State of the Cap: New Orleans Hornets

Thu, 06/07/2007 - 12:44pm

By Josh Redetzke

2007/08 New Orleans Hornets Payroll: $53 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $2 million under cap

[img_assist|nid=3840|title=Chris Paul|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=354]The Good: A promising season for the Hornets was wasted because of numerous injuries, but one of their pleasant surprises was the play of newly acquired Tyson Chandler. The center from the Bulls has a fat contract, paying him $45.6 million over the next four years. That is a difficult contract to earn, especially with Chandler’s limited offensive skills. However, his numbers this season were extraordinary. Chandler was second in the league in rebounding at 12.4 per game and he also chipped in with 1.8 blocks and 9.5 points on 62.4% shooting. If you consider that Ben Wallace got paid a lot more and produced less, Chandler’s contract doesn’t look so bad after all.

The Hornet’s two stars, Chris Paul and David West, were both hit by the injury bug this year. At least their strong play continued when they did find the court. Paul showed that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke as he averaged 17.3 points per game and 8.9 assists, good for fourth in the league. The team’s offense is in good hands with Paul and he still has two more years under his rookie contract. David West also raised his level of play as he averaged career highs in points (18.3), rebounds (8.2), and assists (2.2). West begins his pricy extension next season, starting at $10.6 million. In what seems to be a growing trend in the NBA, West’s deal actually decreases over time, bottoming out at $7.5 million in five years. That kind of cap conscious thinking is a smart move for this franchise.

Desmond Mason and Marc Jackson have contracts that expire this summer, saving the team $12.8 million. That will help keep the team a little below the salary cap. Neither player is a big loss. Even though Mason’s play improved a bit, he still didn’t live up to the Hornet’s expectations.

The Bad: New Orleans wanted to make a big splash in free agency last summer and they did by giving $64.5 million over five years to Peja Stojakovic. The contract was a bit of a risk but one the team was willing to take. Sure enough, Peja missed nearly the entire season due to injury. With truckloads of money still left in the deal, the Hornets hope their sharp-shooting forward can make a full recovery and earn their investment.

Along with Peja, point guard Bobby Jackson was also added to the team last summer. Jackson has a long history of missing extended periods of time because of injury, yet the Hornets still gave him a three-year contract worth $17 million. Not surprisingly, Jackson missed 26 games. When he did play, he shot just 39% from the field and only averaged 2.5 assists per game. So far, Jackson has been a major flop.

Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons were drafted last year to help bolster a thin frontline and provide depth and athleticism. Unfortunately, both players struggled for playing time and were ineffective in their brief stints. They still have plenty of time to improve, but New Orleans was hoping for more of an impact than this.

The Future: Like many other teams, the story for the Hornets this season was their injuries, which derailed what should have been a playoff year. The core of the team is in place with West, Chandler, and Stojakovic signed long-term and with Chris Paul most likely receiving an extension next summer. The future of their salary cap looks to be in good shape and should provide a little wiggle room to tweak the team as needed.

The key for the Hornets will be Peja’s play. He was signed to be a star and veteran leader for this team and he has to go out and play like it. If Peja is at the top of his game, this team can really do some damage. If not, they’ll only be good enough for high lottery picks or low playoff seeds and nothing more. Considering the shaky state of basketball in the Big Easy, this team needs to be good to generate interest and keep them in town. It’s time for the Hornets to take the next step. Don’t keep the fans waiting.

Free Throw: It has taken a while, but Tyson Chandler is finally living up to being the second overall pick in the 2001 draft. He has been in the league six years now and he is only 24 years old. Chandler’s best years are still ahead of him, which is a scary thought. The trade that sent P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith to the Bulls for Chandler now looks like armed robbery. If you ask the Bulls right now who they would rather have, Chandler or Wallace, I have a feeling I know what they’d say.

Grade: B+

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