The NBA Draft Lottery is always an exciting event. Not for the entertainment value, mind you, but the fact that opportunity is in the air. On May 30, 2012, just before the Miami Heat would take on the Boston Celtics in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Draft Lottery was held in New York City.
As the competitive NBA teams play towards a championship, the bottom feeders look to receive a high draft pick to build their team for the future. Representatives from the 14 non-playoff NBA teams attend the event, like Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's son, Nick Gilbert, who always looks hip in his nerdy garb.
One of those bottom feeders was the New Orleans Hornets who, at the time, were owned by the NBA and finished the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a 21-45 record, tied for the third-worst in the league. Although the Hornets had only a the fourth-best chance (13.7%) of getting the top pick, the ping pong balls came up in their favor.
Aside from conspiracy theories and other concerns about an NBA-owned team winning the Draft Lottery, it was the beginning of a very busy summer for the Hornets. On June 15, the NBA completed the sale of the Hornets to New Orleans Saints' owner Tom Benson for the price of $338 million, a sale that had been in process for two months.
During the 2012 NBA Draft on June 28, in addition to first-overall pick Anthony Davis, the Hornets drafted Austin Rivers in the tenth slot and Darius Miller in the second round. Rivers was taken with a draft pick the Hornets got in return for Chris Paul, who they traded to the Los Angeles Clippers before the season began.
Note: That is NOT Darius Miller in the center.
In July, the Hornets completed two trades that drastically improved their front court. Putting out a lineup last season that included Emeka Okafor and Chris Kaman was not getting it done, so the Hornets went out and traded for Ryan Anderson from the Orlando Magic, and Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick from the Phoenix Suns.
These moves allowed the Hornets to dump Okafor and Kaman, while getting solid depth to take some weight off of the Davis' 19-year-old shoulders. The acquisition of Lopez will allow Davis to play his natural position of power forward when matched up with a over sized center, such as Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol. Meanwhile, Warrick has been a valuable bench player since he has come into the league.
Threes on threes on threes on threes on threes...
Anderson agreed to a four-year, $36-million sign-and-trade to the Hornets, which will allow the 24-year-old breakout star to provide some continuity in the lineup. To add even more stability in the lineup, the Hornets matched a four-year, $59-million maximum offer sheet that the Suns gave to restricted free agent Eric Gordon.
Gordon was the key piece that the Hornets got in return for Paul. He is a 23-year-old star guard, but his career effectiveness on the court has taken a hit due to his continual visits to the IR. Although Gordon said he wanted to go to Phoenix and start anew, matching the offer sheet was absolutely the right thing to do for the Hornets.
Unfortunately a very common sight.
With a manageable roster on paper, the Hornets now needed to lock up one of the most promising young coaches in the league. Monty Williams came from the Nate McMillan coaching tree, having served as assistant coach under him for five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Williams was offered the head coaching job with the Hornets for the 2010-11 season and did not disappoint, leading the team to the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 46-36 record and an eventual 4-2 loss in the first round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe absolutely torches the team that originally drafted him.
Even after a disappointing 2011-12 season, in which the Hornets went 21-45, new ownership still has confidence in Williams, and they proved it by locking him up with a four-year extension on August 19, which will run through 2015-16. This was absolutely the right thing to do as Williams has the confidence and coaching ability to lead this group of young players to become a competitive team for years to come.
As Kevin Rossi touched upon in his I-95 article last week, NBA teams who are not the Lakers or the Heat need to find ways to rebuild and become competitive again. While the Magic have just begun the rebuilding process, the Hornets endured one terrible season and come come through the other end of the tunnel.
You got traded, can you shut up now please?
With young talent such as Davis, Rivers, Anderson and Gordon locked up for the next four seasons expect the Hornets to be in the playoff hunt during that time. This team is young, but supremely talented, which is all you can ask for when building the nucleus of a roster.
Sprinkle in some solid role players, such as Miller and Warrick, and some viable bench options, such as Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu, and that builds a legitimate contender. Plus, Williams is only 40-years-old and is likely to emerge as a great coach and leader for many years.
YOU DA MAN!
Things like the draft and the salary cap exist so that teams have a chance to pick themselves up from the dumps and become relevant again. Franchises hurt themselves by not taking full advantage of these things while the team is not championship caliber, and that is why they struggle for many years.
It is always difficult to face the fact of rebuilding as a professional sports franchise, but the Hornets are an excellent example of what can happen if you swallow your pride and accept that things have to get worse in order for them to get better.
Enjoy your trip back to I-95 and I'll see you next week!