From most accounts, yesterday was not a good day for the New Orleans Hornets or their fans. First, came the news that All-Star PF David West was going to opt out of the last year of his contract with the franchise and test the free agency market. West’s statement was soon followed by a similar one from backup C Aaron Gray. This leaves the team with only five players under contract: PG Chris Paul, G Jarrett Jack, F Trevor Ariza, F Quincy Pondexter and C Emeka Okafor.
So at least there’s still a starting five available for the team.
I have always felt a bit sorry for the Hornets. They have never gotten a fair shake since they left Charlotte to come to the Crescent City. They were shoved to the Western Conference and forced into a division with the Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks. The national media has never been kind to them – a result of how acrimonious things had gotten between former owner George Shinn and the city of Charlotte by the end of their tenure there. The team has been rebuilt twice since moving – first around Baron Davis and then around Chris Paul. They’ve had four coaches, including Tim Floyd. Their stay in New Orleans was cut in half due to Hurricane Katrina. Their “emergency home” (Oklahoma City) desperately angled to keep them permanently and they were receptive to it – which alienated local New Orleans fans at a critical time. George Shinn ran out of money and no local owner stepped up, forcing the league to buy the team. Whenever you read any list of potential teams that “should” be contracted, the Hornets are among the first mentioned.
Now, depending on who you hear/read, the Hornets are about to become pawns in the league’s upcoming labor fight. The fear is that the league (the team’s current owner) can hold the team’s roster spots hostage as they negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Given the state of the NBA as a financial entity, a new economic structure is mandatory. Too many teams are losing money (last count was 22 out of the 30 teams), even as the NBA as a league just had its best season.
What compounds the Hornets’ problems is the other “sword of Damocles” hanging over their heads: the Chris Paul situation. There’s every reason to expect that CP3 will not be a Hornet for much longer, regardless of how the NBA looks after the lockout ends. To be fair to Chris, he’s not agitated for a move a la Carmelo Anthony. Nor is he leaking anything out to media favorites that he’s ready to be a free agent. But for a team that has little going right for them, the presence of one of the league’s Top 10 players every night has been a godsend. It keeps the team relevant and present in the minds of people.
But of course, the expectation is that CP3 will follow in the footsteps of his good friend, LeBron James, and bolt for a higher profile team. Whether that is the Knicks, the Lakers or someone else, the belief is that CP3 Superstar needs to be in a big market and in a team that is challenging for the title every year in order to maximize his potential both as a player and as an earning entity.
A team in limbo, caught between the opposing forces that are likely to derail the next season. A team that has lost its second best player and is staring at potentially losing the best player it has had in a decade. A team that many outside of New Orleans thinking it should just go away.
It’s a tough road ahead for the Bees and for their fans in New Orleans.