselves up where they’re competitive this year, and will be majory players this summer. Wade plus any of the big name free agents (Bosh, Amar’e, Joe Johnson, LeBron…) is way better than a CP3 plus David West or Okafor. Wade can presumably stay in South Beach and win another title, while Chris Paul’s future looks bleak in NO.

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    @ Aron

    That’s because they’re in the East. Weak, weak, weak! They’ll be in the playoffs because they’re in the East. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in comparison when the West is such a more competitive conference– seeds 4-11 right now are separated by two games, while the 7 and 8 seed in the East aren’t even over .500.

    Here’s a thought… maybe Chris should be mad at Peja and Mo Pete for getting paid $21-22 million between them not to produce? Instead of being mad at his management for giving them the contracts years ago and then doing everything they can to make up for it and stay somewhat competitive since then? At what point do we hold players accountable? This is why football doesn’t have guaranteed salaries.

    Just thinking out loud.

  • Brown

    I see this as nothing more than trimming the fat. Does anyone really think the players they got rid of would help them win a title?

    A couple of bad draft choices and/or free agent signings can cripple a team for years. Basketball is a business and a couple management mishaps is all that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

    Peja was a horrible signing by the Hornets. MoPete was horrible in Toronto and NO obviously didn’t do their homework before signing him. Posey wasn’t a bad signing, but not a good one either. His role on the Celtics allowed him to maximize his impact because he was backing up two hall of famers at the wing positions; NO didn’t even have half-decent starters at those positions at the time, which management should have been smart enough to realize his impact obviously wouldn’t be the same on their team.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but if team management lacks foresight, fans shouldn’t be surprised when a team becomes mired in mediocrity. As a Raptors and Warriors fan, it’s something I’m all too familiar with.

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    i dont have a problem with any of the roster moves made by the Hornets. In fact, I agree that it is just “prudent business”.

    The only activity I disagree with was firing Byron Scott.

    The New Orleans Hornets are going thru the same dilemma as most other teams in the league; they are LOSING money.

    They cannot get the corporate sponsorships necessary to earn the money to pay the player contracts. Part is their on fault for issuing the contracts (like Peja’s $50mil deal).

    Chris Paul is nice, but he is a small pea in the pod on this issue. Who cares if he is upset by the roster moves?…he can’t do shit about it.

    This is about ownership trying to preserve money and stay below the luxury tax line. Why spend the dollar-for-dollar tax when you can get an extra $5mil for being below the luxury cap line?!!?

    I wouldn’t.

    Not when you know your team isn’t going to (realistically) win the championship. Remember, the NBA is not like the NFL where any team can win the title. In the NBA, the BEST team ALWAYS wins the championship. ALWAYS.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com Amar

    @ Celts Fan:

    The spurs are the first team I mentioned, buddy. And they, like other small market teams, have mostly done it through the draft. David Robinson, Elliot, Avery, Duncan, Manu, Parker … now Blair.

    @ TickTock6:

    you do have to admit that Tyson’s loss, in the big picture, just messes up your over-all NBA team hottness rankings. ‘Meka is a better interior defender who uses defense, and not a 7’2 height to block shots and rebound.

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    @ Amar

    I think Chandler was probably a slightly better one on one defender– or if not, he was at least better at understanding and covering David West’s defensive lapses. Okafor is a better shot blocker even though he’s got less height and jump.

  • http://allthatjazzbasketball.blogspot.com Amar

    @TickTock6

    YOU DIDN’T ADDRESS THE HOTTNESS! (lmao, channeling a bit of @courtside and @izzy artest there…)

  • LSUhornet17

    First of all, the Heat are NOT better than the Hornets. They may be in better shape to sign someone over the summer, but they would have no shot of making the playoffs in the West this year.

    Re: the “losing soldiers” comment.
    How often does a team use it’s 14th or 15th man? Do you think Kobe would throw a tantrum if the Lakers traded Adam Morrison away for a washing machine? No. I think CP will understand that Bobby Brown and Hilton were barely worth their salaries, much less the additional $5 million the Hornets would have forfeited. Also, despite possibly being misguided, the Devin Brown trade was for purely basketball reasons. It only saved the Hornets $100,000 and they would have been under the tax with just the Bobby Brown trade anyway. They didn’t have a true center on the team besides Okafor, so they’re taking a chance on Gray. Devin has zero upside and Thornton had been out-performing him for most of the year. Why, wouldn’t you address a need and get more playing time for possible building blocks of your future? I don’t get the doom and gloom around this team.

  • http://dime eyes

    @9..You know the players don’t request that money or draw up their contract. They sign the papers their agent present to them. Usually benefitting both parties. If you were offered a large sum of money you wouldn’t turn it down. Someone is saying I can get you X amount $$$ over here you go. Is it Allan Houston fault he signed that max contract & only played the 1st half. NO. Blame management & their love of the nice guy. Nice guys don’t win games. You have to mean sometime. Most of us will never feel what it is to be great at a sport. Therefore we may always love the player & not the person. Sometimes you like the person & hate the player. I think most of the bums in the leagues are good guys & come from good families. Would I prefer they weren’t on my team. Yeah. I prefer a good balance. Which is?

