Only the most optimistic, myself included, thought the Hornets really had a chance at competing and even then only if a number of things went perfectly.
Let's look at what has gone well for the Hornets this year:
- Rookie Play- Both have performed way above expectations.
- Songaila has played a key role in the front court thus far.
- Okafor seems to be blending in well, averaging 15.9 rebounds per 48, good for seventh in the league. His timely blocks have contributed to multiple close victories.
- Despite an injury that took him out of eight games, Paul has played outstanding. He's shown that he belongs in any conversation about best player.
And what has gone poorly:
- David West- It's tough to focus on West again since he's been a favorite of mine for years, but his recent offensive and defensive deficiencies have been a major factor in the Hornets losses.
- Injuries to Diogu and Marks- Ike Diogu, expected to play a major role as the main backup big man, is out for the season. Adding to the frontcourt woes, Marks, a capable backup has seen only limited time in five games. With only three NBA caliber big men the Hornets have at times looked overwhelmed in the paint.
- Rebounding- In the front court, the Hornets only have one above average rebounder. Despite Okafor being among the league's best, the Bees rank 27th in the league in rebounding differential.
- Defense- The Hornets have allowed opposing teams to hit field goals at a 47.5 percent clip (26th in the league) and threes at 37 percent (27th).
- Julian Wright- Julian isn't even playing anymore. This one hurts a lot since he was expected to be a contributing starter and is the only athletic big man.
What makes the situation more difficult is the lack of salary cap flexibility and trade assets. The Hornets don't have any available big men to trade and all their veteran guards have at least two large years left on their contracts.
It was widely expected that they would unload someone at the trade deadline in order to get luxury tax relief, but who?
Without going into too much detail, the Hornets are lacking in tradable assets.
Let's look at some possible guys that could go:
Mo-P would be a good guy to trade since he's a veteran guard with some size, but he has another year left on a sizeable contract. In addition he's been completely unproductive and unhealthy for the better part of the last three years.
Songaila is all of a sudden seeing the floor in crunch time. He's not tradable without abandoning the season. Same goes for West and Okafor.
Paul is obviously not going anywhere.
The rookies just got here and are among the most productive players. It would be foolish to get rid of either of them.
Bobby Brown and Hilton Armstrong are both expiring, but neither have shown anything since entering the league. Armstrong is a possibility for being traded with cash in order to get under the luxury tax line, but no talent will be returned in exchange.
That leaves James Posey, Peja, and Devin Brown.
Posey has three years left at $20 million total. It's possible he could be a veteran piece added by a contender later in the year, but again it's unlikely the Hornets would get anything except cap relief in exchange.
Devin Brown has looked surprisingly good so far this year and he's only on the books for $1.1 million. He's also part of a glut of guards vying for time. With no upside he's useless to the Hornets and should see his role limited going forward. He does however have a championship ring, and could be traded to a contender for a future draft pick and/or minor cap relief.
Peja has been labeled as untradable by most NBA analysts, but is he? His contract is winding down and after this year he is an expiring $15 million contract. Not only that, but he's still a fairly productive player, able to hit the three as well as anyone.
The problems with trading Peja is that nobody is actively looking for him. It's only going to be possible to unload him by taking back a longer, inflated contract. Fortunately it seems there are a number players out there that fit the bill.
It's no secret that the Hornets have needed a shooting guard for quite some time. Would a guy like Stephen Jackson be the answer?
Big contract? Check
Team trying to shed long term liabilities? Check
Guy who would immediately improve the Hornets? Check
Short term luxury tax relief for the Hornets? Check
Some will argue that this hurts us long term, but Jackson is a damn good player desperate to be on a winning team. He, Chris Paul, David West, and Emeka Okafor would make for one hell of a starting lineup, both offensively and defensively (if West decides to try).
Why would Charlotte do it? They are pretty openly clearing house in preparation for a sale. Peja's $15 million expiring contract will be a great asset next season.
Anyone else have any thoughts on how to improve the Hornets?