Though there was no single Kevin-Durant-to-Golden-State-sized splash in the NBA this offseason, teams made move after move to jockey with the Warriors in an attempt to interrupt their reign of terror.
The Rockets took a leap of faith and traded the farm for an aging Chris Paul. The Celtics used their cap space to reunite Gordon Hayward with Brad Stevens, then got rid of an asset in Avery Bradley to balance their checkbook. The Timberwolves suddenly became a legitimate Western Conference contender by ripping off the Bulls.
There were so many moves, in fact — so many trades and so many signings — that, now that the league’s transaction churn and burn has finally calmed, it’s hard to believe all that actually happened. To sum it up:
We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys come this fall (the preseason begins Sept. 30). But which of those players will make the biggest impact, and which teams will look the most improved? Which 2017-18 NBA squad will make the biggest leap?
It’s too early to know, of course, but below is my take on the 10 NBA teams that improved the most this offseason.
10. Denver Nuggets
Michael Jordan took over the Charlotte Hornets official Twitter account on Tuesday, and he kicked things off with a bang. Jordan, at age 51, is over the hill but can still throw down a dunk with ease. That’s probably why he decided to mess with the fans a little.
When Jordan decided he was done experimenting with professional baseball in 1995, he announced his return to the Chicago Bulls with a press release that consisted of just two words: “I’m back.”
The Bobcats finished with a winning record (43-39) last season for the first time in four years but were swept by the Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs. Fans wouldn’t mind seeing MJ back on the hardwood, though we all know that would never happen.
And yes, it really is His Airness tweeting from his team’s account. Here’s a selfie to prove it:
The New Orleans Hornets won the NBA Draft Lottery on Wednesday night despite having the fourth-best odds with a 13.7% chance. The Bobcats, which had the worst record in the league, had a 25% chance of winning the lottery, but they ended up with the second pick. The Wizards, which had the second-best chance at 19.9%, got the third pick.
The Hornets’ surprising good fortune prompted several executives to complain to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the lottery was fixed.
“The league still owns the Hornets,” a high-ranking exec told Woj. “Ask their front office if new owners can make a trade right now. They can’t. [The Hornets winning the lottery] is a joke.”
Many executives and fans who believe in conspiracies think Commissioner David Stern gave the Hornets the top pick in the draft in order to convince Saints owner Tom Benson to buy the NBA team and keep them in New Orleans.
Wojnarowski went on to write this particularly damning paragraph:
The Hornets are likely soon to be extinct.
Don’t worry, the franchise isn’t going anywhere now that the NBA sold the team to Saints owner Tom Benson. But the team’s mascot that’s been in place since the franchise’s inception in Charlotte over 20 years ago could soon become a casualty to Benson’s desire to have a nickname more fitting of the region. He already has his sights set on the name of the team that last called New Orleans home.
“We need to find a name like (Jazz),” Benson said Friday. “Whether we can get that or let us use that, you’ve got to know we’re working on it. We’d like to change it tomorrow. We have not gotten that approved, but we’re not letting up on it, either. Because we’ve got a good relationship with the commissioner and his people and we’re going to be on them daily to do something.”
Benson, of course, is referencing the New Orleans Jazz, who, with Pistol Pete Maravich in tow, in 1979 relocated to Utah, where the franchise has received tremendous support from its fans in Salt Lake City. So, Benson can hope all he wants, but it’s not going to happen. This isn’t college, where every other school’s mascot is either the Wildcats or the Bulldogs or the Tigers.
Whatever the change may be, it’s going to be weird seeing a league without the Hornets as we’ve come to know them. Those teal jerseys that have been donned by the likes of Chris Paul, Muggsy Bogues, Baron Davis, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning (and almost Kobe Bryant) have been around over two decades. A rebranding isn’t entirely necessary, either, but this is a team ready to start a new chapter and a name change is one way to mark that.
Personally, I think the New Orleans Cheap Plastic Beads would be a tremendous name. But I can only wish.
H/T Pro Basketball Talk
Photo credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
The NBA schedule was released this week and New Orleans Hornets fans are disappointed with the lack of national TV exposure their team will receive. Writing at ESPN 1420, Scott Prather calls the Hornets’ two national TV games “insulting.” He argues that the Hornets are a playoff team and they have a superstar in Chris Paul, therefore they should receive more national attention.
By comparison, the Hawks are on national TV eight times and the Warriors have 10 national TV games. New Orleans will be on TNT Thanksgiving night against the Clippers (when everyone is already passed out from turkey overload), and they’re scheduled to face the Knicks on ESPN February 17th. That’s it.
So why so few games on TNT or ESPN?
For starters, there is a bias towards the most popular teams in the league. The Heat, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, Celtics, and Mavericks will probably be on the big stage the maximum amount of times the league allows. After those teams are maxed out, the holes are filled in. That’s where time zone becomes an issue.
A moment of honesty: I was wondering why TNT chose to broadcast the Heat/Hawks game on Monday night instead of the Hornets/Nuggets which got relegated to NBA TV. I thought the Hornets/Nuggets would have been a more appealing series to a national audience, featuring recognizable stars like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, while the only star in the other game is Dwyane Wade. Looks like I was wrong and the TNT execs knew what they were doing. Maybe they passed on the game because they knew the Hornets wouldn’t show up. New Orleans got blasted at home, tying a record for losing by 58 points in Game 4, 121-63. The entire game and everything about it was laughable. There’s no possible excuse for playing so poorly and letting someone else walk all over you. Especially in a playoff game!
