39 games into the NBA season and the Hornets are taking shape.
I (like many) have always sung the praises of head coach Monty Williams. Watching him work, listening to him, listening to players and other staffers talk about him — it’s easy to believe he will indeed rebuild this team into something special.
Williams finally has a healthy team and with health comes wins.
The Hornets have won 5 of 6 games and you can see the pieces of the puzzle falling into place.
That said, no one should expect this team to make a playoff run this season. Despite the recent victories the team still owns the worst record in the Western Conference (13-26) and is headed back to the NBA draft lottery this summer.
Next season though — watch out!
Seriously, the Hornets (Pelicans) could make the biggest jump in the NBA.
Improving by 15-20 games and making the playoffs is realistic if several things happen:
Eric Gordon needs to stay healthy: I criticized the team for re-signing Gordon last summer. After missing 86 of a possible 95 games since arriving as the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade Gordon has returned and he’s looked very good. If the Hornets (Pelicans) are going to become a special team Gordon needs to play the final 40 games this season and every game (or 90%) of the games in upcoming seasons.
Find a small forward: The Hornets did not pickup the option on Al-Farouq Aminu’s contract. While Aminu has played well lately (and while he’s only 22 years old) he’s not the answer for this team going forward. Could Aminu be re-signed and brought back in a backup role? Perhaps — but what the Hornets need is a starting small forward.
I truly believe Dell Demps — like many NBA GM’s — is working the phones hard to see if he can find a deal that can land the Hornets a starting small forward.
Logically, two guys on the radar are:
Chandler Parsons (but Houston would need to be blown away to move him)
Danny Granger (due to age/injury and emergence of Paul George — getting Granger is do-able)
Getting Parsons (this trade via Michael McNamara from http://www.hornets247.com)
http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=bp985pw (Cleveland also gets NOLA’s 2013 & 2105 1st rd picks in this deal)
Again, getting Parsons is the longest of long shots but worth an attempt. Granger is a NOLA native and former all star. Despite being 29 years old — I can see the temptation in bringing Granger home — and I for one, would be all for Granger as a Pelican.
Now, realizing that a trade like either of the above is probably not going to happen — how do the Hornets improve at the small forward position? A new small forward will have to come from the draft or free agency.
If the draft lottery has the Hornets picking in the top-3 they’ll no doubt select Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA. Muhammad reminds me of a bigger, more physical James Harden.
If the Hornets are picking outside of the top-3 — which seems likely given the teams recent surge and the fact that their schedule is filled with win-able games at the end of the season — than I think they’ll pick Georgetown’s Otto Porter or UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. Porter is a guy I think Monty Williams will love and who’ll immediately fit with the Hornets (Pelicans). Every time I watch clips of Porter I see Nicolas Batum. Personally, I’d like to see Porter in a Pelicans uniform.
Anthony Bennett from UNLV is another player I think would look great in a brand new Pelicans uniform. I voted for Bennett 2nd overall in my mid-season NCAA player of the year ballot. Watching the film of Bennett — He looks agile enough to be a small forward but at 6’8 and 245 pounds it’s uncertain if the Hornets will look at him as a SF or a PF.
Doug McDermott from Creighton is a guy I love. I know some question his athleticism and his ability to defend NBA wings — but I think McDermott will succeed in the NBA. The guy’s intangibles are off the charts and his ability to score can’t be overlooked. I put McDermott in the Chandler Parsons category. While Parsons is a smoother athlete with more length — scouts had the same doubts about Parsons as they do McDermott. If I were Dell Demps/Mickey Loomis and both Muhammad, Porter and Bennett are gone — I’d roll the dice on McDermott (if McDermott leaves school early for the NBA).
Euro wings Dario Saric and Sergey Karasev are both intriguing on tape — but would they come over immediately and are they ready to play right away?
In free agency — only one NBA small forward truly makes sense to me. Chase Budinger is a solid, starting caliber small forward that can be acquired this summer on a manageable deal. Even if the Hornets draft a small forward, signing Budinger is still a good option.
I’d also pay close attention to Joe Ingles from Australia. I’ve written about Ingles before and I know he’s on Dell’s radar. After a breakout performance at the Olympics last summer (which Dell watched closely) several NBA teams are expected to go after the Aussie this summer. Ingles is currently playing in Barcelona but has a NBA opt-out in his contract this summer.
If the Hornets landed a small forward via a trade (Granger, Parsons) or in free agency (Budinger, Ingles) — look for them to go big in the draft. Alex Len from Maryland is a guy who’d be a nice fit long-term next to Anthony Davis.
Last summer when the Hornets re-signed Eric Gordon — after Gordon begged the team not to sign him — I wrote that the Hornets should save their money and go all-in on Nikola Pekovic in the summer of 2013. Pekovic is a restricted free agent, so Minnesota can match any offer he receives. Pekovic is having an all star caliber season and will cash-in big time this summer. Several sources tell me the Hornets (Pelicans) will be one of the teams in pursuit of the Montenegrin big man. Pekovic is the perfect fit next to Anthony Davis. At 6’11 and a chiseled 290 pounds — Pekovic is a big, bruising center that can score in a variety of ways. The argument can be made that if Anthony Davis develops as expected that Robin Lopez is just fine starting next to him — which I agree with — but If the Hornets (Pelicans) can get a guy like Pekovic — WOW!
Pickup assets: Look for Dell Demps to try and trade Al-Farouq Aminu and Roger Mason Jr. to contenders for draft picks this summer. Dell will probably only get 2nd round picks for those guys but 2nd round guys can work out. Thornton, Big Baby, Ariza, Carl Landry, Ginobili — all 2nd rounders. If Dell can land a late 1st round pick for Aminu — he’s done a great job. (remember the names: Nate Wolters from South Dakota State and AJ Matthews from Farmingdale State or Euro’s Mouhammadou Jaiteh from France and Nemanja Nedovic from Serbia if Hornets acquire 2nd round picks).
So, what will happen as we watch the Hornets (Pelicans) rebuild? So many scenarios — so much fun to talk about and write about.
Doesn’t a jumbo starting lineup of Vasquez, Gordon, Bennett, Davis and Pekovic (with Anderson & Smith & an improved Rivers first off the bench) kinda excite you?
To view amazing video analysis of the college players the Hornets (Pelicans) could select this summer click on the links below:
Video of possible 2nd Round Draft Picks: