PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: G-F Rasual Butler, G Bobby Jackson, F Julian Wright (R), C HiltonArmstrong, G Jannero Pargo *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 39-43(10th in West) Points scored: 95.5 (25th in NBA) Points allowed: 97.1 (10th)Coach: Byron Scott (fourth season with Hornets)
Night after night last winter, Peja Stojakovic watched his new team lose. By 21to the Warriors. By 24 to the Pistons. By 35 to the Spurs. So the formerAll-Star swingman did the only thing he could do: flipped off the set and wentto bed.
Out for all butthe first 13 games because of back surgery, Stojakovic took in eight weeks'worth of Hornets games lying on his living room floor. Once he could sit in achair for more than two hours, he was cleared to travel with the team, but henever returned to the lineup. "That's a season I don't want toremember," says Stojakovic, 30, who joined the Hornets in July 2006 aftersigning a five-year, $64 million contract as a free agent. "It was thehardest season of my professional career."
It was a roughyear for almost all of the Hornets' starters, who missed a combined 133 gamesbecause of injuries. Still, behind point guard Chris Paul and center TysonChandler, the team finished just three games out of a playoff spot with a 39-43record. This year, with the additions of elastic rookie Julian Wright fromKansas and spot-up shooter Morris Peterson, as well as a full-time return toNew Orleans, the Hornets are talking the p word. "Anything short of theplayoffs," Paul says, "will be a disappointment."
The return ofStojakovic just may be the difference maker. He has more postseason experiencethan any other Hornet, and he provides the sort of deadly outside shooting thatthe team sorely missed last season. Shortly before his injury, Stojakovicripped the Bobcats for a career-high 42 points, hitting five three-pointers ina Hornets victory. "I think I still have a couple of good years in me,"says Stojakovic, who was pain-free during the preseason. "I'm at the stageof my career where all my goals are connected with the team's goals, and Iwould really like to see this team go to the playoffs."--G.M.
An opposingteam's scout sizes up the Hornets
Chris Paul issuch a dynamic player. He gets anywhere on the floor he wants. He's a gentlemanoff the court, but he has some punk in him when he's playing--and I mean thatas a compliment. He'll go across the lane and kick his feet out or throw anelbow. To be a tough point guard, you've got to have that. . . . Tyson Chandlerwas so good on the boards that Phil Jackson was telling his guys they shouldwatch film of him. It's just so hard to contain him because he's continuouslypursuing the ball. If you're trying to box him out, you'd better have yourhands up high because he's so long he'll go over the top and tip it out. . . .The big problem is that they're very thin up front. Second-year center HiltonArmstrong is their only real backup at the power positions, apart from the spotminutes they'll get from Melvin Ely. . . . I'm not sure that Morris Petersoncan provide the numbers they used to get from Desmond Mason, but Petersonshould be a hungry guy who gives them some competitiveness.
Tyson Chandlermade 62.5% of his two-point field goal attempts last season, the NBA's highestpercentage (minimum 400 attempts) since Golden State's Chris Gatling shot 63.4%from short range in 1994-95.
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
BACKSTORY Stojakovic is moving well after being sidelined with a disk injury.
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
DAVID E. KLUTHO
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
Chris Paul, who was second in the league with a 3.53-to-1 assist-to-turnoverratio last season, almost steered his banged-up team to theplayoffs.