Time Out: Les East for July 2, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — The beginning of NBA free agency Sunday was much different for the New Orleans Hornets than it has been in recent seasons, symbolically and practically.
Symbolically, the franchise itself is no longer a potential free agent. There’s stability provided by Saints owner Tom Benson’s purchase of the franchise from the NBA and a new long-term lease that doesn’t include any escape clauses. So the Hornets will be in New Orleans for the foreseeable future — no ifs, ands or buts.
As a practical matter, the Hornets are in an offensive posture when it comes to free agency. They were on the defensive in the past couple of free agency periods, which marked by the anticipated departure of the team’s star players — Chris Paul and David West.
West did indeed leave, signing with Indiana before last season, and Paul forced a trade to the Los Angles Clippers by making clear he too would depart via free agency.
The loss of those two led to a dismal 21-45 record last season, but faster than you could say, “ping-pong balls,” New Orleans has become an attractive destination for free agents.
The Hornets’ improbable landing of the No. 1 pick in the draft, which turned into Kentucky forward Anthony Davis, the addition of two more promising draftees (Duke guard Austin Rivers and Kentucky forward Darius Miller), the expected return of talented shooting guard Eric Gordon and a lot of money available under the salary cap will undoubtedly get the attention of free agents.
Coach Monty Williams pointed out that New Orleans should be especially attractive to any center looking for playing time, because the team has no true center on its roster. On top of that, the center will get a chance to play alongside Davis.
The Hornets accomplished quite a bit in last week’s draft, adding much needed length in the 6-foot-10 Davis and someone who can create his own shot in Rivers. But general manager Dell Demps pointed out, “you can’t address everything in the draft.”
In addition to filling the void at center, the Hornets are looking to add some veteran leadership on a team who’s central players are mostly youngsters. But Williams added, “we also want veterans who can play, not just somebody who’s going to wave a towel and collect a check.”
Davis’ presence and shot-blocking ability are a perfect fit for Williams’ defense, but Rivers and Gordon will need some more help on the offensive end.
“I feel like we can stop everybody and hold them to 80 points,” Williams said, “but Dell is always reminding me that we have to score, too.”
Williams said he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the Hornets’ recent reversal of fortune, because he’s been busy preparing for the draft and free agency as well as plotting a course for next season. But he hasn’t lost sight of the big picture.
“We’ve been blessed,” Williams said, “not just because we had the first pick and the 10th pick, but we’ve been blessed with the new ownership and the fan support. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s happened.”