Written By: Brendan Nienhaus
The New Orleans Hornets’ future looks bright, despite a year plagued by misfortune. Following a tumultuous year in which the New Orleans Hornets suffered from the loss of their two star players, being owned and operated by the NBA, and a lock-out-shortened season plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, the Hornets’ future is finally looking up. First, the Hornets and the State of Louisiana agreed to an extension to keep the team in the New Orleans Arena through 2024 in March. Then, New Orleans Saints’ Owner Tom Benson agreed to buy the team from the league in mid-April for a reported $338 Million. Then, fortune continued to smile on the Hornets when they were awarded the top pick in the June 28 NBA Draft during the NBA Draft Lottery on May 30. It seems fate was finally beginning to smile on the Hornets, and their beleaguered fan-base, after the turbulent past year.
The New Orleans Hornets’ misfortune began last year when the NBA bought the Hornets from previous owner George Shinn for fear that any of the interested buyers would try and relocate the team to another state. This created uncertainty for the franchise and helped convince their two star players, David West and Chris Paul, to leave the team. West left for the Indiana Pacers via free agency while Paul requested a trade. After an up-and-down course of events, this finally led to Paul landing with the Los Angeles Clippers. These events made it incredibly difficult for the Hornets to attract free agents to the city, so the team was forced to field a very inexperienced team.
Then came the lock-out shortened season where the Hornets were besieged by injuries and inconsistent play that led to the worst record in the Western Conference at 21-45. Guard Eric Gordon, obtained in the Paul trade from the Clippers, missed all but nine games with a knee injury and subsequent arthroscopic-knee-surgery. Both starting G Jarrett Jack and Forward/Center Jason Smith missed significant time with injuries to accompany a slew of missed games from other Hornets, including 39 missed games from C Emeka Okafor. It seemed the Hornets misfortune would never end.
Slowly but surely, however, the Hornets’ fortune finally started to take a change for the better. In December, the Hornets reached their sales goal of selling 10,000 season tickets. This seemed to increase the team’s marketability and soon potential buyers were becoming interested. This also helped motivate the state to work out a long term deal to ensure the Hornets remained in the area through 2024. Soon, Saints owner Tom Benson decided to step up and purchase the team to ensure that it remained in New Orleans.
Benson: “We really never stopped talking to them (the NBA). With out of state owners. . . . I called David (Stern, NBA commissioner) and said, ‘Look I’m the only guy you can count on who’s really going to stay here. Let’s work this thing out.’ “
Optimism began to spring anew for the Hornets’ fans, once again, and they would soon be rewarded with yet another fortuitous occurrence: winning the rights to the first overall pick in the June 28th NBA Draft, despite only having a 13.7% chance of doing so. The team is expected to take the consensus best player in the draft, Kentucky F Anthony Davis. This along with promising comments from G Eric Gordon about his willingness to return to New Orleans, has Hornets General Manager Dell Demps excited.
“This is the start of a new beginning. We’re hoping for the best. I think we have a good core right now, and we’re looking forward to building for the future and be good for a long time.”
Indeed, despite all of the injuries and inconsistencies the Hornets have faced during this past season, they did receive some promising play from their younger players like G Greivis Vasquez, F/C Gustavo Ayon, and F Al-Farouq Aminu, who was acquired in the Paul trade with the Clippers. Coupled with ample salary-cap room (even before an expected move of either Emeka Okafor’s or Trevor Ariza‘s expensive contracts), a new owner, a new longtime lease agreement with the state and two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Hornets’ future is looking bright again.