Despite losing Tyson Chandler for nearly half the season and a complete lack of production from the bench, the Hornets still amassed 49 wins last year in the cut throat Western Conference.
Darren Collison, PG, UCLA—After beating out lottery picks Russel Westbrook for the starting point guard spot in college, Collison was drafted at No. 21 by the Hornets in the most recent NBA draft.
In summer league, he posted great numbers and should be an immediate upgrade from Antonio Daniels, who struggled last year relieving CP3.
Marcus Thorton, SG, LSU—The SEC player of the year slipped all the way to No. 42 due to lack of height and when the Hornets saw he was still available, they swapped two future second round picks to get him.
In summer league, he was the fifth leading scorer and showed flashes of brilliance. It's rare that you find an impact player in the draft this late, but he could prove to be an exception if Byron Scott allows him to see some minutes.
It's possible (although not probable, given Scott's bias toward veterans) that he could be in the starting lineup now that Rasual Butler is gone.
Ike Diogu—This is the kind of guy that statistical analysts love. His per 48 minutes are off the charts, but for some reason he has never been given the opportunity to showcase his talents.
If he can prove to be a reliable backup to David West, we will be at 100% come playoff time (which was not at all the case last year).
And now the big guy: Emeka Okafor was traded for Tyson Chandler, much to the surprise of Hornet fans. We knew that Tyson was on the way out, but we assumed that we would get almost nothing in return due to his injured toe and ankle.
Offensively, this is a huge upgrade for the Hornets, as it gives them a center who can actually create his own shot. As fun as it was watching Tyson grab alley—oops the last three years, it was clear that his offensive was limited to that and tip ins. Watching him attempt the rare jump shot was painful.
Defensively, Emeka is probably a step behind Chandler, but still well above average. He's a better shot blocker, despite being three inches shorter. His arm span is the same as Tyson's, so the height really isn't a big factor.
It must be noted that he has struggled against big time centers such as Shaq and Dwight Howard, but really who doesn't struggle against those guys?
After having back problems early in his career Emeka started stretching and doing pilates before and after practice. Larry Brown once joked that he would give him an A in stretching and pilates, then implied that he wouldn't give him an A in basketball.
Larry may be a great coach, but he has overlooked the fact that Emeka hasn't missed a game since he started his regimen AND he's one of only three guys to average a double double over the last two years.
The Hornets might be a little less exciting without the Crescent City Connection, but on the court this is a huge addition.
Key losses—Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler
Rasual will always be remembered in New Orleans for his two clutch shots that won and tied games at the buzzer. The Phoenix was a fan favorite after that and it is sad to see him go after such a breakout year.
What we might not remember is that he is among the worst rebounding guards in the league, his shooting was just about average for his position, and he was mostly unable to create his own shot.
What we will need to find a replacement for is his defense against star players like Lebron James. He did a hell of a job on marquee players. James Posey needs to be the guy this year on defense after a subpar year in 2008-2009.
Tyson, while a fan favorite, was simply too injury plagued and offensively inept to lead us to the promise land. His shot was simply horrible.
We will miss his rebounding and defensive presence. There aren't a lot of guys who clog the middle like he does. He was a solid defender who at times was capable of shutting down Tim Duncan.
He was Chris Paul's friend
He brought the fire every time he played and the crowd thrived off it. This is something that Emeka will not be able to replicate.
Not only that, but he was part of the team that brought basketball back to New Orleans.
What will put us over the top:
Darren Collison being an adequate replacement for CP3
Marcus Thorton providing some much needed scoring from an otherwise offensively challenged bench.
Okafor taking the step forward that Tyson did when playing alongside CP3.
Ike Diogu playing up to his potential and providing us with an adequate big man off the bench.
Peja staying healthy and being the three point threat that was so desperately need to spread the floor for Chris Paul.
Julian Wright stepping up and be the player that was have seen flashes of throughout his two seasons in New Orleans. If he shows improvement defensively and becomes the stopper and rebounder that he is capable of, we will be able to look past his offensive limitations.
There aren't fluke injuries to Paul, West, or Okafor.
LASTLY, WE NEED SOMEONE TO START AT SHOOTING GUARD. My prediction is that we send Hilton Armstrong and Antonio Daniels (both expiring contracts) for a solid two guard at the trade deadline.
Paul would be even more deadly if he had someone else capable of creating their own shot in the backcourt with him. If a deal gets done we have a real shot at winning the title.
The Western Conference will finish like this:
The MVP will be Chris Paul who will average something in the range of 22 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 turnovers. This time the Hornets record will be good enough to earn him the MVP that was stolen from him in 2007-2008.