NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Chris Paul stood before a crowd of potential season ticket buyers who had been invited to watch the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night at a French Quarter restaurant along with New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn, top team executives and sales staff.
``We don't need anybody to tell you the truth,'' Paul said, inciting laughter from the crowd. ``We're fine with what we have now, but if we get somebody, we'll take him.''
The lottery's weighted odds had the Hornets most likely to pick 13th, since they were the second-best of 14 teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs. They were eliminated on the 81st game of the season.
That is precisely where they ended up. Technically, they could have finished as high as first, but the odds of that were six in 1,000.
The Hornets' front office employees who were hoping a stunningly high draft pick would make it easier for them to parley the buzz into ticket sales appeared disappointed as the crowd groaned with the announcement that the Hornets would not be getting help from the lottery.
Hornets general manager Jeff Bower, however, said he knew better than to worry too much about it.
``We're excited about it. We thought all along there are going to be a lot of quality prospects for us,'' Bower said. ``We knew the odds ... and had planned on being in this spot with the work we've done to this point.''
The Hornets expect to be a playoff team next season, regardless of who they get in the June 28 draft. They might have made it this season if not for a rash of injuries that hit starters Peja Stojakovic, David West and Paul, as well as top reserve Bobby Jackson.
Next season also is slated to be the Hornets' first back in New Orleans full-time since the team was displaced by Hurricane Katrina to Oklahoma City.
``At the end of next year, we're not going to be here in the lottery,'' Bower said to the crowd at the restaurant, drawing applause. ``At the end of next year, we're going to be in the playoffs.''
When the Hornets fell to fourth in the 2005 lottery despite having the best odds to get the top pick, they wound up with Paul.
He turned out to be precisely what they needed: A bright, heady and charismatic point guard whose ability to get teammates open shots transformed the Hornets from a league doormat into a team that had a realistic chance to sneak into the playoffs.
David West, who has developed into one of the Hornets' top scorers _ he averaged over 18 points a game last season _ was picked 18th overall in 2003.
Bower declined to say which players he expects to be available at No. 13, but the team soon will to announce a schedule of pre-draft workouts with prospects.
Some of the players likely to be available when the Hornets pick include Southern Cal shooting guard Nick Young, Florida State forward Al Thornton and Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. Georgetown forward Jeff Green and Florida forward Joakim Noah are projected to be taken around the 10th pick, but are players the Hornets would be interested in if they fell a few spots lower.
With Tyson Chandler having developed into one of the most exciting young centers in the league, and with the Hornets having picked Cedric Simmons and Hilton Armstrong _ both front court players _ in last year's first round, a rookie big man might have a tough time getting into the game.
USC's Young, playing shooting guard, might have the best chance to compete to break into the Hornets' rotation behind Devin Brown.
Bower, however, said the Hornets would likely go with the best overall player available at No. 13.
``We'll be looking at the player who can help us one way or another. We're not going to limit ourselves to a particular position,'' Bower said.
``We're really encouraged with last year's picks, but again, we won't limit ourselves,'' he said. ``We won't shy away from a front line player if we feel he can add an element to our team or open the door for other things for us, so we'll look hard at getting the best player for that pick.''