Where do the Hornets go from here?

It was a disappointing season for Chris Paul and Co. as they were unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs last night in Denver. After last season’s near-miss against the Spurs in the Western Conference semis, along with the addition of do-it-all forward James Posey, many pundits (including myself) thought that they might be the team best positioned to threaten the Lakers’ chances of a return trip to the Finals. But it was not to be.

According to John Hollinger’s PER, Chris Paul had an even better statistical season than last year, when he was in serious contention to become the league’s MVP. David West played his usual 21/9 ball as well.

So what happened?

1. Tyson Chandler wasn’t himself. He battled injuries all year and was even traded to Oklahoma City (and subsequently untraded due to the Thunder’s concerns about his foot). Here are his stats for the last three seasons:

’06-’07: 9.5 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 62% FG%
’07-’08: 11.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 62% FG%
’08-’09: 8.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 57% FG%

That may not seem like much of a fall off, but three points, three rebounds and a 5% decrease in field goal shooting certainly has an effect. It’s not Chandler’s fault that he had some nagging injuries, but that was part of the reason for the Hornets’ decline.

2. Peja Stojakovic went from average to bad. I’ve been railing on Peja’s game for the last few seasons, insisting that the trade that brought him over from Indiana was a bust and that his contract would ultimately put the franchise in a tough financial spot. Fast forward a couple of years and his PER dropped from a just-above-average 15.74 last season to a poor 12.54 this season. And it’s not like this guy is a lockdown defender whose value can’t be measured in statistics. He’s pretty bad defensively. He’s supposed to be a shooter that can space the court for Chris Paul’s drives, only he shot sub-40% from the field and sub-38% from long range.

Moreover, his salary runs another two seasons at the tune of $29.5 million, so he’s like an anchor hanging on the neck of the Hornets’ balance sheet. So much so that the Hornets were forced to (try to) trade one of the best defensive centers in the league in a straight up salary dump. What’s amazing is that Stojakovic played the third-most minutes (34.2) on the team, while promising second-year man, Julian Wright, is left to languish on the bench. Throw in Rasual Butler’s less-than-stellar PER (11.82), and you have a pair of very unproductive wings. (But least Butler can defend.) At some point, Byron Scott should have seen the writing on the wall and give Wright some of Peja’s minutes. Start Stojakovic and if he gets off to a hot start, great, if not, give Wright 20-25 minutes and see what he can do.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, Peja’s contract is unmovable at this point, so they’re just going to have to ride it out. Since they almost traded away Chandler, they don’t seem to be in a position to add any talent via the mid-level exception, so they are pretty much stuck with the roster they have. They have to hope that Chandler can get healthy (possible) and that Peja can rediscover his game (doubtful). Their best bet is to give Wright more minutes and hope that he can develop into a solid starter. That seems to be the only way that New Orleans can once again become a serious contender in the short term.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>