After being brutally beat down by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2009 NBA playoffs — during which they tied for the worst single-game loss in postseason history in a 121–63 drubbing in Game Four while shooting 31.5% from the field and 13.3% from the three-point line — the New Orleans Hornets went about a rebuilding process.
In the aftermath of a highly unsuccessful end to disastrous ’08-09 season that included a mid-season attempt to trade starting center Tyson Chandler for expiring contracts, the Hornets were widely perceived to be looking to trim the payroll. After acquiring center Emeka Okafor from the Bobcats in exchange for Chandler that offseason — while trading Rasual Butler, Antonio Daniels, Hilton Armstrong and Devin Brown for draft picks and hopes to clear cap space — the plan ending up backfiring on the Hornets. The financially-motivated trades diminished the Hornets’ roster depth in ’09-10, which in turn became a significant problem late in the season, as both Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic were lost to injuries for significant stretches of time.
Indeed, the Hornets overcame the bad start to the season and advanced as high as sixth place in the Western Conference, but in late-January Chris Paul hurt himself again trying to save an errant pass going out of bounds. Despite returning for a stretch late in the season, the injury effectively ended Paul’s season. The lone highlights of the remainder of the season were the stellar performance of rookie guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. Collison achieved the longest stretch of games with at least 18 points and 9 assists (seven in a row in February) for a rookie since Oscar Robertson. As for Thornton, he dropped 37 points (including a franchise-record quarter of 23 points) on Cleveland back in February. Both made the NBA’s All-Rookie Teams, a first in franchise history.
With rumors flying around that Chris Paul wanted to be traded this offseason — which new head coach Monty Williams later denied — the Hornets sent James Posey and Collison to the Indiana Pacers in a four-team deal that brought Trevor Ariza to New Orleans in hopes of keeping Paul content. Ariza’s acquisition is quite an endorsement of him by the Hornets, who are trying to prove to Paul that they are serious about building a contending team sooner rather than later. With Ariza, the Hornets get a player who can stretch defenses (136 three-pointers last season), defend both guard and forward positions (6-foot-8, 210 pounds), and display his athleticism running the floor.
Hornets forward David West has played a vital role for this team since 2003, yet continues to receive minimal love from fans and pundits alike. With career averages of 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, West’s numbers are solid, but his style is unspectacular. His name, like his game, isn’t sexy but it’s effective. He’s nearly automatic from mid-range, and works a deadly pick-and-roll with Paul to free himself up for open jumpers.
The city of New Orleans belongs to the Saints — who cast a pretty big shadow with their Super Bowl trophy — but with a healthy Paul, Ariza to run alongside him, West’s silky smooth jumper and Okafors defense, look for the Hornets to get back into playoff contention.