While the New Orleans Hornets are technically in rebuilding mode, there are a number of steps the team can take to hasten their rise through the NBA's ranks. The Hornets have compiled enough talent this offseason that they can make an immediate impact and make a run at the playoffs this season.
To make a jump from the worst record in the West last year to the playoffs this year, New Orleans will need a few things to bounce their way.
It goes without saying that they'll need good fortune in avoiding injuries. Shooting guard Eric Gordon has been sidelined with knee troubles, but ESPN's Marc Stein tweeted Monday that the team is optimistic their franchise guard will be ready for the season opener against San Antonio.
Gordon's health is key to the Hornets' success, but it has become even more important after rookie Austin Rivers suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game against Dallas. It's the same ankle that Rivers had surgery on back in June to remove bone spurs.
Fortunately, X-rays on Rivers' ankle came back negative and the team awaits results from an MRI scheduled for Tuesday. The team believes Rivers will be ready for the opener as well, but Rivers currently finds himself in a walking boot and unable to put pressure on his foot.
Rivers and Gordon are just a couple of core pieces to this refined Hornets puzzle. The biggest piece, literally and figuratively, is No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis. Davis has had quite the year so far, going from collegiate national champion to top overall pick to Olympic gold medalist to lighting up the NBA preseason.
In his most recent performance, "The Unibrow" dropped six points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Davis is one of many new arrivals, including center Robin Lopez and forward Ryan Anderson.
Lopez and Anderson scored 14 points apiece in the loss to Dallas, while Lopez added 11 rebounds and a couple blocks to his stat sheet.
New Orleans enters this season with lofty expectations and a ton of promise. This may be considered a "rebuilding year", but the Hornets can use this season as the starting point to bigger things.
Here are five ways the New Orleans Hornets can speed up the rebuilding process and leave a profound mark on the NBA this season.
Eric Gordon was considered the centerpiece of last winter's Chris Paul trade. He was supposed to be the franchise guard the team builds around in the wake of CP3's absence. For their trouble, the Hornets got all of nine games out of the future of their franchise last season.
That was due in large part to Gordon living up to his billing as a star who is as brittle as he is talented. In his short career, Gordon has yet to play an entire NBA season. A knee injury sidelined him for most of last season and continues to be a problem this year. Gordon has yet to grace the court this preseason.
As the team's best offensive weapon, the Hornets need a healthy Eric Gordon on the court. On a team with many talented yet inexperienced pieces, he'll be relied upon to carry the team while the cast around him grows. It's a burden that Gordon's talent might be able to handle, but perhaps not his body.
Gordon's knee troubles evokes flashbacks of the issues the Washington Wizards had with guard Gilbert Arenas. Like Gordon, Arenas was a talented scorer who was asking to carry a fledgling franchise.
Like Gordon, the team gave Arenas a hefty payday despite growing concerns surrounding his troublesome knee. Inevitably, Arenas never lived up to his price tag and he was out of the nation's capital a few years later.
Granted, there were factors involved with Arenas' D.C. upheaval that won't be in play for Gordon (assuming E.G. doesn't have the tendency to carry guns on him in the locker room), but there is a precedent of how handing a max contract to an explosive-but-oft-injured guard can backfire.
That's why the Hornets need to monitor Gordon's minutes and not ask him to do too much early on. New Orleans has been wise to keep Gordon out of action until he's 100 percent but, once he comes back, it is important that preserve their franchise guard.
Gordon's worth extends past this season. He is in the first year of a four-year deal that will pay him $58 million. The team needs him for the long haul.
The injury to Rivers doesn't help matters, but it's still important the team doesn't push Gordon to force things out there. If the Hornets are going to make the playoffs this season, they need Gordon in uniform in April and May.
Scaling Gordon back make cost them early, but it will benefit them in the long run.
Depending on what you believe, Austin Rivers was either drafted to replace or play alongside Eric Gordon. The team will tell you that the No. 10 overall pick's presence is to share the backcourt with their franchise shooting guard. That means Rivers will have to make the transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard.
So far, the transition hasn't been that smooth. After not being asked to create for others much at Duke, Rivers is still adjusting to being a facilitator. His trademark shooting touch has been off as well.
Rivers has made all of two three-pointers since the team drafted him, and those came against Atlanta in the team's fifth preseason game. That's a bit of a concern for a guy who was known for his ability to stroke it from deep.
Now, there's the issue with Rivers' right ankle. While both Gordon and Rivers are expected to be ready for the season opener on Halloween night against the Spurs, the lack of time spent together hurts the chances of making this duo work right off the bat.
Rivers and Gordon needed this offseason to develop chemistry and get a better understanding of each other. Instead, they've spent time bonding in the infirmary.
If Gordon and Rivers can get on the same page, they will form a potentially explosive offensive tandem. Either guard can bring the ball up the court and try to create offense for the other. It's an athletic duo that defenses will have trouble stopping. On a team with New Orleans' scoring issues, it is imperative that they make this duo work.
Greivis Vasquez will be getting the starting nod at point guard for the foreseeable future. Vasquez is the kind of distributor that the team hopes Rivers can be someday. The problem is Vasquez also has the tendency to be a turnover machine, so his grasp on the starting job isn't exactly iron-clad.
