Hornets Stung By Injury Bug

Steve O Speak

The news for the New Orleans Hornets couldn’t get much worse. Superstar point guard Chris Paul will now miss at least a month due to arthroscopic knee surgery. And the timing couldn’t be any worse for New Orleans, as they had been playing good basketball in the New Year and were in a fight for the 8th and final playoff spot (and could have potentially been higher). Now with their top scorer out for at least a month, the Hornets playoff hopes are offically dashed.

The silver lining of this injury, is that it will give the Hornets time to evaluate their first round draft pick PG Darren Collison. Collison, who was a surprise first round pick given the lack of need by the Hornets, has been okay so far this season, and has flashed the ability to be a starting caliber point guard. If he can show that with regular work he can be a starting point guard in the NBA, then not only will the Hornets be competitive in Paul’s absence, but they will have a valuable trade chip for the off-season (plenty of teams that miss out on the John Wall lottery will be interested). Even if Collison picks his game up, it is tough to see the Hornets surviving in the playoff picture without Paul, which could mean its decision time for the Hornets.

Do they stick it out this season and hope they can survive for that final playoff spot, or do they make a trade or two to reshape the roster for next season? I think the Hornets should go with the latter option, despite not having many assets to trade. Collison is untouchable until the offseason, and Marcus Thornton has established himself as a pretty solid option for the 2 guard and won’t be going anywhere. That leaves David West, Peja Stojakovic, and Emeka Okafor as their real tradeable assets. West should probably be kept, he’s an all-star and signed for a fairly reasonable deal. I don’t see their being a huge market for Stojakovic, since there are plenty of wing players available in trade market/next year’s free agent class, so I would keep him. Okafor on the other hand, could be an interesting trade chip. Some people don’t like his contract, but the money per year isn’t too bad (about $11 million), its the length that is a problem (4 more years after this one). While I know it’s always tough to swallow long contracts in the NBA, given Okafor’s age and production, I think its a pretty fair deal and won’t be a hinderence to move for the Hornets. Now it will probably be hard to get equivalent value back in a midseason deal (especially since the Hornets will need at least one big man back in the deal), but could get creative if they package Okafor with a bad contract (Peterson or Posey). It might hurt their overall return, but they could get a couple young guys with potential and maybe an expiring contract or two. It might mean the Hornets are ‘punting’ on this season, but even before Paul’s injury, this wasn’t a team built to survive the Western Conference. It may be tough for them and their fans to accept, but reshaping the roster is the right move for the future of the franchise.

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