New Orleans Hornets: Reviewing the Past 10 Years in the Big Easy
With Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac in full force now, it is causing many New Orleanians to ponder the last seven years or so since Hurricane Katrina.
More importantly, it is causing them to look at their lives in general.
For a sportswriter like myself, it is just one more reason to step back and look at the impact of sports on life, and for those in the city of New Orleans, sports plays a huge role every day.
Sure, it is the Saints—not the Hornets—who have most of the city's affections. However, the Hornets have their faithful followers, and that number will continue to grow as the team continues to make its presence felt both on the court and outside of basketball within this great city.
In order to understand the significance of this team, though, let's continue to look back at the last 10 years, as we've done throughout August with the 10 best players and 10 best moments of the last 10 years in New Orleans.
New Orleans Awarded a Basketball Franchise
In a fascinating drama made for television (which you can read more about NBA)" target="_blank" title="here">here), the Charlotte Hornets were awarded to the city of New Orleans. For a city that had not done well with an NBA franchise once (see Jazz move to Utah), it was an odd pairing.
George Shinn's franchise was a good basketball team that had managed to lose the interest of a city and state which is very passionate about the sport of basketball. In fact, the team managed 44 wins in the 2001-02 season and won a playoff series in seven games over the Chicago Bulls before being eliminated by the New Jersey Nets in five games in the second round.
New Orleans was a smaller TV market than even Charlotte, and though it often can be confused for being a polytheistic city in choosing its sports gods, it was and is fiercely loyal to one team: the New Orleans Saints.
For many in the city, it's "need not apply" status as far as building another sports team into their lives is concerned. Yes, there's LSU, but that's college, and thus presents a different sort of affection and level of appreciation.
When we're talking about professional sports though, New Orleans is all about the Saints. Yet the NBA approved a franchise to relocate there. The rest of that history is diagnosed here.
New Home, Same On-Court Results
The New Orleans Hornets brought with them head coach Paul Silas and much of the same roster that made the Charlotte Hornets one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
The team had a new look, ditching the pinstripes which were so popular in Charlotte for a more modern, flashy look.
Nevertheless, aesthetically the team was still quite pleasing to the eyes. Not only did the new uniform embrace much of what New Orleans appreciates, but the play of the team on the court looked pretty good too.
With Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis playing like All-Stars, the team finished with a better record than the year prior, improving by three wins to 47-35. However, the team lost in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs to the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers, a team two years removed from making the NBA Finals. Interestingly enough, that team had a future important member of the Hornets franchise, Monty Williams, on the team.
The next season, the team fell back to 41-41 under brand new head coach Tim Floyd, who came from Iowa State. Of course, getting rid of Paul Silas after he had such success with the franchise provided the team's first real black eye while in New Orleans.
It didn't take long to suffer another, though it was acquired trying to clean up the last. The team immediately fired Floyd after one season. The Hornets were a franchise reeling with a lack of leadership from Shinn on down.
Despite the poor leadership, in the summer of 2004, the team made a wise hire when it brought Byron Scott in as head coach. Unfortunately, with major injuries to Baron Davis and a host of other key Hornets, the team struggled to its worst mark in franchise history, 18-64.
In the middle of that sad season, the team made a bold move, shipping out Davis—its franchise point guard—to Golden State in exchange for almost nothing of real value. However, as seems to happen quite often to this team living in the middle of voodoo land, the karma came back in the Hornets' favor.
The team waited out the 2005 draft and was able to take the guy it wanted and needed, Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul.
A New Era
Though the Hornets had brought in Byron Scott one year earlier, 2005 was the true beginning of New Orleans' new basketball era. With Chris Paul and David West now the team's marquee players, the team looked poised to be one of the NBA's exciting new young-gun teams.
No one could have predicted on draft day the tremendous devastation Hurricane Katrina would bring to the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in general. As a result, the team made a hiatus to Oklahoma City for nearly the entirety of the following two seasons.
In the 2005-06 season, the team would not play a game in the city of New Orleans. In 2006-07, they would play just six. Those two seasons represent an asterisk in the franchise's history. They also, however, provided a key opportunity for the franchise and its key members to grow together.
The city of New Orleans was rewarded mightily, and that voodoo-caused karma again shone brightly on the team. Not only was the city given the bright stage of hosting the league's All-Star Game, but the team put together their greatest season.
With Chris Paul, David West and Peja Stojakovic combining to make one of the most dangerous trios in the league, the Hornets raced to an amazing 29-12 start and finished 56-26. They then took out the perennial contending Dallas Mavericks and looked ready to defeat the mighty San Antonio Spurs, even holding a 3-2 series lead and facing Game Seven at the Hive.
The team and the city had its heart broken by the City Slickers, led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Even so, Hornets fans would not soon forget what that team did to reinvigorate interest in professional basketball in southeast Louisiana.
The 2008-09 campaign wasn't bad either, with the Hornets going 49-33 with the reinstated pinstripe unis, borrowed from the Charlotte Hornets get ups. In the playoffs, the team suffered a devastating first-round loss to Denver.
The team fell back to earth again in 2009-10, suffering from season-long injuries to Chris Paul. They seemed to find some magic with rookie guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. Unfortunately, New Orleans simply could not get over the loss of Paul, and that cost Byron Scott his job, fair or not.
Another New Era
The 2010 offseason saw the team bring in a new general manager, Dell Demps, and head coach, Monty Williams. Together, the two brought a renewed energy and focus on hard work, determination and defense.
Chris Paul and David West benefited from Williams' simple offensive schemes and attention to detail on defense. They led New Orleans to a season that rivaled the '07-'08 version, going 46-36 after starting 8-0.
Almost by himself, Paul made the Los Angeles Lakers seriously sweat out the first round of the playoffs in the 2011 version of the championship tournament. It was not to be, but reminded fans of what the team could be with a healthy Paul and a coach who knew what he was doing.
But Paul was still skeptical of what was taking place in New Orleans; in about as classy a way as possible, Paul asked the organization to trade him in the 2011 offseason. Once the lockout ended, the team traded him twice: first to the Lakers, a trade which was infamously bounced by commissioner David Stern for "basketball reasons", then successfully to the Los Angeles Clippers.
In return, the team brought back key pieces of its future: guard Eric Gordon and forward Al-Farouq Aminu, plus the expiring contract of Chris Kaman and a first round pick the team would use in 2012 on Austin Rivers.
Gordon, Kaman and other key players struggled through injuries, and the team played as well as any 21-45 team ever could in the lockout-shortened 2012 season.
The voodoo stuff continued as the team was unbelievably awarded the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, which it used on the obvious pick: Kentucky forward Anthony Davis.
Of course, a review would be incomplete if the whole ownership black eye issue was not mentioned. Shinn lost control of the team during the end of Byron Scott's time in New Orleans. The NBA would take over; this would form the reason why Stern, essentially acting as team CEO, could veto the initial Chris Paul trade.
After two unbearable years with no true owner, the team was finally purchased by Saints owner Tom Benson in April.
With all the cards laid out—Benson, Demps, Williams, Gordon, Davis and Austin Rivers—the Hornets' future looks brighter for the next 10 years than what it has faced in its first 10 years in the city.
If the team's history tells us anything, it's that ups and downs will take place. Don't expect too much.
The city is seeing that just when you think you've recovered from a hurricane, another one hits.
Hopefully, the team and city respond as well to this one as it did the last. In fact, let's hope they do even better.
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