Of all the teams that found themselves decimated by injuries last season, it might have been most lamentable for this team.
Firstly, it was their last season in Oklahoma City and it would have been a fitting end to see them in the post-season before they headed back home to New Orleans.
Secondly, as a result of this team's record, Chris Paul has been leapfrogged by Deron Williams in the minds of many as the better of the two point guards.
Lastly, though, it feels most unfortunate because even though this team was consistently hampered by injuries, they never threw in the towel on the season. They never allowed the idea of injuries to derail their efforts to reach the Playoffs. At a time when only Tyson Chandler was around to carry this team, he did to the best of his abilities and when Paul and David West both returned to the lineup they still had a fighting shot at playing past April.
In the end they finished three games back of the Golden State Warriors - and of the Playoffs - and now look towards 2007-2008 with all of the confidence a year together under your belt can offer.
That familiarity will be most beneficial to Paul. A point guard like Paul, who runs the show in a far more improvisational fashion than Williams, needs all of the comfort with his teammates he can get in order to maximize their potential. Each year under his belt in an NBA uniform leaves him a little bit better equipped than the year before (although 17.3 ppg and 8.9 apg is a fine place to be right now). While he's already a polished playmaker despite only two seasons to his name, he can still find a way to utilize his own offense better. He definitely needs to find his spots on the floor and stick to them in an attempt to get his percentages up and he needs time on the court with his oft-injured brothers-in-arms if he is to figure out how much the team even needs from him offensively.
To help to that end it would be nice if Peja Stojakovic can avoid going out for the season after only a smattering of games in November. His outside shot could do wonders to open up the floor for Paul's penetration and even pull defenders away from David West and his mid-range game. Theoretically Peja should be this team's first or second highest scorer per game, and in order for that to happen he is going to have to be healthy enough to play.
It is especially important for Peja to stay healthy because outside of the starting five this team doesn't have much depth available to make up for injuries. The Hornets basically swapped Desmond Mason and Devin Brown for Morris Peterson this summer and drafted Julian Wright and then stood pat. There isn't much to offer teams as a threat off of the bench and that could come back to hurt this team down the road.
So that means that this team, with its history of injuries, now has to play its starters heavy minutes in order to stay competitive enough to challenge for a Playoff spot in the West. It would be somewhat foolhardy to expect anyone in the West to really fall out of their top-eight spot if they had one last year, so that means that the Hornets have to try and steal a spot from one of those teams. To do that they are going to have to exhaust their main guys and hope that everyone stays healthy enough to complete 82 competitive games in an insanely competitive Division within a very strong Conference. This isn't a case of 'it can't be done', merely a classic case of an uphill battle, personified.
This team does have a reason for hope, though. In the last two seasons, with basically the same level of talent, they have only narrowly missed the Playoffs. Going into the season Tyson Chandler has to feeling a whole lot more confident than he did this time last year. Morris Peterson has something to prove after a down year in Toronto. David West wants to regain the recognition he was attaining in his bid for Most Improved two seasons ago. And, of course, Chris Paul wants to remind everyone why only twelve months ago they were calling him the best pure point guard outside of Kidd and Nash. There are a number of teams that would like to have that kind of oomph heading into November in an attempt to crash the post-season.