The Other Side: New Orleans Hornets
The New Orleans Hornets helped flip the Western Conference upside down last season as they won the Southeast Division, finished second behind the Lakers, and came within one win from dethroning the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals. The Hornets managed to stay relatively healthy last season, which allowed Chris Paul to make the leap from good player to potential MVP; Tyson Chandler to have Chicago Bulls fans scratching their heads wondering why the franchise gave up on him; and David West to join the elites among power forwards.
The question this season is, Can they continue to grow? The Hornets lost bench sparkplug Jannero Pargo but replaced him with James Posey, one of the key pieces of the Celtics' championship puzzle. They are 3-0 in the preseason - their best start since 1990 - with wins over Golden State, Indiana and San Antonio.
Hornets Coach Byron Scott said this Europe Live Tour is a business trip, but here is some more info about the Wizards' opponent for this afternoon's game in Berlin and Friday's game in Barcelona.
1. Pocket Full of Posey
When you win two championships in three seasons, you automatically earn the reputation as a winner. That's the position that James Posey finds himself in, a position that he could not have seen coming during some miserable seasons in Denver at the start of his career. The Celtics relied on Posey to provide some solid defense, three-pointers and those creepy pre-game hugs and inspirational words. The Miami Heat mourned his absence as the season collapsed on them last year. Now the Hornets have given him a four-year, $25-million hoping that he can put them over the top. From ESPN.com:
So far, the Hornets like what they're getting. While he's still learning the offense, his experience and intensity on defense is exactly what the Hornets feel they need come May.
"He impressed me after about three or four days of camp," said Hornets coach Byron Scott. "James is one of those old pros that knows how to play. He doesn't do anything on the court to hurt you. He's still learning the system, it's going to take him some time, but he knows how to play, he knows the spots to get in, and he takes a lot of pride in his defense."
Paul added to the praise, saying Posey has been the biggest surprise to him in camp: "It's crazy to say him, because he's been in the league so long. But this is my first opportunity to play with him. We both played for [coach Skip Prosser] in college, so I heard about him all this time. His knowledge of the game, how he plays at a certain level all the time, it's something we need."
2. Chris Paul and the "max-plus" contract
After nearly beating out Kobe Bryant for MVP and snatching the title of league's best point guard from Steve Nash last season, Paul had an eventful summer. He won a gold medal in China, of course, as a member of the Redeem Team, a corny nickname for a team that should be referred to simply as Dream Team III. He also signed a three-year extension, with a fourth-year option that could make the deal worth close to $70 million. The deal seemed pretty cut and dry until Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune explained the "max-plus" contract last week.
For starters, Paul has a 15 percent trade kicker that Williams does not. For the uninitiated, a trade kicker is a bonus that gets paid if a player ever gets traded. You can be sure the Hornets aren't looking to trade Paul, but if they ever did, Paul's bank account would get a bump.
If the Hornets were to trade him, he would make an extra $3 million. I don't think he'll get that money.
There are other ways to sweeten a contract, with no telling exactly what the Hornets did for Paul. A player can receive up to a 20 percent signing bonus and take a corresponding cut in base pay every season. That could give Paul up to $10 million up front once his extension kicks in.
3. Paul's backup?
Mucho Jannero Pargo left the Hornets to sign with a Russian team this summer, leaving the Hornets with Mike James and Devin Brown to battle for the important role to spell the franchise player. Pargo was an excellent change of space, a one-man run at times, because of his streaky shooting. On the nights that he was on, Pargo often shared the floor with Paul. But the Hornets decided to go in another direction, with James and Brown. James has seen his production drop off considerably since having a career-year in Toronto three seasons ago. Brown is a shooting guard masquerading as a point guard. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Whichever player wins the job, Scott said he will have a different role than Pargo had last season. While Pargo was a shoot-first player, Scott envisions James and Brown more as floor generals and distributors.
"With Mike, I really just want him to run the team first," Scott said. "And once I'm real comfortable with him doing that and understanding what he has to do out there every single night, then I'll probably turn him loose a little bit more. And it's the same thing with Devin, as well."
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