(Two heads are better than one. Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower and I channeling the basketball genius.)
If I were running the Hornets here’s how I’d take the team from being a solid playoff club to a Championship team (take note Jeff Bower & Byron Scott)
The best thing about the Hornets is the fact that they’ve obviously got a great core of talent. If the key players can stay healthy this group can be a post-season force for years to come.
Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler are of course the core I’m talking about.
With those 4 on the floor the Hornets are already ahead of the game.
MO-PETE, VUJACIC & DELFINO
Did you notice that in the above section I did not mention Morris Peterson?
It’s not that I don’t like Mo-Pete. I think he’s a tremendous guy and a solid player. But, I do think the team has to bring in a shooting guard to push Peterson and perhaps take his position. Mo-Pete has come off the bench as a 6th man before and can do so again if he loses his postion to a new player. Heck, maybe even some serious competition at his 2-guard spot would push him to play better.
The player I think the Hornets should bring in as their big free agent in 2008 is Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic is a restricted free agent, so his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, can match any offer he receives. But I think he’s worth going after.
Several years ago Sasha came to New Orleans for a predraft workout. In our 2004 mock draft I said Vujacic was the player the Hornets should take 18th overall. The team instead took J.R. Smith and then parted ways with him less than two years later.
Vujacic has really come into his own as a player. He was quoted as saying that 4 years ago he played more ‘European’…meaning he played no defense. Now, Lakers coach Phil Jackson says the 24 year old Slovenian is one of his top defensive players. Vujacic also gets it done offensively. He hit several big shots off the bench for the Lakers this year.
Vujacic is also skilled enough to bring the ball up the floor as a point guard.
Basically, Vujacic is ready for a starting job and he’s not going to get it with the Lakers. The Hornets can offer him a real chance at a starting job and pay him the mid-level exception.
Sasha Vujacic should be free agent priority #1.
If Vujacic can’t get free from the Lakers, another restricted free agent swingman who could push Peterson or take his starting job is Carlos Delfino of the Toronto Raptors. Like Vujacic, Delfino has spent the first 5 years of his career coming off the bench and may flourish in a starting role with great players like Chris Paul and David West around him and a great coach like Byron Scott getting the most out of him.
Let’s face facts….the Hornets bench was one of the worst in the league last season.
This group needs to be overhauled BIG time! But the Hornets can’t spend big money making their bench better.
I know, kind of a catch-22!
If I were general manager I’d part ways with Jannero Pargo and Bonzi Wells.
Pargo and Wells were just too unproductive in the post-season and will command too much money on the open market.
The three unrestricted free agent players I’d go after to make my bench stronger are:
Eddie House, Shooting Guard-Boston Celtics: Eddie is hands down the best shooter in the Shooting Guard free agent class, he is the most consistent deep threat and general pure shooter out there. House is best suited to come of the bench and give you a sharpshooter who can contribute instantly. If a team is looking for an instant 3 point threat off of their bench, there is no one better.
House is also making only 1.8 million dollars playing for the Celtics this year. The Hornets could afford to pay him 2-2.5 million.
Beno Udrih, Point Guard-Sacramento Kings: Udrih has shown that he can run a team and can definitely start for a team at PG. He’s young and fast, and has gotten a lot better with protecting the ball.
Udrih made only $1,800,000 last season so the Hornets can certainly afford him.
(editor’s note: Yes, as you can no doubt already tell from reading this column, I like the euro players….I’m not sure why, but I find myself rooting for the foreign born guys!)
Let the bird fly free!
Chris Andersen, Center/Forward-New Orleans Hornets: Of the team’s unrestricted free agents I think the Hornets should only bring back the birdman! Andersen is ‘Tyson Chandler-lite’. Chris Andersen is a fan favorite, an owner favorite and a Byron Scott favorite. ‘Bird’ can be the guy to back up Tyson. Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong struggled with that role this year….mark my words…..Andersen will thrive as Tyson’s back-up next season!
I’ve been touting Ron Artest as a Hornet for months!
Ron Artest, Small Forward-Sacramento Kings: Ron Artest is very talented. But that is never really the question with Ron, his temper is what will always haunt him. He’s sort of a mystery, where you are never quite sure what he is thinking about. But one thing is clear, Ron Artest can play. He is versatile enough to play both SF and PF for a team, and as long as you are willing to take the risk on his edgy personality you have a very high quality player.
Obtaining Artest would not be easy. Sacramento would probably want Julian Wright, Hilton Armstrong and this year’s pick and the Hornets may still have to send cash consideration to make the deal work.
I can’t see this happening, but I can dream.
Remember Tom Berenger’s character Jake Taylor in the movie ‘Major League’? The busted up old veteran looking for one final shot at a title?
I give you Grant Hill!
