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The Hornets have discovered one advantage to having young players: It's made their move to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina a little bit easier. "I think I'm the only one that's had a difficult time," says power forward P.J. Brown, a 13-year veteran, father of four and lifelong Louisiana resident. "For most of the guys, it was like coming to a new city. No one had any roots in New Orleans." Brown, who had evacuated with his family from Slidell to Lafayette, La., when Katrina hit on Aug. 29, says his house was flooded and its roof damaged. Looters also broke into his home and swiped TVs and DVD players.
Brown and his teammates must make the best of their new home in Sooner country, where they will play 35 of their 41 home games. (The other six will be in Baton Rouge.) In the two weeks after the move was announced, the team sold 8,500 season tickets to Ford Center. It helps that the price is right: Each game has 4,000 tickets for $10 available.
The fans in Oklahoma will get to know players who are still getting to know one another. "We weren't able to have them in town early for conditioning and training like we normally would have," says the Hornets' new G.M., Jeff Bower. "But we're grateful that our team played in the Las Vegas summer league. And everyone's adjusted very quickly." The starting backcourt will have a rookie ( Chris Paul, the No. 4 pick out of Wake Forest) and a 20-year-old second-year player ( J.R. Smith). Brown, one of only three Hornets with more than five years of NBA experience, knows this callow team will have some rocky nights. "We just have to keep going and stay positive," Brown says. He has a lot of experience in doing just that. --B.S.
"They've basically replaced Baron Davis at the point with Chris Paul. Paul's steady, has a smooth-looking jumper and delivers the ball to places where his teammates can make plays. They also have a solid backup in Speedy Claxton, who can change the pace of the game. He'll push Paul to get better.... P.J. Brown sets the kind of example you want, and you can tell he's had a positive effect on Jamaal Magloire and David West. P.J.'s still a good defender and rebounder, but that 12-foot jumper is no longer automatic.... Magloire is their only shot blocker, but he's foul-prone. Offensively, he's not a center who gets the ball and then makes the smart pass to a cutter. If you double him, he's going to have trouble, and he may cough it up.... J.R. Smith was touted as a shooter coming out of high school last year, but that NBA three-point line always turns out to be a lot farther out than those young guys think. Still, he's a tremendous athlete, and he has the form to make the three consistently.... New G.M. Jeff Bower is a good evaluator of talent and people. They're always going to do things on the cheap under owner George Shinn, but Bower's somebody who'll try to do it the right way. At least they'll enjoy more of a home-court advantage in Oklahoma City than they would have had in New Orleans."
The Hornets' leading scorer last year was Lee Nailon, with 14.2 points per game, marking the first time in franchise history that no player averaged 15 points.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 18-64 (15th in West)
Points scored: 88.4 (30th in NBA)