NEW ORLEANS -- There are many lessons that can be learned from a 49-33 season and a first-round playoff ouster, especially for a team with much loftier expectations. But sitting in front of his locker after a recent preseason game, Hornets point guard
"Health," Paul said. "I don't think people know the importance of health. You lose a guy for nine or 10 games at a time, and it just kills you."
"We were just never able to get into a rhythm," Paul said. "It felt like every time we started to build some momentum, someone else went down."
The most costly victim of the injury bug was Chandler, the human pogo stick of a center who was the linchpin of the defense, and Paul's favorite pick-and-roll partner on offense. In '07-08, Paul and Chandler connected on a league-high 107 alley-oop dunks. Despite missing 37 games last season, Chandler still threw down 65 of Paul's lobs -- 24 more than the next best duo,
But with a sore ankle plaguing Chandler's '08-09 season (he went from 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds in '07-08 to 8.8 and 8.7 last season) and an arthritic toe (at least according to the doctors with Oklahoma City, who vetoed a February trade for Chandler) threatening his career, the Hornets decided to cut their ties. Chandler was out;
"No question, we are going to miss some of the things Tyson did for us," coach
Indeed, while Okafor may not have Chandler's natural athleticism, he is a far more polished offensive player. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound Okafor is comfortable in the low post and can score off of both shoulders. He's a threat to shoot from 15 feet and is one of three players --
"We need our key guys to stay on the floor," Paul said.
They also need them to develop chemistry. One of the keys to the Hornets' surprising 56-win season in '07-08 was the fluidity with which Paul, West and Chandler played together. Paul and Chandler rarely made eye contact during one of their morale-crushing alley-oops, and Chandler's offensive rebounding skills made him the perfect complement to West's low-post presence.
While Okafor ran the pick-and-roll frequently with Charlotte point guards
"No question, we are all going to have to make some adjustments," West said. "We have to find a way to work Emeka in as quickly as we can."
That could mean allowing Paul to carry the team for a while. Besides incorporating Okafor, the Hornets will have a second new starter (third-year forward
"The idea was that anything Chris could do with his right hand, we wanted him to do with his left," Ravin said.
As for Paul's conditioning, Ravin says it's the best of his career.
"When you watch him work out, you think 'Yeah, he's in really good shape,' " Ravin said. "But when you watch him work out with other people, you say, 'Wow, this guys is in
Said Paul: "This is an important year for us. We're the underdog again. Last year, everybody expected us to do a lot; now this year we're kind of being counted out. That's good for us. That's going to make us hungry. We're not all hungry yet, but we'll get there."