Back in 2005 the New Orleans Hornets finished the season managing just 18 wins to go along with 64 losses. As the franchise-worst record suggests, these were some pretty dark days for the fans of Louisiana’s second favourite professional sports team.
But as we all know, in today’s NBA your fortunes can change pretty quickly if you’re selecting high in a draft class loaded with talent. This was the case for the Hornets in 2005 when they managed to pinch Chris Paul — a savvy point guard out of Wake Forest University, who would soon mean more to the city of New Orleans than Po-Boys and Jambalaya.
Chris Paul spent his rookie season playing for the Hornets in Oklahoma City after the team was forced to evacuate New Orleans due to the tragic Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city less than two months after the 2005 NBA draft. CP3 proved to be a blessing for the community of New Orleans in their rebuilding efforts; his extensive community involvement and charity work made him a cherished member of New Orleans and he was backed by the entire city.
By 2008 the Hornets were a dark horse favourite to win the NBA title. Throughout the season Chris Paul performed at an MVP-type level, the Hornets clinched their first Southwest Division title and they advanced to the western conference semi-finals, before being bounced by the Spurs in seven games.
The following season the Hornets were no longer underdogs. The league suddenly had high expectations for the bees; CP3 wasn’t a kid anymore, David West was now an All-Star and they managed to sign James Posey away from Boston, who was an important role player for the Celtics in their championship run the previous season. Unfortunately for the Hornets their season was marred by injuries (Rasual Butler was the only Hornet to suit up for all 82 regular season games) and as a result they fell well short of expectations.
As the years went by things began to unravel in New Orleans. The club was crippled by bad contracts and frequent injuries, and as their attendance continued to drop, they began operating at a loss and bleeding money. The GM at the time made some gutsy moves to try and turn the situation around by firing head coach Byron Scott and trading away their injury prone big man, Tyson Chandler, but those moves irked CP3, their franchise pillar.
Finally/mercifully in December of 2010, the Hornets cut ties with former owner George Shinn and were purchased by David Stern and the league’s 29 team owners, in a deliberate effort to find a local owner committed to keeping the Hornets in New Orleans.
Twelve months after the NBA’s acquisition of the Hornets, the team was forced to do the unthinkable and ship out their disgruntled franchise player Chris Paul, who was unwilling to commit to the team beyond the length of his expiring contract.
The initial trade made by Hornets GM Dell Demps sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers in a highly-discussed three team deal which brought Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic back to New Orleans.
League commissioner/Hornets owner David Stern pulled the pin on this undeniably short-sighted trade on behalf of the Hornets. While it did provide the team with enough B-level talent to secure another playoff berth, it was also bringing in a number of contracts that Stern felt would be less than appealing to a potential owner.
After the three team trade was nixed, Demps to and fro’d with Stern in hopes of making the trade work with the Lakers, but the commissioner was firm and forced Demps to explore the alternatives.
Demps eventually re-opened dialogue with the rest of the league and began actively shopping CP3. A deal was finally made when Demps convinced a hesitant Clippers GM, Neil Olshey, to include extremely promising combo guard, Eric Gordon, in the package.
Along with Minnesota’s unprotected first round pick, Eric Gordon was a pivotal component in allowing the Hornets to bid farewell to their former superstar and begin looking towards the future. After coming off a breakthrough season in which he averaged over 22 points per game for the Clippers, Gordon was shipped to New Orleans alongside his Los Angeles teammates Chris Kaman and Al Farouq Aminu.
As expected the Hornets have struggled thus far in 2012, and have experienced many of the woes that have plagued them for the past decade. They’ve been ravaged by injury; their key acquisition from the Paul trade, Eric Gordon, has played just seven games (5 of which were wins for the Hornets), and despite their successful ‘I’m In’ campaign which increased the number of season ticket holders to over 10,000, attendance has once again been patchy.
The Hornets have endured a troubling level of uncertainty for the past couple of seasons. Would their franchise star Chris Paul re-sign with the team? Can they find a new owner who is committed to New Orleans? And during the lockout, there was uncertainty as to whether or not there would even be a Hornets franchise going forward.
However, on April 13, 2012, our questions were answered and New Orleans Hornets’ fans finally had cause for celebration. Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints (NFL), agreed to purchase the Hornets and subsequently guaranteed that New Orleans would keep their NBA franchise until at least 2024.
When a giddy David Stern introduced Benson as the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets at a press conference, he also confirmed that the city had been selected to host the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend. This announcement was a cherry on top for the New Orleans community and Hornets fans, who not only get to keep they’re beloved bees in town for the foreseeable future, but also have a genuine optimism for their on-court future. They have two lottery picks in the loaded 2012 draft, a healthy Eric Gordon back in the fold, and salary cap flexibility which could position them to be major players in the upcoming free agency period.
Sure, some uncertainties remain in New Orleans. Will the Hornets be willing to match the big offers that are sure to come for Eric Gordon this offseason? Will the ping pong balls bounce their way in the upcoming draft lottery? Will they even be called the Hornets when the 2012-13 season rolls around?
These questions will remain unanswered for the time being, but here are some things that we do know for sure;
- New Orleans will be home to an NBA franchise for at least twelve more years.
- New Orleans will officially play host to the 2014 All-Star weekend.
- The Hornets have an excellent second year coach in Monty Williams who has moulded his blue collar principles to the team, to the point where they consistently play above their talent level.
- For the first time in a very long time, New Orleans Hornets fans are blessed with something that is often taken for granted by small market NBA franchises, stability. And as a Hornets fan, I’m stoked with that.