Hornets' overhaul gives Paul more options

Saturday, October 28th 2006, 7:40 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ After a brilliant rookie year, Chris Paul has a theory about the upcoming season: If opponents want to focus on him, they're going to run into loads of trouble with the rest of the Hornets' improved lineup.

For the second straight offseason, the team's roster has undergone a massive overhaul. Through the draft, trades and free agency, there are six newcomers this season. Only one player, David West, remains from Byron Scott's first season in New Orleans.

``I think we've just added a lot more pieces to the puzzle to help this team out,'' said Paul, the NBA's rookie of the year last season.

It all started with the drafting of Paul with the No. 4 pick last year. The Hornets then added Rasual Butler and Desmond Mason in offseason trades and picked up other role players during the course of a 38-44 run last season _ a 20-game turnaround from 2004-05.

New Orleans used its two first-round picks this year to bolster the frontcourt with Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, then acquired sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, center Tyson Chandler and guards Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo.

``We have so many different people who can score,'' Paul said. ``If you're concentrated on one person, it's going to be a long night.''

Scott, in his third year with the Hornets, said he doesn't expect too many changes for Paul, who led all rookies last season in scoring (16.1), assists (7.8), double-doubles (23) and triple-doubles (2) and the had the most steals in the NBA.

``The only thing that I told him is I want him to be even more aggressive with the ball this year because I know he can find people if that lane collapses,'' Scott said. ``He's going to find guys that are wide open.''

The offseason acquisitions were aimed at loading up on players who could make that open shot. The Hornets ranked 25th in the league last season in 3-point percentage and 28th in 3-pointers made.

Stojakovic is a 40 percent 3-point shooter for his career, while Pargo and Jackson also provide outside threats. The Hornets also brought back Butler, the team's top 3-point shooter last season and the only free agent they re-signed.

``It makes things a lot easier just knowing that we have so many more options out there,'' Paul said.

Scott said he thinks opponents last season eventually decided to focus on two areas to stop the Hornets: slowing down Paul on the fast break, and harassing West in the half court. With their two top scorers contained, the Hornets had trouble producing other offense _ sometimes for extended stretches.

The Hornets hope that isn't the case anymore.

``We've got a lot more weapons from the perimeter that can make shots,'' Scott said. ``I think it opens it up more for Chris.''

The problem for the Hornets this preseason has been injuries. New Orleans didn't have its full starting lineup together until its final preseason game, as Stojakovic (thigh), West (ankle) and Chandler (ankle) all missed time.

That's put the team behind schedule as it prepares to play its second season with time split between Oklahoma City and New Orleans. The season opener and five other games will be played at the New Orleans Arena, with the other 35 in Oklahoma City.

The season opener is Nov. 1 in Boston.

``You don't expect us to jell right away and in a couple weeks be a perfect team,'' Stojakovic said. ``This is a young team with a lot of new guys. It's going to take some time for us to become a team.''