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CHANGE OF SEASONAfter acquiring six players in the offseason -- including center Emeka Okafor -- the Hornets want to return as an elite team in the Western Conference.

Unlike the 2007-08 season when the Hornets won a franchise-record 56 games, Coach Byron Scott is in the final year of his contract and is under pressure. Last season, the Hornets finished 49-33 but were dominated by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, mainly because of their inconsistent bench. In the offseason, Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower added rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, signed free-agent forward Ike Diogu and acquired forward Darius Songalia and guard Bobby Brown in a trade with Minnesota. With training camp opening Tuesday, there will be plenty of questions regarding New Orleans, but here are the five most crucial:

-- 1. Can Okafor be a more dominant player in the post than Tyson Chandler?

Okafor is a more polished offensive player than Chandler. He can score from moves in the post and make mid-range shots. That means he has the ability to draw the attention of the defense and limits the possibility of teams trying to stack the middle or double team All-Star forward David West. While Chandler struggled with toe and ankle problems that limited him to 45 games last season, Okafor has not missed a regular-season game since the 2006-07 season.

-- 2. Can All-Star point guard Chris Paul continue to dominate?

Denver played Paul aggressively and frequently forced him to move to one side of the floor, which made it easier for the Nuggets to force the ball out of his hands with traps. Paul spent this offseason working on his upper body to better handle the physical play. He appears focused and ready for another MVP-caliber season.

-- 3. Will the bench be more consistent?

If the Hornets are going to advance beyond the first round in the playoffs, they are going to need several contributors off the bench. Scott said last season his bench was one of the least effective in the NBA, but now the Hornets have Diogu and Songalia as backup power forwards and guards Collison and Thornton. The Hornets will need to show different looks, and Scott can mix and match lineups that include Diogu playing center and Sean Marks playing power forward instead of center. During instances when Scott may opt for a small lineup, he said Paul and Collison could play in the backcourt together. James Posey again will be expected to come off the bench and make an impact defensively at power forward.

-- 4. Can Collison and Thornton make a significant impact?

Last season, Paul was on the floor for an average of 38.5 minutes per game. He logged extended minutes because there was a significant dropoff when he was not on the floor. When Antonio Daniels entered for Paul, the pace was much slower and the Hornets experienced offensive and defensive breakdowns. Daniels was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer, and the Hornets drafted Collison in the first round to become the backup point guard. Collison can push the pace, but it's uncertain whether he is ready to play an 82-game season and quickly learn the offense. Thornton made an impact in the summer league with his scoring and already is in the plans to push Morris Peterson for minutes at shooting guard.

-- 5. Will Julian Wright start ahead of veteran Peja Stojakovic at small forward?

Wanting to push the tempo, Scott needs more athleticism on the floor. Wright is quicker than Stojakovic, but he must develop as a perimeter shooter. Stojakovic has struggled with back problems since 2006 and during last season's playoff series against the Denver Nuggets he was unable to defend Carmelo Anthony. In various games last season, Stojakovic had difficulty staying in front of shooters. Scott said he is considering bringing Stojakovic off the bench, which could extend his career. Scott said Wright must make an immediate impact in training camp if he wants to earn the job.

. . . . . . .

John Reid can be reached at or 504.826.3787.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 28, 2009


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