Hornets-Suns Preview

After a tumultuous offseason, the New Orleans Hornets get to

finally take the court – but without one of the best players in

franchise history.

The Hornets begin an era without Chris Paul when they open the

season against the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.

New Orleans went 46-36 last season but was eliminated by the Los

Angeles Lakers in six games in the opening round of the

playoffs.

With the Hornets temporarily owned by the NBA, which is trying

to find a permanent local buyer by sometime in 2012, the club has

struggled to win long-term commitments from any big-name

players.

That even meant players on their roster, as Paul requested a

trade once the NBA settled the lockout earlier this month.

A three-team deal that would have sent the star point guard to

the Lakers seemed to be struck, but commissioner David Stern cited

“basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade.

Less than a week later, New Orleans sent Paul to the Los Angeles

Clippers for center Chris Kaman, guard Eric Gordon, reserve forward

Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick.

The Hornets also saw the departure of forward David West to

Indiana via free agency, leaving them without their top two

scorers.

“I’m sure a lot of people are counting us out,” forward Carl

Landry said. “We’ve got guys that want to be good players in this

league and they come and practice hard every day, and I’m sure it

will have a carry-over into game situations.”

Landry averaged 11.9 points with New Orleans and Sacramento last

season, and returned to the Hornets through free agency with the

promise of replacing West in the lineup.

Replacing Paul will be the taller task, and that seems to be

falling on Jarrett Jack, who averaged 8.5 points and 2.9 assists in

70 games with the Hornets after being acquired in a deal with

Toronto. That’s a far cry from Paul’s career averages of 18.7

points and 9.9 assists.

Jack, however, topped 20 points in his two starts when Paul was

out with a concussion.

The acquisition of Gordon could ease the pressure on Jack in the

backcourt.

The eighth overall pick in 2008, Gordon averaged career highs of

22.3 points and 4.4 assists with the Clippers last season but was

limited to 56 games due to wrist and shoulder injuries.

“He can score in a number of ways,” Jack said. “He stretches the

court. When you penetrate, he gives you another shooter on the

wing.”

The Hornets took three of four from Phoenix in 2010-11.

The Suns were coming off a conference finals appearance before

missing the playoffs at 40-42 last season, finishing with a losing

record for the first time since 2003-04.

“I think we’re going to be better than what people think,” said

Grant Hill, who re-signed with Phoenix earlier this month.

“Obviously the West is extremely difficult, but we almost got in

last year and I think we’ll be better. We have better chemistry and

continuity than we had last year.

“… Then, I think collectively there’s a little bit of a

mindset that we’ve got something to prove, that we’re better than

what we showed.”

With a lineup led by the 39-year-old Hill and Steve Nash, 37,

coach Alvin Gentry may need to rely on the depth of the roster

during the compacted 66-game season caused by the lockout.

“I think it’s going to be important this year that you have a

deep bench because you have certain situations where you’re playing

five games in seven nights or six games in nine nights, where it’s

going to be really important to have depth where you’re not burning

guys out,” Gentry said.

Nash averaged a league-high 11.4 assists and is the Suns’ top

returning scorer at 14.7 points per game, followed by Hill at

13.2.

Another challenge for Gentry is getting the team to improve

defensively in order to balance its up-tempo play. The Suns again

were among the worst defensive teams last season, surrendering an

average of 105.9 points.