Due in large part to the stellar play of point guard Chris Paul, the New Orleans Hornets are considered one of the fastest-rising teams in the NBA. Paul (considered by many to be the NBA’s best point guard) anchors a young, energetic nucleus that turned a lot of heads before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinal. With many of the league’s stars either in or approaching their 30s, expectations – and hopes – are high in the Big Easy.
The Hornets were born in Charlotte, N.C., in 1987 when the NBA granted Charlotte one of four proposed expansion teams. The team began play in 1988. Led by Kelly Tripucka, Rex Chapman, and Muggsy Bogues (at 5’3” the shortest player in NBA history), the team went 20-62 in their first season.
In 1989-90, instead of improving, the Hornets finished one game worse, at 19-63. They picked up Kendall Gill, a highly-regarded guard out of Illinois, in 1990, and drafted power forward Larry Johnson out of UNLV in 1991. Led by these young players, the team appeared to contend for a playoff spot in the 1991-92 season, but faded in the spring.
The Hornets drafted Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning in 1992. Mourning, Johnson and Gill led the team to its first-ever winning record and playoff berth. They surprised the favored Celtics in the first round before losing to the New York Knicks in the second round.
Injuries to Mourning and Johnson derailed the Hornets over the next few years. They made the playoffs in the 1994-95 season, but couldn’t get past the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
After that season, the Hornets traded Alonzo Mourning to the Miami Heat for three players, including shooting guard Glen Rice. This split up the Hornets’ promising young trio.
The Move to New Orleans
The Hornets moved to New Orleans, La., in 2002, due to decreased attendance and owner George Shinn’s disillusionment with the Charlotte arena. The team made the playoffs in the 2002-2003 season, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers.
They made the playoffs again in 2003-04, losing to the Miami Heat in seven games.
The entire city of New Orleans was affected by the cataclysmic destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The Hornets were no different; they were forced to relocate to Oklahoma City for 2005-06 and 2006-07. The Hornets missed the playoffs both seasons.
The Hornets returned to the Big Easy for the 2007-08 campaign. Led by 2005 draftee Chris Paul, the team finished at 56-26 and won its first-ever division title. The upstarts from New Orleans beat the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and took the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the conference semifinals.
The Western Conference is wide open in 2008-09. The Lakers, Spurs, Suns, Jazz, Mavericks and even the Houston Rockets all believe they have a legitimate chance to win the West. But it would be a mistake to count out the New Orleans Hornets. All-Stars Paul and forward David West have shown they aren’t afraid of anyone. On the other hand, teams would be wise to be afraid – or at least respectful – of the Hornets.
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