While struggling through last night's game at a bar, I occasionally reverted my attention to the Hornets/Bucks game appearing on another television. I was struck by how similar this year's version of the Blazers is to the 2005-2006 New Orleans team.
To refresh your memory, that team featured an upcoming superstar guard (Chris Paul, the rookie) and developing big man (David West) surrounded by a collection of cast-off journeymen and young players. During the previous season, in effort to purge the salary cap and relieve chemistry issues, the New Orleans management traded their two malcontent stars, Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn, for pennies on the dollar (unless you consider Speedy Claxton and an over-the-hill Dale Davis worth more than I do). Spurred by an upbeat fan base (Oklahoma City, immediately post Hurricane Katrina), the inexperienced Hornets exceeded expectations for the first 2/3 of the season. They struggled on the road, but defended their home floor admirably. Unfortunately, nagging injuries to key role players (Marc Jackson and Desmond Mason) and their inexperience ultimately derailed their playoff push. After beating the Blazers to go 31-25 (good for the sixth playoff position), they lost twelve of their next thirteen games and finished 38-44 and in the tenth position in the West.
I draw this comparison for several reasons:
- Look at where the Hornets are now. They are one of the elite teams in the West and have the opportunity to make a lot of noise in the playoffs in just three years.
- The 2007-2008 Blazers are a much younger team, and my Blazer bias aside, seem to have the more promising roster than the 2005-2006 Hornets.
- Some may point to the significant cap space that allowed the Hornets to bring in Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler. It appears we will have a reasonable amount of cap space in the summer of 2009 to at least bring in a free agent of moderate value. (Also, remember that Darius Miles will have an expiring contract then. Although very unlikely, it is possible that he could be shipped in a sign-and-trade format to a team looking to get rid of salary.)
- We have a more stable and supportive fan base for the long term. Have you seen the crowds at New Orleans games?
- Whether or not Brandon Roy's on-court talents ever match or surpass Chris Paul's (and trust me, from a purely talent standpoint, Paul is a more effective basketball player right now), one has the feeling that he will always provide the invaluable unifying leadership required for championship teams- a rare quality.
- Paul Allen has proven that unlike many owners in this league, he is willing take on extra financial burdens for a quality product.
- Greg Oden. Will he solve all of our problems? No, and it is an unreasonable expectation. Will he make a significant difference? He certainly seems capable of making valuable contributions and that may be all we need.