The New Orleans Hornets, soon to be the Pelicans, have tremendous potential. That’s all they have at this point, though, is potential.
In order to take the next step and be considered a playoff contender, a few roster tweaks must be made. The team's core likely will stay intact, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes.
In a year where the Hornets could have up to seven free agents, it's a lock some will be elsewhere next season.
Because New Orleans is well under the salary cap, there is money to spend on top-tier free agents who could move this team forward.
If that were to happen, we’ll see Hornets’ players on new teams next year. Here are players who might be elsewhere next season.
Al-Farouq Aminu is a promising young player who has started 66 games for the Hornets this season. Still just 22, Aminu is set to become a free agent and New Orleans would be smart to part ways with its small forward.
His $3.7 million option was declined before the start of the season, which means the Hornets can’t offer him any more than that upon free agency. Given the way he's played this year, it wouldn’t be surprising for a team to make a competitive offer that Aminu can’t decline.
He has begun to come into his own in the NBA, recording career highs in nearly every statistical category.
His value comes from his ability to rebound. He has the second-best rebound rate (16.6) among the NBA’s small forwards. Additionally, he ranks sixth among small forwards in rebounds per game, with 7.6.
These are all great numbers, and his wingspan has made his defense tremendous this season, but his offense is an area that needs improvement. Small forward is a premiere position in the NBA, with some of the game's best playing the three.
He averages just 7.2 points per game, and most of that comes from his ability to cut to the basket and score an easy bucket underneath. He doesn’t have a good mid-range jumper and has zero outside shooting presence, as Hornets247.com’s Mason Ginsberg points out.
The Hornets have defensive prowess with Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez. At the small forward position, this team would be better-suited for a scoring threat.
Owning another lottery pick in June’s draft, the Hornets could look in that direction. One player who sticks out and who could contribute immediately is Georgetown’s Otto Porter.
Porter, the 6’8” sophomore, averaged just over 16 points a game, with similar rebounding numbers to those of Aminu, at 7.5 per contest. Evident from the clip above, he can make plays offensively and change the dynamic of any contest. He carried Georgetown this season, and his impact would be enormous for a team looking for another scorer.
Aminu is a solid player. He's improved in each of his three NBA seasons, and although he’s been starting for the Hornets, he’s no better than a defensive-minded bench player.
It would be best for the organization to thank Aminu for his services and move on.
The former Kansas Jayhawk and 2010 first-round draft pick, Henry has been disappointing throughout his professional career. He plays in just over 11 minutes per contest, scoring 3.4 points per game this season.
His size and production in college earned him a lottery selection by the Memphis Grizzlies, but the 2012 acquisition of Henry hasn’t worked the way the Hornets envisioned.
He has by and large been a bust. The left-handed shot that was so good in college has failed to make the transition to the NBA.
All he can do now is get to the foul line, which isn’t particularly helping the Hornets. True, he is playing limited minutes, but there’s a reason for that. When he’s on the court, he's not effective.
He plays much better in losses than he does when the team wins, which shouldn't leave a good impression with the coaching staff. In losing efforts, Henry is shooting 43 percent and averaging 4.2 points, whereas in wins, he shoots 35.1 percent and scores 2.1 points per game.
Maybe there's too much pressure for him at this point. In any event, the Hornets should look for consistency from the bench, which they're not getting with Henry.
It would be much better from a franchise perspective if they opted to let Henry walk. He was paid $2.3 million this season, and there’s no way the Hornets should re-sign him with the numbers he has posted the last two seasons.
There’s no room for Henry on a team trying to improve. It doesn't have another year to wait and see whether he can reach his potential.
Brian Roberts, the 27-year-old rookie point guard, has impressed while playing behind Greivis Vasquez. He has taken advantage of increased minutes, following the injury to Austin Rivers and has solidified himself as a worthy backup.
However, with Vasquez and Rivers manning the position for the foreseeable future, that leaves Roberts the odd man out.
After he had a career game with 13 points and 18 assists against the Denver Nuggets on March 25, coach Monty Williams praised his work ethic. Though, as reported by Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Williams hinted at the possibility of a departure:
We're just thankful that we can go to a guy like Brian in a pinch like last night where he pays big minutes and he produces. He has the capability of being a backup point guard, there's no question. A lot of it is just fit, if he fits right with what we're doing going forward. That's something we'll have to evaluate this summer.
The 18 assists came in his second career start and was his first double-double. His court vision could be intriguing for any team looking for a backup point guard. You can see all 18 assists in the clip below.
He does have a non-guaranteed contract of $788,872 next season, and a summer of positive workouts could prove to be beneficial, but you have to look at the roster. The Hornets, as Williams said, have to be sure whether he fits the plans for the future.
Vasquez has emerged into one of the league’s most efficient point guards. He leads the league in assists (687) and drops a solid 14.1 points per game.
On top of those statistics, his 24 double-doubles are second to only Chris Paul for the point guard position.
Then there’s Rivers.
Converted to point guard after playing the two guard at Duke, Rivers was starting to play much better before he fractured his right hand.
With Rivers on his way back after a year of maturity, Roberts just gives Williams an extra man to factor into the equation.
Plus, the Hornets have always been high on Rivers’ abilities and potential. A rough first few months won’t force them to change their blueprint for the future.
Though the Hornets have given Roberts a chance to make a name for himself, don't be surprised to see him land on a team where he has a better opportunity for playing time.
The Hornets’ core will remain and the role players will turn out to be the ones on the move before the Hornets officially become the Pelicans.