Prior to West Coast struggles in Sacramento and Phoenix, the New Orleans Hornets held a ten game winning streak, the team’s first double digit streak in franchise history.
It’s hardly comparable to the Saints fever that inundated the city this time last year, but there is momentum in New Orleans sports again.
The Hornets (31-18) appear ideally positioned for a playoff run and though it’s doubtful they’ll knock off the San Antonio Spurs in the next 30 games, a postseason seeding from two, three or four looks feasible at this point.
Granted, the playoffs are still a ways off and of far more immediate significance is the February 24th trade deadline.
But for some teams like the Hornets, there’s a visible causal relationship between the two.
New Orleans has always been a streaky team, particularly in the past around this time of year. While attendance is up and playoff odds look good, nobody down here is buying an NBA championship under current conditions.
For the Hornets to ascend to championship-contender status, a couple moves might be necessary.
After deals with Philadelphia and Toronto that landed Willie Green/Jason Smith and Jarrett Jack, respectively, and the resurgence of shooting guard Marcus Thornton, the Hornets bench had begun filling out nicely.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Jack, these reserves are viable trade options too.
The 29 year old Green has slowed offensively after a hot start, averaging seven points in 20 minutes, but even off the bench, he’s been integral to the team’s top-ranked defense. His contract expires after this year, while Thornton has one year-1M not guaranteed remaining.
Although Green plays small forward at times, they’re both still natural twos and would package better with another position.
Point guard Marcus Banks and center D.J. Mbenga also have expiring contracts, but don’t carry the same weight off the bench. Smith is a little more uncertain as the only seven-footer who plays decent time and is undoubtedly a talent in the making.
Above all else, the Hornets need scoring. Chris Paul needs another option with equal slashing and perimeter shooting abilities to ease the pressure when he has off nights against good teams.
Even with Emeka Okafor’s offensive improvement, New Orleans still ranks 26th in total offense and the fact remains, backcourt play can’t carry an undersized team in the Western Conference. Especially a team prone to struggles at the line and from beyond the arc.
Which leads us to the other problem: Size.
If they can’t land a scorer at three or four, the priority should be on sizing up. Acquiring an experienced backup center or power forward would solve that problem and give the team a stronger veteran presence as the playoffs approach.
Only time will tell what moves the Hornets intend to make, if any, but it’ll take some lucky bounces of the ball to sustain this current momentum through the season.
With the new collective bargaining favoring teams in position to shed payroll, the Hornets could possibly find the cap space to pursue one or both of these needs.
In a league where one player really can make all the difference, low-profile, unsensational trades still carry their weight. The best defense and tenth best offense can win a championship, and just because Carmelo Anthony won’t be here for Mardi Gras doesn’t mean the Hornets shouldn’t take advantage of some expiring contacts and roll the dice.