WESTWEGO — If they didn’t already have their names on the backs of their jerseys, the Hornets might have done well to have sported “Hello, my name is ______” stickers on Monday, media day for the team that begins preseason practice here Tuesday.
Eight new players, including No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis and fellow lottery pick Austin Rivers are on the roster.
Gone are the top five scorers from last season, unless one counts guard Eric Gordon, who averaged a team-high 20.6 points-per-game but played in only nine games because of a lingering knee injury that will keep him out of most drills during training camp.
In fact, the “senior” Hornet in terms of games played with the franchise is Jason Smith, who is starting his third season with the team.
“I keep on hearing those words,” Smith said. “It makes me feel so old.
“But you’ve got to take that responsibility. We’ve got a lot of young guys on the team, so it’s up to me to kind of point them up on the right direction.”
Actually, in terms of NBA experience (and age) is 27-year-old journeyman Roger Mason, who is entering his ninth season in the league with his seventh different team.
The average age of the team is 24. Five of the players were born in the 1990s, and four are rookies.
“I know people are looking on us as young,” Hornets coach Monty Williams, who also is entering his third season with the team. “But our young talent core right now is as good as anybody’s in the league.”
Along with four rookies, Williams has a rookie owner to deal with.
But that’s a good thing.
Saints owner Tom Benson purchased the Hornets in the spring after the NBA operated the team last season when former owner George Shinn sold it to the league after another proposed sale fell through.
Benson retained Williams, giving him a four-year contract extension through the 2015-16 season along with General Manager Dell Demps.
But Benson also has brought in several business-side members of the Saints organization as well, including Saints executive vice-president Mickey Loomis, who is serving in an observational/advisory role during his eight-game NFL suspension.
“I think we’re still in the learning curve here,” Loomis said. “But I can tell you this: I like the coach we’ve got here a lot, and I like the general manager a lot.
“They’re young, energetic, hard-working guys, which is a good base to start from. I’m just trying to give them some things I’ve seen in professional sports that might help them be successful.”
What Benson’s ownership has brought is assurance that the franchise is not going anywhere soon, thanks to a deal with the state that runs through 2024 and the financial backing that allows Demps to make moves such as matching Phoenix’s four-year, $56 million max offer to Gordon.
That’s quite a contrast to last year, when Commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade of All-Star Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers before finally approving one to the Clippers.
Although it brought Gordon and reserve forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the team along with the draft pick that turned out to be Rivers, it also contributed to a 2011 playoff team sliding to 21-45 with 23 players making roster appearances.
“Thanks to Mr. Benson, we’re now blessed with the tools to be successful,” Demps said. “We now have the stability to keep the core of this team for the long term.
“From a business standpoint, it’s unbelievable how much we’ve learned. Mr. Benson and Mickey are determined that we move forward.”
Just how far forward the Hornets progress this season remains to be seen.
Teams as youthful as the Hornets, no matter how talented, usually struggle to win.
Most predictions have the Hornets out of the playoff race, and even Williams doesn’t disagree.
“It takes awhile for young guys to learn how to play in the NBA,” he said. “So you have to think long term.
“But you don’t sacrifice your absolutes like playing hard and playing defense. If you sacrifice those things, you’ll sacrifice winning down the line.”
To the newcomers, Smith cautioned, that means they shouldn’t expect much leniency during training camp or beyond.
“Monty is very demanding,” he said. “He has high expectations of us working hard and coming in every day ready to go.
“There’s no joking around, no nothing. When we get into the gym and on the court, it’s business. You sure don’t want to get on his bad side.”
At the same time, one of the newcomers, forward Ryan Anderson, said the mood around the Hornets is a stark contrast from the dysfunction he experienced last season with the Orlando Magic and the drama surrounding Dwight Howard.
“It’s refreshing,” he said. “It feels like a team; it feels like a family.
“There’s obviously a business aspect to this. But it’s also about a bunch of young guys coming together, proving ourselves and winning.”
The team’s exhibition opener is Sunday in Mexico City against Orlando. The first home exhibition is Oct. 9 against Charlotte. The other home exhibition game is Oct. 24 against Houston. The regular season begins with an Oct. 31 home game against San Antonio…..Gordon said he has had soreness in the same right knee on which he had arthroscopic surgery last February since participating in voluntary workouts a few weeks ago….Benson was present to join in a team picture but left without addressing the media.