  • http://dime eyes

    Taking a chance on Aaron Gray. Another Lost Gamble. Hilton Armstrong would kill Gray seriously. LOL. There goes that scouting dept or analyst pick. Aaron Gray 7ft. What has he done in the league to deserve his salary. He doesn’t even foul well.

  • K Dizzle

    If the Hornets have a plan, then whatever. As long as they don’t do themselves dirty like the Suns did when they panicked after a playoff loss to the Spurs then started givin away draft picks that became Rondo and Deng, givin away Nate Rob, then totally panickin and tradin Diaw and Bell and then the whole Marion for Shaq experiment. In Phoenix’s defense, if Amare stays healthy, they easily make the playoffs and the Shaq deal is a success. Unforunately, didn’t happen that way and now Amare’s on his way out.

    Posters on the most part made good points on this subject but the fact is CP3 is the franchise and whether dudes are the team’s 13th or 14th men, if he’s tight with them and you keep givin them away, you playin a dangerous game when his free agency comes up. If Kobe wants Adam Morrison around, then Morrison’s got a spot on the LA roster as long as Kobe’s there, point blank.
    Rasual Butler was boys with CP3, easily the best shooter on the Hornets (since Peja fell off hard) and was clutch. He’d be the starting 2 or 3 for the Hornets right now and they gave him away. I understand it’s a business, but owners need to understand, it’s ALL about the players and if they wanna win and they just see you slashin salary, it’s gonna reach a boiling point. It’s easy to say N.O. gonna be a player in the free agent market in 3 years, but 3 years a long time to win when you just wanna win and fans gotta pay good money to watch a team with no chance..

  • chris

    trading 2 browns for a gray to get a $6 million dollar bonus is a simple, understandable set of moves – from a business perspective. it sends a very clear message that whatever else happens the rest of the year,you are not going to spend any more on other players in an attempt to make the playoffs. I am very curious how hard the hornets play the rest of the season, given this very clear message from management; they are 1/2 game out of a playoff spot now, don’t be surprised if they are 10-12 games out by year end.

  • Mikey

    Fact: Chris Paul is in the 1st year of his new contract. I think the national media understimates his patience. CP has been around the league long enough to know the NBA is a business. He got that notice when the Hornets shipped Bobby Brown off to Houston for Mike James and Bonzi Wells back ’08, after the all-star break. Don’t think for a minute he doesn’t know what’s going on, roster-wise.

    Fact: The Hornets are not championship contenders this season or next. I have no problem with the recent cost-cutting moves of the Hornets front office. Are any of the players mentioned in the Hornets’ long-term plans? Of course not. If you were the owner of this team, would you pay the luxury tax for the product they are putting on the court, or would you ship a couple of these guys off, and collect a $5 million check from David Stern at the end of the season? Yeah, I thought so too.

    I really don’t see CP making any threats to leaving New Orleans. He’s a fierce competeter no doubt, but I just don’t think that’s in his character. The funny thing is, the media will blast CP for NOT wanting to leave if the Hornets don’t contend for a championship in the next two seasons. The so-called experts did the same thing to Kevin Garnett when he was in Minnesota. If I remember correctly, KG didn’t want to abandon his 1st franchise. He wanted to make it work as a Wolf. They wound up trading KG (in a back-door, from one former-celtic to another, type of drug deal) to a team with whom he could definitely win some jewelry. Did it work out for KG, yes. Could it work out for CP just as well, yes. I don’t see him forcing the Hornets’ hand though.

  • Mark

    I’m impressed with the level of civility regarding this issue. I think the more research Dime puts into a post, the more idiocies are prevented.

    I also, like Amar and others, like how Dime went out and scoured sources pertinent to the team, sources biased or not. It makes for a more insightful message, especially in consideration of a touchy subject like this.

    Aron: As a Hornets fan, I do see Chris Paul becoming ever frustrated at the restructuring of our team, especially when “comparable” teams like the Heat are able to do damage in the playoffs (merely due to the impotence of much of the (L)Eastern Conference). That said, I believe when the Hornets shed of some big contracts, we can entice a second fiddle. That’s all future and speculation, so hopefully CP’s maturity and patience will transcend Kobe’s.

  • KnicksFan84

    The Hornets have ALWAYS looked at bottom line. I have no problem with it. If you’re not winning the chip, why the f#*(% are we gonna pay excess for mediocrity. Tear it down to the bare minimum possible with the guys you KNOW you want to KEEP (CP3, David West, Okafor) and take your chances finding a gem or two in the draft and if you can find that 4th piece that way, then add to it only if you know you’re capable of winning it all.

    The Lakers do it all the time, that’s why they said f the cap, we got the best talent period and pretty much guaranteed to win no matter what.

  • Janjanjanjan

    i say we trade DWest for a young athletic big man.. Dwest is declining… trade him quick, dont wait till his value go down some more

  • http://www.stormsurgephoto.com Matt

    @Heckler,

    You must not have been following the Hornets closely if you think firing Byron Scott was a great move by the Hornets. Byron had some very very specific flaws that led to the Hornets getting destroyed by Denver last year. It wasn’t the players that failed as much as it was the lack of coaching. The failures continued into the beginning into this year. He was let go and a rookie Head Coach has done more with this team since. We’re number 8 in the conference and we were LAST in the conference not that long ago. Every night, the Hornets prove firing Byron was the right decision.