Chris Kaman, New Orleans Hornets Quickly Icing Last Place in Southwest Division
The New Orleans Hornets have seen their share of adversity this season. Eric Gordon and others have been injured, forcing them to use various lineups. Chris Kaman is having trouble adjusting and they've lost 80 percent of their games to this point. By the way, the Hornets lost superstar Chris Paul in a trade. All that adds up to New Orleans quickly locking up last place in the Southwest Division.
That's a year after the Hornets gave the Los Angeles Lakers a run for their money in the first round of last season's playoffs. Paul and company held Kobe Bryant to less than 20 points three times as they gave the Lakers a competitive six-game set.
With Paul being traded for payroll purposes, those memories are long gone. Since the Hornets traded Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers 11 days before the season started, Monty Williams had only about a week and a half to prepare Gordon, Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu with their new team.
Losing the team's star and having to quickly prepare the team's new key players put the Hornets way behind.
Further, Gordon and Kaman weren't happy with being traded. Gordon, a third-year pro, was under the impression that he wouldn't be traded. He told Yahoo Sports, "All you do is take the man's word and take that no one's going to go anywhere. To completely lie like that is something unprofessional."
Kaman, who played eight seasons with the Clippers, was upset that neither the Clippers nor his agent told him he had been traded. "They didn't have the guts to tell me they traded me," he said.
Will the Hornets be able to make it out of last place in the Southwest Division?
Afterwards, Kaman and Gordon continued to struggle in their new abode. Gordon scored 43 points while shooting only 42.5 percent in his first two games played. On December 26, Gordon hit a game-winning jump shot against the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, Gordon bumped his knee in the win and has been out since January 4.
The Hornets could be far below the rest of the teams in the Southwest Division when he returns. Gordon is likely to be out until the end of the month, according to the Times-Picayune. Losing Gordon means playing without a major scorer. That's a big blow as the Hornets will play each of their six remaining games against winning teams this month.
Kaman has yet to find his stroke in New Orleans. He is averaging 9.8 points per game, 1.9 points off his career average and shooting a career-low 44 percent from the field. The Times Picayune notes that with Gordon out, the Hornets are unable to hit three-point shots, enabling opponents to double-team their post players.
Kaman also admits that he's struggling to adjust to playing fewer minutes, as he shares time with fellow center Emeka Okafor.
The Hornets have also missed Trevor Ariza and Xavier Henry due to injury. Ariza missed eight games due to a right groin injury. He returned to score 18 points of seven-for-13 shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies. Henry, who the Hornets acquired from the Grizzlies in a trade, has yet to play this season due to a fractured ankle suffered in a mid-December Grizzlies practice.
Due to the injuries, the Hornets have been forced to use various lineups. In 15 games, the Hornets have used nine different lineups. They've used the same lineup only four times. With changing lineups, the Hornets can hardly establish a rhythm.
Fortunately, Williams is remaining upbeat despite the Hornets being 3-12, and having lost 12 of their last 13 games. Williams believes the Hornets could bounce back from the injuries, telling the Times-Picayune:
I [don't worry about the team packing it in] because I've always believed things balance themselves out. Injuries have happened to us that most teams haven't had to deal with. There's a lot of basketball to be played. Anything can happen.
With all of the things going wrong with the team, Williams keeps a self-effacing approach. He said, "I could look at a number of things that point to certain players or quarters, but when I go through my evaluations, I have to look at myself. That's what we always tell our guys, 'Just look at yourself.'"
Williams needs to be positive with the Hornets struggling this much. Coaching in the NBA is a tenuous job. One bad season can see a coach go out the door. Reminding Dell Demps that he guided the Hornets to the playoffs last season and showing that he helped players develop this season will be key for Williams to remain the head coach.
It's hard to see the Hornets getting much better as the season goes along. On Wednesday, the Hornets missed a chance at a nice home win when their late run against the Grizzlies fell short. The Grizzlies fare poorly on the road, currently 2-4 on the road this season and 16-25 on the road last season.
Marc Gasol, who shoots 4.5 percent worse on his career on the road than at home, scored 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting against the Hornets.
The Hornets managed to hold the Houston Rockets to seven fourth-quarter points on Friday to force overtime, but they ended up losing their sixth straight game in a two-point decision.
Scoring has been difficult for the Hornets, especially with Gordon out. The Hornets are 28th in the NBA in scoring average. They've scored 90 or fewer points in 10 games.
Okafor is the only player in the rotation shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
The tough upcoming schedule could put the nail in the coffin for the Hornets, especially in such a tough division as the Southwest. Even without Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have won six of their last nine games. The San Antonio Spurs are surviving with Manu Ginobili out, having won six of nine since he broke his hand. The Spurs have won four of their last five games.
The Dallas Mavericks aren't at championship pace but could still coast to a winning record. After winning their fifth straight, the Rockets could remain competitive with Samuel Dalembert keying a defensive surge.
The 2011-12 season looks to be a long one. At least the Hornets will come out with a high draft pick. Also, Gordon, Aminu and other members of this young squad should grow from this season. With each player under 30, Williams could use this season to help them develop for the future.
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