UNDER CONTRACT: F Ryan Anderson, G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu, F Jason Smith, G Xavier Henry, G Greivis Vasquez, C Robin Lopez, F Hakim Warrick, G Roger Mason, G Brian Roberts
DRAFT PICKS: F-C Anthony Davis, G Austin Rivers, F Darius Miller
FREE AGENTS: F Lance Thomas
MOVES: The Hornets are taking this rebuilding thing very seriously. Before they even began looking at next season’s roster, they created some flexibility for the 2013-14 squad by trading Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza – two starters from last season, when healthy – to Washington for Rashard Lewis, whom they promptly bought out for $13.7 million. That money will be on this coming season’s salary cap but not next summer. New Orleans also landed Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson in a sign-and-trade with Orlando, dealing Gustavo Ayon and giving Anderson $34 million over four years. It remains to be seen how effective Anderson will be when not alongside Dwight Howard, but he is definitely an upgrade for a team that needs improvement in many areas. One move that was a bit of a head-scratcher was sending incumbent point guard Jarrett Jack to Golden State in a three-team deal that netted Eurotrash Edin Bavcic and a $5.5 million trade exception from Philadelphia. The cap space was used in part to match the four-year, $58 million maximum offer sheet Phoenix gave Eric Gordon, who will clearly be the No. 1 offensive option. But trading Jack left New Orleans without a veteran point guard, which immediately puts rookie Austin Rivers – who had offseason surgery to remove bone spurs – on the spot. To generate even more space, the Hornets acquired the retiring Brad Miller and two future second-round picks from Minnesota for a conditional second-round pick. In a three-team deal, they flipped Miller and his contract option to Phoenix and Jerome Dyson and two second-round picks to Minnesota to acquire center Robin Lopez and forward Hakim Warrick from the Suns. Lopez will receive $15.3 million over three years as part of a sign-and-trade and is expected to help share the pivot in the development of top overall pick Anthony Davis. GM Dell Demps also put a needed veteran presence in the locker room with the signing of Roger Mason, who adds some shooting as well. Demps also began filling out the end of his bench with the signing of point guard Brian Roberts, who joined the team for summer league. And coach Monty Williams was given an extension through the 2015-16 season, clearly defining him as the leader of this overhaul.
TO-DO LIST: Gordon’s restricted free agency did not go smoothly. The Hornets allowed the Suns to set the market, and Gordon let it be known he wasn’t happy the max offer didn’t come from New Orleans. He tried to convince the Hornets not to match and sounded disgruntled throughout the process, although there has been some fence-mending from both sides. Chris Kaman’s departure to Dallas gives the Hornets some flexibility to fill a huge hole at small forward, where the free agent pickings are somewhat slim. Even if Lance Thomas is re-signed on the cheap, the Hornets could add one more player. At the wing, they could realistically consider Josh Howard. But it is hard to imagine a veteran point guard not being added at some point; right now, their most experienced floor general is Greivis Vasquez. Ideally, any additions would be one-year deals to preserve next summer’s cap room.
PROJECTION: We really don’t see a triumvirate of Gordon-Anderson-Davis making any immediate noise in the deep Western Conference. There should be concern about Gordon’s perceived or real discontent and how much that could negatively impact an extremely young locker room. You also have to wonder how competitive the Hornets can be with a rookie point man learning on the job. Yes, New Orleans is better than last season and certainly moving in the right direction. But there is a long, long way to go.
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