The 2008-2009 Hornets season ended badly. To put it bluntly, the Denver Nuggets annihilated them. The series was over in 5 games, which were mostly lopsided and included the worst playoff performance I’ve ever seen. In Game 4, the Hornets lost by 58 points at home. It was so bad that the point differential seemed generous to NOLA – the Nuggets played almost perfect basketball, and the Hornets did almost nothing right.
Pathetic loss aside, they had no business winning the series. Denver had a great team and you don’t beat a great team when you have two all-stars and a bunch of below average players. I’m sorry, but that’s essentially what New Orleans had. Sure, Tyson Chandler was a defensive force before his injury, but the Hornets didn’t have that Tyson Chandler last season. I don’t want to repeat everything Kelly Dwyer said in this post, but the problem with the Hornets last season was simple: they didn’t have enough good players. You had to love James Posey’s performance as the 6th man in Boston’s title run in 2008, but he is not worth over $6 million until 2012. You had to love Peja Stojakovic on those fantastic Sacramento teams of years’ past, but he is barely a serviceable player at this point, and he will still be making $14 million in 2011. Hell, you have to love Sean Marks’s hustle, but he shouldn’t be in your playoff rotation. The 58-point loss was pathetic, and Byron Scott’s coaching was questionable all season, but the truth is that this team overachieved last season when they won 49 regular season games.
The reason they won 49 games? Chris Paul. Possibly the most underrated player in the game, despite the fact that most basketball fans consider him a superstar. He consistently dominated opposing defenses all year, even though every team’s strategy was aimed at stopping him. He didn’t have much help aside from David West, yet his team competed and won some games against much better squads, and rarely lost to non-playoff teams (aside from, strangely, the Knicks). The man had a season that was statistically one of the best of all time at the point guard position and I would have ranked him 2nd place in the MVP race, behind LeBron James and barely in front of Dwyane Wade. To play as well as he did, and win that many games, with that supporting cast? Incredible.
Paul will stay with the Hornets next season, which means I will continue to watch them frequently. Thing is, there isn’t much hope of the team improving. If you read the Dwyer post I linked to earlier, you know that owner George Shinn is losing money and he’s the only owner who doesn’t have a revenue stream outside of his team. They tried to dump Tyson Chandler’s contract at the deadline, and have continued to this summer, to no avail. What this all means is they are already paying way too much for a non-contending team – if there are any changes to be made, they will be cost-cutting ones. Even cutting costs will be difficult, as Chandler will likely have to prove he can come back from “turf toe” and be effective before anyone will take a chance on him again. Toe injuries, sadly, are not generally the easiest injuries to come back from. As for Peja, Posey, and Morris Peterson’s contracts – I find it hard to believe there’s any GM in the league who would take these guys off the Hornets’ hands. I’m just hoping for their fans that it doesn’t come down to dumping David West’s very reasonable contract.
As a result of all of this, there isn’t much to speak of from this bunch in terms of off-season activity. Rookie Darren Collison could be a solid backup to Paul for 10 minutes a game, but other than that, this cash-strapped franchise hasn’t added any pieces, and we all know they desperately they need them. What does this mean for next season’s Hornets? If Chandler returns to his pre-injury form, they might have a chance to win more than one game in the first round. If not, this team will be fighting for a playoff spot again. All I can say is it saddens me that the best point guard in the game is stuck playing for a team crippled by its personnel decisions.