The New Orleans Hornets lucked into Anthony Davis, sure, but they also made a ton of shrewd moves to kick-start their rebuilding effort. At the start of the summer, they were a capped-out team with several stray veterans that didn't have much of a future with the organization. At the end of the summer, they were a team with youth, upside and boatloads of cap space. There were some moves that can be questioned, but at the end of the day, general manager Dell Demps has this franchise pointed in the right direction.
Let's take a look at Demps' offseason moves.
DRAFTED ANTHONY DAVIS
The biggest no-brainer of the summer. Let's move on.
DRAFTED AUSTIN RIVERS
This was far from a no-brainer. The Hornets believe Rivers was the best guy on the draft board, and if it means converting him to point guard, so be it. Me? I'm far less convinced. Rivers certainly flashed superstar potential at Duke, but he also struggled to play with his teammates, lacked a consistent jump shot and often struggled finishing against bigger defenders. He has the look of an elite player, but it's not really clear how his talents fit into a team setting.
It's also not entirely clear how he fits into the kind of team the Hornets are building. On the one hand, you always want to take the best talent in the draft. From that standpoint, one could argue that selecting Rivers over a second-tier big man like Meyers Leonard was smart. On the other hand, it's important for there to be an overarching philosophy with a rebuilding team. Draft picks need to fit that philosophy, even if they may duplicate other positions. What concerns me is that the Hornets now have a long-term backcourt of two ball-dominant combo guards (Rivers and Eric Gordon) paired with a franchise cornerstone in Davis that functions best with people setting him up. I'm not entirely sure that the pieces add up here.
Then again, there's plenty of time to work this out, even if Rivers is still struggling with an ankle injury. Worse comes to worse, Rivers can be a sixth man, and you can do worse with the No. 10 pick in the draft.
RE-SIGNED ERIC GORDON
Another no-brainer that was only made complicated because Gordon overplayed his hand and complained about his situation. Gordon wasn't thrilled that the Hornets waited for other teams to make offers, and he also wasn't happy with the Rivers selection. Once he steps on the court with Davis, though, he'll realize how silly he sounded.
TRADED AWAY EMEKA OKAFOR AND TREVOR ARIZA
Okafor and Ariza are potentially competent players owed way too much money over the next two years. Dell Demps found a team desperate for name guys in the Washington Wizards and smartly traded both away. In the short term, the Hornets may miss being able to pencil in these two players in obvious starting spots (small forward and center), but the long-term benefit of having that cap space far outweighs that downgrade.
SIGNED RYAN ANDERSON
This was the first of two transactions that hedge against the possibility of what Davis might become. At this point, Davis is such a physical freak that he could be one of two things. Either he's a lanky super-combo forward that functions best with a space-eater alongside him, or he revolutionizes the center position. Anderson was a signing that makes a ton of sense if Davis turns into the latter kind of player. A different move made this summer accounts for the possibility that Davis turns into the former kind of player.
As noted in our Orlando Magic offseason review, Anderson is very good. People try to denigrate him by saying he's a function of Dwight Howard, and while Anderson certainly benefited from playing with the NBA's best center, that criticism sells his game very short. He moves without the ball beautifully to set himself up for open three-pointers, and he's an excellent rebounder despite his slightness. He's being paid about the same annually as Thaddeus Young, and while the two players are different, they adopt similar roles on good teams.
The question, though, is how he fits in with Davis. In the short term, Monty Williams is going to have to do some mental gymnastics to get Anderson on the floor in a position where he can be successful. His career took off once the Magic realized he was a stretch power forward, not a small forward. How does Williams get Anderson enough court time while also limiting the immediate pounding Davis must take when playing against physical centers? It's going to be interesting to see that play out. If Anderson is forced to play too many minutes at small forward, I think it'll limit his effectiveness.
But I may also be overthinking this. Anderson is a good player signed to a reasonable contract on a rebuilding team that will eventually need good players on reasonable contracts. The position question has plenty of time to be resolved.
TRADED FOR ROBIN LOPEZ AND HAKIM WARRICK
This was the second transactions. Lopez has not been the same player since a foot injury ruined a breakout 2010 season, but he can take up space in the middle. If Davis needs that, Lopez can at least provide it. However, it would also be a mistake for Williams to give Lopez more than 20-25 minutes a game. He's just too limited.
As for Warrick, don't expect him to play much.
LET JARRET JACK DEPART IN A TRADE
The Hornets needed to salary-dump Jack to the Golden State Warriors to create the cap space necessary to pursue Lopez and Warrick, but I think they will miss him this year. Jack had a career year with the Hornets last season, and he's emerged as a crafty pick-and-roll player that can hold the fort down at point guard. Without him, the only true point guard on the roster is Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez had a very good season in 2011-12, but can the Hornets trust him to quarterback a young team? It would have been nice to have Jack around as insurance in case Vasquez or Rivers couldn't get the job done.
SIGNED ROGER MASON
Mason is a quality vet to have around deep on your bench. He revived his career with the Wizards last year and should fill the same role with the Hornets.
One can quibble with some of Demps' individual moves, but on the whole, the Hornets are young, exciting and have tons of cap flexibility. This is how you rebuild a team.