Season preview: N.O. Hornets
The Hornets have set a lofty goal this season: contend for the NBA title
New Orleans will be able to draw on James Posey's championship experience
The Hornets aren't deep, so a little luck with injuries will go a long way
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Hornets at a glance
Last season: 56-26; lost in second round of playoffs to Spurs
Notable additions: James Posey (FA), Devin Brown (FA)
Notable losses: Jannero Pargo (signed with Russia's Dynamo Moscow), Bonzi Wells (unsigned), Chris Andersen (signed with Nuggets)
Coach: Byron Scott (151-177 in four seasons with Hornets; 300-316 overall in 7½ NBA seasons)
Reasons for hope
1. Chris Paul is running the show. Last season Paul was named All-NBA first team, finished second to Kobe Bryant in the MVP voting, led the NBA in assists (11.6) and steals (2.7) and became the first player in 15 years to average at least 20 points (21.1) and 10 assists. The fourth-year point guard, who won an Olympic gold medal in August, should benefit from his playoff experience last season, when he outplayed the Mavericks' Jason Kidd in the first round and got the best of the Spurs' Tony Parker in several games in the conference semifinals. The only concern might be the lack of rest he had during the summer in transitioning to Team USA practices soon after the playoffs. Then again, he's only 23, which is sometimes easy to forget when you watch him dominate a game.
2. Posey's versatility. The Hornets made a splash in free agency when they signed the veteran swingman to a four-year, $25 million deal. In Posey, the Hornets add a valuable role player who brings championship experience (he won titles with Boston last season and Miami in 2006), three-point shooting and defensive toughness. Posey's versatility enables him to defend shooting guards and small forwards and even spell All-Star David West at power forward.
3. They're close and they know it. After eliminating the Hornets in Game 7 in New Orleans last season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told Scott, "Your time is coming. It's going to be a lot sooner than you think." The Hornets know this season is about more than surprising opponents and the feel-good story of their return to New Orleans. "Our culture here has changed and our goal is to win a championship," Scott said. "We feel we have our team in a prime position to win it all this year after that heartbreaking loss last season."
Reasons for worry
1. Depth at the power positions. The Hornets rely heavily on West and center Tyson Chandler, both of whom stayed healthy last season but have missed significant time with injuries in their careers. Their main backups are journeyman Melvin Ely and 2006 first-round pick Hilton Armstrong, who has played sparingly his first two seasons. If the injury bug hits West or Chandler, things could get ugly.
2. Help for Paul. The streaky Pargo served as the backup point guard last season and often played ahead of starting shooting guard Morris Peterson alongside Paul down the stretch of games. With Pargo's departure, Paul's primary backup could be Mike James, who averaged 5.0 points (on 34.8 percent shooting) and 1.1 assists last season, a far cry from his career season three years ago for Toronto (20.3 points, 5.8 assists). Brown, a shooting guard for much of his career, also is competing for the reserve job.
3. The learning curve. Sure, the Hornets played 12 playoff games last season and nearly made it to the conference finals, but this is still a team learning how to win when it counts, as it showed in being overtaken by the Lakers for the No. 1 seed late in the season and then losing a Game 7 at home to the Spurs. The Hornets are hoping that the experience of Posey, who appeared in more playoff games in 2008 (26) than Paul and West have combined in their careers (24), will help make a difference in big situations.
Keep an eye on ...
Stojakovic. In 2007-08, the sharpshooting small forward played close to a full season for the first time in five years, setting a career high in three-point accuracy (44.1 percent) while averaging 16.4 points in 77 games. Stojakovic, however, struggled late in the playoffs, averaging only 8.6 points in the final five games against the Spurs, four of which the Hornets lost. If he can stay healthy and keep his shooting touch in the playoffs, New Orleans will be hard to stop.
Paul averaged 9.9 assists per passing turnover last season, the highest mark in the NBA.
With a talented starting lineup and a title-winning veteran in Posey serving as their sixth man, the Hornets believe they have built a championship contender this season. Anything short of a trip to the conference finals would be disappointing and labeled a setback for this group.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.