General Manager Dell Demps and Coach Monty Williams both come from the San Antonio organization and, in many ways, model this franchise on that one, hoping to replicate the same success through finding the right pieces, the right attitudes, and employing the right system–starting from the ground up. Consider their model, the Spurs, which, in 1995-1996, were 59-23, ultimately losing in the Western Conference semi-finals. The next year, their superstar center, David Robinson, went down with an injury, and the team was 20-62, and failed to even make the playoffs. That offseason, the ping pong balls delivered them Tim Duncan. The next season, with Robinson back, the Spurs went on to a 56-23 season, and again made it to the Western Conference semis. The following year the Spurs won it all. And from there, a dynasty was born, with 4 Larry O’Briens in 9 years.
Is Monty the next Popovich? Will injured shooting guard Eric Gordon be our David Robinson? And will one or both of our ping pong balls deliver us the League’s next superstar? I don’t know. But I believe this team, with all its injuries, bad luck, and lack of practice time, will come back next year: hungry, angry, rested, practiced, and ready to demolish the rest of the League. If there’s one thing that can be said about this team is that it tries. Some losing teams give up; you can see it in their play, and in the looks on their faces. Not these guys. Their effort, night to night, and coming so close, again and again, is admirable. So, next year, assuming the team is healthy, I expect the Hornets to return to the Playoffs. But, that said, how do we, as fans, survive this season? And as an esteemed member of the Hornets’ Twitter group, #twittersection asked last night, why do we come back next year? Because there is plenty to enjoy, losses be damned. America derides losses, but sometimes loses the trees for the forest.
All we have to do is just be fans. It’s not that hard. You think Belinelli worries about the last shot he missed? You think Okafor wonders on each defensive rotation whether he blocked the last shot that came his way? We all love basketball. We need to do that. Let’s love what we can, and let the rest fall away. I’ve been told repeatedly by casual fans that they love the experience of the Hornets games, win or lose. Bring the kids. Cheer loud. Enjoy the Arena’s house jazz band. Enjoy the middle school drum line. Cross your fingers that the halftime show is that lady that tosses the bowls on her head. Enjoy the Mardi Gras Baby, King, and Jester race, the dance cam, and the kiss cam. It’s all part of the basketball experience. There’s no reason more serious basketball fans can’t do the same thing. Join the cheers, clap, and berate Dick Bavetta and the other Donaghy-type refs. And if you’re watching at home, crack a beer (or five) and watch (or tweet or live-blog) with friends. Talk about what works, criticize what doesn’t. But just watch the sport, and keep your eyes off the final score.
Above all, let go of your expectations. Don’t get wrapped up in hoping for wins in this 2011-2012 season. As ADAA champion, Peter La Fleur, once said: “I found that if you have a goal, that you might not reach it. But if you don’t have one, then you are never disappointed. And I gotta tell ya, it feels phenomenal.” Look how that worked out for La Fleur: he ended up winning it all. Regardless, that’s how Hornets fans will survive this season: no expectations. Don’t focus on the outcome, but the moment-to-moment minutia that made you love basketball in the first place.
Marvel at the improvement in Okafor’s offensive game. Appreciate those times Jack finds the right shots just behind a screener and pulls up for a mid-range, open jumper; and his fast penetration dribble that causes problems, making the right pass once he draws in the defenders; rather than those other times when he dribbles the ball at the top of the key for 20 seconds. Cheer for Marco off the bench to hit those trademark off-balance jumpers, and those long threes that send the Italian flags running around the arena. Watch Aminu grow into the NBA game, using his length and athleticism to defend and rebound, and look for that moment when he will figure out his offensive role, and the purpose that will make him dangerous. Smile at Jason Smith’s open jumpers hitting bottom, followed by a vicious block on the other end; and stop being surprised when he takes his man off the dribble and throws it down. Stand up and holler like a madman when Vasquez and Ayon take over games with their high energy offense-defense tandem: Ayon slipping the pick and Vasquez making a bounce pass through traffic for an easy lay-in, Ayon getting the deflection on the other end, and outletting to Vasquez on a break, which ends in the athletic Summers dunking it over a scrambling defender. Take pride in the success hard work can bring, as evidenced by 29-year-old rookie and Nola product, Squeaky Johnson, leading the second unit. Watch Xavier Henry work his way back into the rotation after injury, and believe everything will be okay once Gordon does the same. Above all, enjoy the passion with which this team plays moment-to-moment, working so hard to play their best. Because, as fans, what more can we ask?
It’s okay, Hornets fans. It’s not always about the wins. Some seasons, it’s just not in the cards. But, if you love the sport, seeing three-fourths of a great game from your team can be enough. Take a deep breath, enjoy what you can, get mad when the defense doesn’t rotate fast enough or the refs blow a call. But don’t sweat it when the team loses by 2, again. Believe this is just one season. One Lockout-shortened season. With current team owner, Stern, picking those ping pong balls in June. Think back to the conspiracy theories about how the Knicks got Ewing and the Spurs got Duncan. Believe it’s our turn next. That’s part of your solace.
Let the anger and frustration from the results wash away. It’s all we can do. Unless you can hoop better than these guys and can finagle a try-out before the add deadline, you can’t control the outcome, you can only watch. But you can survive. As New Orleanians know, sometimes that’s enough.
So watch the games, get excited, and cheer for the Hornets on every play. Our guys are trying hard, they deserve our support. If you watch, you will still see great basketball and be entertained. Just don’t expect wins. Not this year. But that’s okay. Sometimes the trip is more important than the destination. Winners are forged in fire. What today’s ordeal brings will be bound to tomorrow’s successes. So hang tight. We’re in this together. The team is frustrated, the fans are frustrated. But believe that this will make us all stronger.
Believe that this season is an aberration; ignore the standings. Have no expectations other than to watch an intense competition. Enjoy the little things done right this year. Because it is those things, combined with health and some talented new rookies, that will lead to success next year. That’s how Hornets fans survive the 2011-2012 season.