The fallout from Hurricane Katrina will continue to be felt when New Orleans’ other professional sports franchise begins its home schedule more than 700 miles from the devastation.
The Hornets start the season at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Okla., against the Sacramento Kings.
The damage in the Gulf Coast region from the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike this country has forced the Hornets to play 35 “home” games at the Ford Center, and the remaining six at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.
The storm also forced the NFL’s Saints to play home games in other parts of the country, with one game in East Rutherford, N.J., three in San Antonio and four in Baton Rouge.
Some Hornets players are beginning to feel more comfortable playing in the Sooner State.
“This definitely feels like home now,” guard Speedy Claxton said. “I thought it was going to feel like an 82-game road schedule, but it doesn’t, this definitely feels like home.”
Oklahoma City has never had a professional sports franchise. While the NBA and Hornets owner George Shinn have both expressed a desire to return to New Orleans after the season, the relocation agreement includes an option for a second year.
The Hornets are trying to rebound from last season’s 18-64 mark—the second-worst in the league behind the Atlanta Hawks. They used the fourth overall pick in the draft to select guard Chris Paul from Wake Forest.
Paul appeared in 32 games last season with the Demon Deacons, averaging 15.3 points and 6.6 assists. In six preseason games, he averaged 9.2 points and 6.8 assists.
Mason spent four years at Oklahoma State and finished fourth on the school’s all-time list in scoring (1,702), rebounding (795) and steals (158). A first-round pick of the Seattle Supersonics in 2000, Mason averaged a career-best 17.2 points last season with Milwaukee.
Hornets coach Byron Scott hopes adding Paul and Mason will translate into more wins.
“We refuse to go through 18 wins again.” Scott said. “It’s not something that I’m going to tolerate. That means if I have to continue to push hard in practice every day to get these guys to understand what we’re trying to achieve as a basketball team, that’s what I’ll do.”
For some teams, winning 50 games is an impressive feat. For the Kings, however, it signaled a continuing decline and forced the team to reshape its roster.
Sacramento’s win total has gone down each season since posting a franchise-best 61-21 mark in 2001-02.
“The biggest thing for me was trying to get on a team that had a chance to win and win big,” Abdur-Rahim said. “That’s what I want to try and do for the rest of my career. The guys that are already here are accustomed to winning and competing at a high level.”
Abdur-Rahim, who played collegiately for one season at California, appeared in 54 games with Portland last season, averaging 16.8 points. The 1996 first-round pick of the Vancouver Grizzlies has never played in the postseason.
Despite averaging more than 10 points per game last season, Wells developed a reputation as a malcontent and was benched for the Grizzlies’ final two playoff games.
Wells said he is eager to show what kind of player he really is.
“Sacramento has respect around the league for what we do with the ball— how we pass it, how we score, how we move without the ball,” Wells said. “I want to be a part of that. That’s a dream as a basketball player.”
Coming back from last season are Bibby and Stojakovic, easily the team’s most recognizable players.
Bibby averaged a career-best 19.6 points last season. Injuries limited Stojakovic to 66 games, but he managed a team-best 20.1 points per game.
“I think we’ve been able to add pieces that are going to fit together well,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “The challenge this team has is that so many new players have to come together quickly.
“In talking with Shareef and the other players we have, we’re all about trying to win as a team. I’m excited this worked out.”
2004-05 STANDINGS: Kings - 2nd place, 12 GB, Pacific Division. Hornets - 5th place, 41 GB, Southwest Division.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Kings, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 8; Hornets, 121-117, OT. At New Orleans, Baron Davis, later traded to Golden State, had 26 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds for the Hornets. Stojakovic scored a game-high 37 for the Kings.
2004-05 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Kings - 20-21 on the road. Hornets - 11-30 at home.