The point guard job will eventually be Rivers' to keep. In time, he and Gordon will form an excellent pair in the backcourt and open things up for the team's other franchise piece, Anthony Davis, on the inside. For the Hornets' playoff hopes, the Rivers-Gordon combination needs to start paying dividends sooner rather than later.
Anthony Davis' reputation as a world-class defender is well-known. He is going to be one of the NBA's best protectors of the rim and will contend for numerous Defensive Player of the Year awards during his career. He has the potential to be something special on the defensive end, along the lines of legendary defenders like Bill Russell and Dikembe Mutombo.
What we don't know is how Davis will fare on the offensive end of the spectrum. At times, we've seen Davis flash the ability to be an excellent player on both ends of the court. He lit up the Hawks for 19 points a few days ago. A couple weeks prior to that, he dropped 22 points on the Charlotte Bobcats.
With his length, athleticism and underrated jump shot, Davis can be a factor offensively for the Hornets. There are still aspects of his game that need to be fine-tuned before he becomes a bona fide weapon.
For instance, he'll need to add some bulk to his frame to give him more of an edge in the post game. Still, Davis can get his share of points if the team involves him more in their offense.
Getting Davis going on the inside will open things up for the Hornets' guards on the outside. The team saw the benefits of having an offensive weapon in the post when they had All-Star forward David West inside. When West departed to Indiana in free agency last summer, it changed the dynamic of the team's offense.
With Davis as well as forward Ryan Anderson, the Hornets now have weapons they can deploy inside to keep defenses from smothering shooters on the perimeter. Davis may still be a bit raw offensively, but he still requires attention from opposing defenders. His ability to draw guys away from the basket as he squares up for his mid-range jumper will also come in handy.
From Larry Johnson to Alonzo Mourning to David West, the Hornets' best years in the franchise's history have come with a big man on the inside who can fill up the basket. It's unrealistic to expect Davis to be an 18-20 points per game type of scorer, but he can still contribute on the offensive end.
It's up to head coach Monty Williams to find the things Davis is comfortable with and develop ways for him to utilize them. By making Davis a significant part of the offense early on, it will help him progress as a scorer as he adds more bulk and becomes more experienced. That will lead to him becoming a better all-around player.
Every team needs an identity. They need a blueprint that the whole team can wrap their heads around and utilize in an attempt to impose their will on their opponents. A good head coach finds what his team does well and uses those skills to his team's advantage.
For former Suns and Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni, he used a frenetic up-tempo style of basketball that wasn't very keen on defense, but forced opponents to push themselves to try to keep up with their offensive output.
The Spurs under Gregg Popovich have molded themselves into being a defensive-minded team that scored in transition while keeping opposing offenses at bay. The old Stockton-Malone Jazz teams were masters of the pick-and-roll.
With so many intriguing pieces on this Hornets team, it is up to Monty Williams to decide what kind of team they will become. Will they use all of their youth and force older teams to try to keep up with them by running non-stop? Will they utilize elite defenders like Anthony Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu and become more of a defensive-minded team?
That remains to be seen. Williams has developed a reputation for leaning on solid defense. With guys like Davis and Aminu in the fold, Williams could craft this Hornets team into one of the game's better defensive units. With the team low on proven scorers, Williams can attempt to create offense by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.
Williams could rely heavily on the potential backcourt duo of Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon and force teams to pick their poison. With Davis and Ryan Anderson also on the court with Rivers and Gordon, Williams can really stretch out the court and attack in a number of ways.
The key is crafting a formula and sticking with it. It is also important that Williams gets this young team to buy in. On a team with so many new faces, it is imperative that Williams gets everyone on the same page. By developing an identity and building good team chemistry, the Hornets can play to their strengths as a cohesive unit.
No team, no matter how talented the roster, can survive an NBA season if everyone isn't in tune with the game plan. We've seen a lack of chemistry unravel young teams in the past. It is up to Williams to keep this promising Hornets team from becoming another cautionary tale.
Ryan Anderson went from the NBA's Most Improved Player with the Orlando Magic to a talented big man with an undefined role with the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets signed Anderson to a four-year, $36 million contract this past summer, but still isn't sure what to do with their sweet-shooting forward.
Anderson can play a number of positions. He can hold his own well enough in the post to play center or power forward and his long-range shooting ability allows him to play some small forward as well. The problem is that Anthony Davis has power forward locked down and the other two spots seem to be going to Robin Lopez at center and Al-Farouq Aminu at small forward.
That would appear to make Anderson a $36 million sixth man. The team needs Anderson's offense in the lineup, especially since neither Lopez or Aminu provide much scoring. Even Davis, for all of his potential, isn't a scoring machine. Anderson can score in the post or on the outside. He led the league in three-pointers last season, which is impressive for a 6'10" forward.
With the money he's being paid and his importance to the offense, the Hornets need to make a decision on what they are going to do with Anderson quickly. Do you trade size for scoring by opting for Anderson at center instead of Lopez? Do they take a hit on defense in exchange a boost on offense by swapping out Anderson and Aminu at small forward? Or do they let Anderson commandeer the team's second unit and provide scoring off the bench?
It's one of the intriguing storylines to watch with this Hornets team. Anderson doesn't get the same headlines as other new arrivals like Davis and Austin Rivers, but he was a huge addition over the summer. His versatility is a huge asset to this team and it will be interesting to see how the team utilizes its other big acquisition.