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Last Man Standing 

Power forward David West is the only player from the pre-Katrina season who remains on the roster for the Hornets' return to New Orleans.

How about a little jaunt down memory lane? Jackson Vroman. Casey Jacobsen. Lee Nailon. Dan Dickau.

What? No memories? None at all?

Vroman, Jacobsen, Nailon and Dickau were all members of the last Hornets team to play an entire home schedule in New Orleans. As such, they were responsible for the most recent batch of remembrances supplied to the city's professional basketball fans at the New Orleans Arena.

They were also a record-setting bunch. The 2004-05 Hornets finished with a record of 18-64, the fewest victories in franchise history, fewer than even the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.

Only one player who endured that forgettable season remains on the current roster, which is a testament not just to his ability but also to the significant upheaval the team has undergone in such a short span.

That one player is power forward David West, a former first-round draft pick from Xavier (Ohio) University who has a first-person account of the three-year odyssey that took the rebuilding Hornets from pre-Katrina New Orleans to an alien Midwest city " one that enthusiastically adopted the team for two seasons " and then from Oklahoma City back to a storm-altered New Orleans.

'If you knew what New Orleans was like before, you can see that the people here really embrace this place," West says. 'The people who live here and are from here, they love this place. They want to see it return to what it was, maybe even better, and we're just here to aid in that process."

The Hornets' last full season in New Orleans may have been only three years ago, but to West it might as well have been three decades. In that time, he's seen more players come and go than an NBA usher, and it's easy to see why he doesn't have total recall of the franchise's worst season ever.

'We knew that year was going to be that way," West says. 'We wanted to go in a different direction and just start over. I barely remember that 18-win season, because [the current Hornets] weren't here; it's not even in their minds."

That's for the best. The 2004-05 season was a massive roster demolition project " all that was missing was the dynamite and the detonators. And the entire messy process was played out in front of the fans during the course of an interminable 82-game season.

During that ignominious year, the Hornets traded veterans Darrell Armstrong and David Wesley and malcontented veterans Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. In return, they received a collection of young, unproven players and a handful of veterans who had no intention of ever playing for the Hornets.

Predictably, fan support suffered. The Hornets finished last in the league in attendance. For Byron Scott, who was in his first year as the Hornets head coach, it was tantamount to razing one structure in order to raise a better one.

'We made a bunch of changes because we knew we had to," Scott says. 'I think when we did that you probably lost some of your fans because you're losing almost every night. We're bringing back a different cast this year, a much better cast, a team that's ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win. So the fans will start coming back."

Fan support was never an issue in the Hornets' temporary home of Oklahoma City. The Sooner State, which doesn't have a major professional sports team based within its borders, was smitten with its unexpected guests. During the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons at the Ford Center, the team finished 11th and 15th in the league in attendance, respectively, out of 30 teams.

'You have to take your hat off to Oklahoma City because they embraced us, they treated us like we had been there for years," Scott says. 'They supported us over those two seasons. It was a humbling experience. On the other hand, you were always thinking about home with the people of New Orleans."

The current Hornets, with the exception of West, found themselves in the most unusual of professional sports circumstances, playing for a city (or at least one of their cities " the team officially became known as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for those two seasons) in which they had never regularly practiced or played. West says that as this season approached, his uninitiated teammates solicited his input about New Orleans.

'I'm not trying to sway them one way or the other," West says. 'Everyone has to experience it for themselves. But for the most part, guys are just looking forward to the opportunity to be down here. I know a lot of guys are just curious about this part of the country. I think it's a healthy curiosity."

West, who formerly lived in River Ridge and now resides in Kenner, says he and his wife have toured the city since they returned. He says the big blow that New Orleans sustained from Hurricane Katrina is still evident. He doesn't have an inflated sense of importance about the Hornets' place in the city's struggle to recover, but he says that doesn't mean they can't be relevant.

'We know the situation that the city's in," West says. 'We're just going to try to serve our purpose " we're going to help in the community. When people come in here (to the New Orleans Arena) we just got to make sure we're prepared as well as we can be and go out and put on a good show and entertain them for a couple hours."

And maybe create some new, more lasting memories than the last time out.

Adam Norris is a sports anchor with WGNO, ABC26 in New Orleans.

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