“That’s the worst game I’ve seen us play in the five years I’ve been here,” said Coach Byron Scott, who saw the Hornets go 18-64 in his first season, 2004-05. “I thought they tried to take us out of everything we tried to do on the floor. I thought they were physically ready for the game.”
“This was a systematic beating,” said West, who made four of 10 shots for 14 points. “They have a lot of weapons in their arsenal. They just systematically beat us. They overwhelmed us with their ability to score.”
Teams usually bounce back from butt-whoopings in the playoffs, but I’m guessing the Hornets are done. This is a devastating loss, the kind from which a team does not recover. How long did it take the Mavericks to bounce back from losing in the finals to the Heat, blowing the 2-0 lead and the huge Game 3 lead? I’m not sure they ever recovered. Remember this game by the Hornets — it will be a seminal moment for this team. Will it mar them for good or will they bounce back? I think they’re toast.
While watching the end of the Hornets/Spurs Game 7, there was one thought that consistently ran through my head: why the hell is Jannero Pargo taking all the shots? With talented players like Chris Paul and David West on the floor, I couldn’t understand why all the outlet passes were going to Pargo, nor why Pargo felt it was necessary to try and take over the game. He’s not their hero — we pay to watch CP3 play — and that’s how the Hornets win. Taking a look at the play-by-play of the game, Pargo controlled the ball 14 times in the 4th quarter, taking 12 shots, making five of them, and getting fouled on two possessions.
I understand that Pargo was hot to start the quarter, but man, he just flamed out late in the game and took the squad down with him. Moreover, how could the Hornets let him control the ball the way he did? How in the last three minutes of the final game of your season do you not have the ball in the hands of your best player — CP3 — who also happened to be the second most valuable player in the league because of his ability to create? I don’t understand how Byron Scott, much less the players on the floor, let that happen. Jannero Pargo is a fine player who helped New Orleans out all year, including this particular game, but at some point limits need to put in place, and role players need to understand just that — their roles. And for Jannero Pargo, it’s not to take over the ballgame by bombing shots 1-on-1 and taking every single ball up the floor.
Despite their excellent regular season, the Hornets were a popular pick to bust in the playoffs. Lots of experts had the Mavericks beating them in the playoffs, figuring experience would be a huge factor. Though I had New Orleans winning their first round series, I didn’t think they’d be able to get past the second round. Come on, how many people would figure they could have beaten the Spurs or Suns? They haven’t advanced to the Conference Finals just yet, but they’ve looked more than impressive blitzing San Antonio in the 2nd half of both Game 1 and Game 2 in New Orleans. Peja has been hot, hitting over 61% on his three-pointers in the playoffs, and 48% on all his shots. Chris Paul has been incredible handling and shooting the ball, making 50% of his shots, and turning the ball over just three times in two games against the Spurs. They’ve been incredibly impressive, beating down San Antonio just like they did Dallas in the first two games.
I’m not expecting the same result by any means once the series goes to San Antonio. In fact, I’d expect to see things get evened up. But New Orleans is looking like they’re going to win this series, and I think that is monumental. To knock off San Antonio would be a huge deal — it would prove the Hornets have truly arrived. Perhaps what’s been most impressive in the series is how they’ve held down Tim Duncan. Duncan went just 5 and 3 in the first game, making only one of nine shots. He only grabbed eight boards in Game 2, and the Spurs were down by a combined 32 points while he was on the floor. Yikes. West and Chandler have done a great job defensively. We’ll see if they can keep it up because they’ve looked great thus far.
Mark my words now, the Hornets will make the playoffs in the Western Conference and they’ll be as high as a 7 seed. New Orleans/OK City was hit harder than any team in the NBA by injuries, but now that they’re getting healthy, they’re on a roll and on their way to becoming a force in the West.
Let me first wax on the myriad of injuries the Hornets have overcome. Free agent signing Peja Stojakovic hasn’t played since November 24th because of back surgery. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Chris Paul, missed 17 games with a sprained ankle and has been back for just over a week. Guard Bobby Jackson missed 21 games with cracked ribs. Forward David West missed 30 games with an elbow injury.
photo courtesy Mark J. Terrill, AP via USA Today
Despite all these tough times, the Hornets are 10-5 in their last 15 games (Jackson and West have played in 12 of these, Paul in 5). The squad is 3-2 since Chris Paul returned to the lineup, including road wins against the Rockets and Nuggets. While I’m in the business of pumping the Hornets, let me also tell you that Chris Paul is one of the most valuable players in the league. Heck, don’t listen to me, listen to Byron Scott who said this about Paul in December,
I have been saying this all along, that he is one of the best point guards in this league. There is no doubt about it, and this is just his second year. He is the main reason that we are .500 right now with all of the guys we have missing. …He is carrying the load right now, and that is tough.
The Hornets outlasted the Bucks Thursday night in double overtime 109-101 with all the key parts playing big roles: Paul had 10 assists, West went 21 and 19, Desmond Mason scored 24, Tyson Chandler grabbed 22 rebounds, and Bobby Jackson added 12 points. The play on the floor was nice, but it’s the comments of Byron Scott after the game that make me a believer in the Hornets
We’ve got some toughness. We’re young, but we’ve got some toughness. We’ve got some heart.
They’re also 4-0 in overtime games this year. I’m buying into the Hornets for this year and the future because I know they have that toughness and some good young players. Take note now, because they’ll be there in May to remind you.
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