NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, October 27th (All times eastern)
Milwaukee Bucks (0-0) at New Orleans Hornets (0-0), 8 p.m.
(Sports Network) - NBA basketball returns to The Big Easy tonight when the New Orleans Hornets tip off the 2010-11 NBA season by hosting the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hornets spent most of the offseason telling anyone that would listen that franchise cornerstone Chris Paul wasn't going anywhere. Assured that Paul will be in the mix -- at least until the summer of 2012 -- the Hornets now face the task of convincing their fan base that everything is going to be okay on the court.
New Orleans dipped from 49 wins and a playoff appearance in 2008-09 to just 37 victories and a last-place finish in the Southwest Division a season ago. A slow start doomed then-head coach Byron Scott, who was given his walking papers after nine games and a 3-6 record, and dual ankle and knee injuries had Paul in and out of the lineup all season while prompting the All-Star point guard to miss a total of 37 games.
Paul's absences caused the offense to struggle at times and left it with an inability to counter a defense that tied for 21st in the league by allowing 102.7 points per game. When the Hornets mercifully closed out the 2009-10 season with a win over Houston, in flowed a macabre-laced sense of doom that hovered over the pending offseason.
General manager Jeff Bower, who took over coaching duties when Scott was let go, quickly relinquished his title as coach and eventually hired former Portland assistant Monty Williams, who became the NBA's youngest head coach when he was hired at 38 years of age.
Bower would make a few more moves over the next month, most notably trading forward Morris Peterson and the draft rights to Cole Aldrich to Oklahoma City for a pair of 2010 draft selections in Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter.
Bower, though, would also agree to part ways with the Hornets less than a week after completing the aforementioned trade and in stepped former San Antonio director of player personnel Dell Demps as the new GM.
To say Demps jumped right into the deep end was an understatement. Not long after officially hired, Demps was part of the "CP3 Summit," a meeting between Paul and Hornets management in which it was rumored New Orleans' top player was going to ask for a trade.
Demps, though, emerged through the cloud of darkness like King Arthur wielding Excalibur; Paul wasn't going anywhere.
"Chris asked what the direction of the team was," Demps said. "He talked to us, we kind of talked about some things we're going to look to do in the future. He seemed, in my opinion, excited and ready to play."
While the CP3 Doomsday clock isn't gone for good, at least this season the Hornets can just worry about what their star player does on the court.
To help Paul, New Orleans acquired small forward Trevor Ariza, shooting guard Marco Belinelli and combo guard Willie Green while All-Star power forward David West, who has averaged 20.2 points over the past three seasons is also back.
In the land of the Cheeseheads, meanwhile, it's time to fear the deer again, at least if Andrew Bogut is healthy.
Bogut, a former No. 1 overall pick back in 2005, along with explosive point guard Brandon Jennings and late-season pick-up John Salmons were the main cogs in Milwaukee's turnaround last season.
The Bucks stepped on the gas down the stretch and finished with a solid 46-36 record, but any chance of success in the playoffs was derailed by the terrible season-ending injury to the talented Bogut.
The Australian star suffered one of the more horrific injuries in the recent history of the NBA, dislocating his right elbow, breaking his right hand and spraining his wrist after falling hard to the floor following a slam dunk against Phoenix in early April.
Without its star, Milwaukee persevered in the postseason behind Jennings and Salmons before eventually bowing out to a favored Atlanta team in seven games.
With Bogut on the mend, the Bucks are now relevant in a much-improved Eastern Conference with some experts instilling Scott Skiles' club as the team to beat in a LeBron James-less Central Division.
"We're welcoming that pressure; we haven't come into a season saying we're division champs for a while," Bogut said. "Take that in stride, and you have to be humble in it, but in the same sense we have to have a little bit of cockiness about it. We have a little notoriety and a lot of attention, so teams are going to try and see what that's all about, have to keep playing and do what we did last year, keep being a defensive minded team."
Milwaukee may not possess a sexy name for the marquee at Bradley Center but they have a legitimate All-Star in Bogut and really hit a home run when they took Jennings with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Meanwhile, the underrated Salmons was re-signed in the offseason and the Bucks improved their offense and rebounding by picking up forwards Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden, along with swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts.
These two teams split the home-and-home season set a year ago but the Hornets have won eight of nine in the series overall.
10/27 11:02:31 ET