It’s a crucial year for the Hornets. Chris Paul can opt out of his contract with New Orleans after this season, and it goes without saying that the franchise would be devastated if Paul left the team. Here are a few ways that the Hornets can build on their spirited first-round performance against the Lakers last season:
– Get Healthy:
After battling injuries for the better part of two regular seasons and seeing his PER drop from 30 in 08-09 to 23.75 in 09-10 and 10-11, Chris Paul used the first round of the playoffs to show everybody that when CP3 is on his game, he’s as good as anybody in the league. Paul is almost unquestionably the league’s best ballhandler and one of its best passers, and he’s turned himself into one of the league’s best outside shooters as well.
If his knees can stay healthy for a full season, he could give the Hornets a fighting chance at getting into the playoffs and winning a series or two all by himself. He’s that good.
David West is CP3’s sidekick on the court, but a torn ACL suffered late in the year kept him out of the playoffs and could cause him to miss a significant portion of this season. If Paul and West both have healthy knees coming into the playoffs, the Hornets could make some noise. If they don’t, it’s hard to envision them as serious contenders.
– Get Players:
It’s not a state secret that the Hornets’ roster is incredibly thin. Outside of Paul, Jarrett Jack, Emeka Okafor, West, and Trevor Ariza, the Hornets don’t have much, and the team desperately needs to stock the roster with some quality role players and veterans (in other words, not Marco Belinelli), who can knock down the open shots that Paul creates and play some defense.
– Stay Defensive:
The secret of the Hornets’ return to the playoffs was their improved defense. Under Monty Williams, the Hornets were a top-10 team in defensive efficiency last season. If the Hornets can maintain their commitment to defense and become the best defensive team in the Western conference (only the Lakers and Mavericks had a higher defensive efficiency in the West than the Hornets did last season), and simply let a healthy CP3 do his thing on offense, they could end up being a very tough out in the playoffs.
Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.
What doesn’t come up? Money.
That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.
“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”
It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.
Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.
The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.
You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.
Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.
Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.
I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.
Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.
That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.
The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.
We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.
Big-market teams are licking their chops.
That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.
Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.
It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.
It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):
Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?
Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.
“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…
“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”
That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.
Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.
My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.