Five Reasons They Will:
1. Health. Each year, it seems, health issues (usually concerning point guard Baron Davis and small forward Jamal Mashburn) have kept the Hornets from advancing in the playoffs. This year, everything appears to be OK with everyone, and when the Hornets are healthy, there's not a more balanced offense in the conference.
2. Continuity. With all the hoopla surrounding offseason moves made by a variety of playoff contenders in both conferences, the Hornets didn't make any major moves in part because they didn't have to. What they lack in overall depth they partially make up for in a solid starting five, but also a familiarity with one another. (Re-signing defensive stopper George Lynch, who'd asked to be traded, was a nice bonus.) That's a huge factor, particularly in such a transient league where free agency robs teams of continuity.
3. P.J. Brown. Let's face it: if Brown, one of the most consistent power forwards in the game, had gone elsewhere, the Hornets would've gone down. Drafting Xavier power forward David West was sheer coincidence; no way a rookie would have replaced Brown's contributions. If he can continue to improve his offense, the Hornets get that much better.
4. David Wesley. Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn may provide the Hornets with one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, but it is David Wesley who consistently provides a crucial third scoring option that most teams routinely complain they lack. Written off by the Celtics years ago as being too short, Wesley's come up big for Hornets on more than one occasion.
5. The not-so-beastly East. Despite all those impressive offseason moves, the Eastern Conference continues to be the weak sister to the Western Conference. It's still a wide-open race, which gives the Hornets the opening they need to slip through. Every year, only a few wins separate the top seed from the fourth seed, and this year will probably be no different. One injury to a key opposing player, and the Hornets could be in the NBA Finals.
Five Reasons They Won't:
1. Health. Yes, you can look at it both ways. The Hornets should be at full strength this season -- should, that is -- but why does it always seem like someone falters and therefore holds them back? Baron Davis' knee and back problems have become the focal point of concern for this team, and until he's 100 percent for a full season, everyone's going to wonder if the Hornets have what it takes.
2. Depth. New Coach Tim Floyd likes to think that by management adding free agents Sean Rooks and Darrell Armstrong and rookie David West, the Hornets suddenly have the firepower on the bench they've lacked in previous years. We remain skeptical. Are these names that much better than previous Hornets such as Elden Campbell or Kenny Anderson or Robert Pack? The Hornets bench might be improved, but it's a major question mark as to how much.
3. Frontcourt punch. Sold separately, Jamaal Magloire and P.J. Brown are nice frontcourt parts; either will pull down eight or nine rebounds a game, and add in a jumper and some garbage points. But combined, they might not provide the scoring punch that the Hornets need to make it past the Nets or the Pistons of the conference. The good news is that Magloire is young and his scoring average has increased each year, and Brown's field-goal shooting percentage has improved tremendously. This year, they'll be asked to do even more.
4. The rich got richer. Yes, the Eastern Conference might just be as weak and wide open as it was last year. And regardless who wins, it might be a formality in the NBA Finals. But really, last season's conference finalists -- New Jersey and Detroit -- made improvement with the signing of center Alonzo Mourning and hiring of Coach Larry Brown, respectively. (The Pistons also snagged a lottery pick in the draft in 7-foot European Darko Milicic.) By re-signing Jason Kidd, often rumored to be headed to San Antonio, the Nets are committed to defending their conference title. The Hornets' improvements just don't stack up to this.
5. Tim Floyd. There is every reason to suggest Tim Floyd got a raw deal in Chicago, where no one probably could have turned things around. Floyd has been a winner, but only at the college level, and as Rick Pitino (or P.J. Carlesimo, or John Calipari) will attest, there's a world of difference between the NCAA and the NBA. There's not much evidence to suggest Floyd can do what Paul Silas could not. He could easily prove his doubters wrong, but until he does, he might be the biggest question mark on this team.