Grant Hill, Small Forward-Phoenix Suns: Hill can be a great contributor on any team, but he is not a starter anymore. His chronic injuries have destroyed what could have been one of the top 100 NBA players of all time, leaving him to revel in mediocrity. Someone will take a chance that he can keep himself on the court for them long enough to be useful.
Hill took near league minimum pay to play for Phoenix last year in an attempt to earn a ring. Maybe he’d be willing to take the same salary to play with Chris Paul and the best young team in the western conference.
The Hornets need shooters off the bench, guy who can provide energy and offense.
I think the team should try to swing a trade for Golden State shooting guard Marco Belinelli. The Italian dropped 35 points on the Hornets in the Las Vegas summer league last year.
As a combo guard he’s stuck in Golden State behind Monte Ellis and Baron Davis. The Warriors need big man who fit Don Nelson’s uptempo style of play.
I’d offer Hilton Armstrong for Belinelli one for one.
Mike James & Rasual Butler. Next season these two stiffs will make a combined 9.6 million dollars! Seriously!
Because of these garbage contracts the Hornets will not be able to trade these two players. They’re stuck with them!
So, If I were GM I’d hand Mike James the back-up point guard spot. I hate how selfish he is, how he looks to shoot everytime he touches the ball…..but if he’s on the roster eating up 6 million dollars in salary he should be playing more. I’d give him a shot!
Butler is a total bust to me. Just make him inactive and hope he asks for a buyout!
The Hornets are picking 27th overall in the 1st round of this June’s NBA draft.
Be smart! Don’t draft a player who has no chance of making the team. Follow the San Antonio blueprint. The Spurs selected Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili late in the draft, left them in Europe for a few years and then brought them over and watched them thrive. Last year the Spurs picked Brazilian Tiago Splitter. Remember his name…he’ll be a big contributor for them next year.
The Hornets should do the same thing.
Find a Euro….stash him over seas for a year or two and then hope you’ve got a diamond in the rough.
The only problem with this philosophy…Byron Scott seems to dislike foreign players. Besides Peja Stojakovic all euros who’ve played for Scott have not fared well. They’ve rotted on the bench (Arvydas Macijauskas) or been traded (Bostjan Nochbar).
But, hopefully Scott has softened to European players.
Here are few guys I like at #27: (player bios courtesy ESPN)
Nathan Jawai, 6’10 Power Forward-Australia: Big, athletic powerforward with long arms. Already has an NBA body. Strong. Wide shoulders. Soft hands. Strong. Quick on his feet. Very mobile for a big guy. Does most of his damage inside, but also has a solid jump shot.
Nathan Jawai youtube highlight video: Click link below
Joe Ingles, 6’7 Small Forward/Shooting Guard-Australia: Smooth wing with excellent midrange jump shot and a great feel for the game. Good floor vision. Likes to penetrate. Big-time scorer in Australia.
Omri Casspi, 6’8 Small Forward-Israel: Prototypical small forward. Plays with a lot of passion. Scrappy. Good rebounder. Good at slashing to the basket. Tough. Good, but not great, athlete. Decent midrange shooter. Some low-post moves.
Alexis Ajinca, 7’1 Center/Power Forward-France: Super long, wiry player with good athleticism. Amazing 7-foot-8 wingspan. Very skilled for a big man. Nice form on his jump shot. Prefers to play facing the basket. Good moves in the paint. Solid rebounder and shot-blocker.
Anton Ponkrashov, 6’8 Point Guard-Russia: Ponkrashov can do it all on offense, especially as a distributor. Despite his big size, he’s a creative passer. He can pass to anyone from anywhere on the floor. He is crafty, finds the tiniest seams to slip passes through and isn’t afraid to take it to the basket. He’s an aggressive lefty who uses his size, quickness and strength — he looks more like an NBA small forward than a point guard — to get to where he needs to be on the floor. His perimeter shot is solid and he knows how to finish around the rim.
Victor Claver, 6’11 Small Forward-Spain: Skilled forward with excellent quickness. Good athleticism. Has a quick first step that allows him to beat his defender to the basket. Good basketball IQ. Plays with good energy. Emerging jump shooter with NBA 3-point range.
MY 2008-2009 HORNETS ROSTER: 15 PLAYERS
PG- Chris Paul Back-Up: Mike James, Beno Udrih
SG- Sasha Vujacic Back-Up: Morris Peterson, Marco Belinelli
SF: Peja Stojakovic Back-Up: Grant Hill, Rasual Butler
PF: David West Back-Up: Julian Wright, (2008 1st round draft pick Nathan Jawai from Australia)
C: Tyson Chandler Back-Up: Chris Andersen, Melvin Ely
Estimated Team Salary: $72 Million Dollars (this figure includes Chris Paul receiving a huge extension)