Hornets comfortable splitting time between two homes
BETHANY, Okla. -- As Chris Paul sat down for another interview and David West posed for a few more snapshots, Hornets coach Byron Scott reminded his two young stars that there'd be a fine if they were late for the team's flight in less than an hour.
After two hours of questions and answers, flashbulbs and fanfare, the Hornets still weren't done. They still had another hometown to attend to.
The team spent the morning Monday in Oklahoma City and then flew to New Orleans to meet with media there before the start of training camp. The Hornets will again split time between the two cities -- playing 35 home games in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans. But this time they'll have the comfort of knowing what to expect in Oklahoma City's previously untapped market instead of being dropped into uncertainty on the brink of the season.
"I think it makes it easier because now we have a pretty good feel on how it's going to be. Everything was new to us last year," said Scott, who assured Paul and West he was only kidding about the fines. "It's just like being married in your first year. You're still trying to get to know each other, but the second year at least you know each other a little bit better."
Most of the Hornets' players have already been in Oklahoma City training together for weeks, getting in shape and getting to know each other. Even such simple preparations weren't possible last year, after Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans in late August.
"Everybody was kind of all over the place at that time. I think a lot of guys were just about to come to New Orleans when the hurricane hit," Scott said.
The Hornets plan to spend their first week of training camp in New Orleans, getting reacquainted with the city while staying together in a downtown hotel one block from the French Quarter.
Scott, who still owns a home in suburban New Orleans, checked into the hotel with the team. He felt last year that staying together in a hotel in Oklahoma City helped build team chemistry during training camp.
Still, he planned to check on his house in the suburbs. Scott had put the house up for sale, but now expects to take it off the market, he said Monday night, citing NBA commissioner David Stern's intention for the Hornets to return to New Orleans full-time next fall.
Scott said that is why he supported opening training camp in New Orleans, even if only a few games would be there this year and all playoff games, should the team do that well, would be in Oklahoma City.
"I thought it was very important for us to be here. We've got to reconnect with the city. We've got to reconnect with the fans," Scott said after the team arrived at its New Orleans hotel. "We've got a bunch of new players that haven't played a game here. The fans have got to get familiar with these players and I think once it's all said and done they're going to fall in love with these guys because they're great people and they're going to be a great basketball team."
There are plenty of new faces. Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo came in as free agents while Tyson Chandler was acquired in an offseason trade with Chicago. Rookies Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, both first-round picks, are also expected to play in the team's rotation.
Since the end of an 18-64 season in 2004-05, the Hornets have an entirely new starting lineup through a massive overhaul.
"It's a completely different attitude, but it's also still another building block," Scott said. "We're still trying to get to a San Antonio and Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat type of level. In order to do that, you've got to make certain changes. Once those changes are there and in place, then you just try to add to it.
"Hopefully this starting team will be here for a while and we'll just keep adding pieces to it to make us a better team."
The Hornets start their season with two road games before home openers in New Orleans on Nov. 5 and Oklahoma City on Nov. 7.
"It's good to have one home but having two is even better -- more fans, more opportunities, more support," forward Desmond Mason said. "I think being able to go back to New Orleans and play there and continue to build the spirits and morale of the city and also let them know that we're there for them, it's going to be wonderful. And then Oklahoma City, last year I think spoke for itself."
Eighteen of the team's 36 games in Oklahoma City sold out last season as the city got its first taste of major league sports.
The NBA has said the Hornets will return to New Orleans next season, and the team has been working to gauge corporate support and interest in season tickets as the city rebuilds.
"It's gradually coming. I still feel very positive that everything is going to be fine," owner George Shinn said. "It just takes time."
Last season, the Hornets played home games in four different cities and did their best to block out possible distractions about the team's uncertain future. They finished 38-44 after the biggest turnaround in the NBA.
"We understand that our job is to play basketball," said West, who led the team with a 17.1-point average. "None of us are going to make the decision whether we stay in Oklahoma or whether we're going to go back to New Orleans. None of us have that power. We've got the power to help people cheer for us, make people want to come watch us play. I think that's what we've got to focus on."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press