OPINION: When the Hornets lost to Houston on April 26, a long, rough season came to a close.
But for every sunset, there's a sunrise and once the final seconds ticked off the clock that night, the Hornets were set to move onto the 2012-13 season.
And it's one that could be bright, much brighter than this past 21-45 campaign.
There will be tons of cap space. There will be many roster spots. And there will be hope.
When free agency begins July 11, the Hornets will have some decisions to make.
Here's our take on who should stick around and who shouldn't. Of the 12 main players (we didn't consider Jerome Dyson, Lance Thomas or Daryl Watkins....though Dyson is one who should stick around. At least for training camp.).
C Emeka Okafor: Okafor is in a pretty good position, set to make $13.5 million this coming season. He played in only 27 games this year, the second-fewest games in his eight-year career. His 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds averages were career lows. In other words, he's in the perfect position to get amnestied. So, yes, Okafor should get paid for no longer being a Hornet.
F Trevor Ariza: Don't be thrown off by the fact that Ariza was held out the final 10 games. Coach Monty Williams was looking at the youth of the team; he already knows what Ariza can do. Still, you've got to wonder if the relationship was damaged. The team is better defensively when he's on the floor and his veteran leadership is important in a young locker room. He's under contract this season, but could potentially be traded. Personally, we'd keep Ariza around.
G Jarrett Jack: There wasn't a player on the roster last year who took advantage of their time on the court more than Jack. While we wouldn't say he was the most improved, he definitely came out of his shell. In his seventh season, he was as good as he has ever been, averaging career highs in points (15.6), assists (6.3) and rebounds (3.9). His season was cut short by a foot injury. He will be entering a contract year and his leadership, experience and disarming humor are much needed.
F Al-Farouq Aminu: In his second season in the NBA and first with New Orleans, Aminu didn't start out well. He appeared lost and, well, he appeared young. He is only 21 years old. But he improved as the season wore on. While he still made mind-boggling mistakes, he also showed flashes of brilliance. He's young and appears willing to learn. And he's signed this year with a team option in 2013-14. No reason to cut him now. Keep him around.
F/C Jason Smith: No one improved on the Hornets roster this season more than Smith. And he became a fan favorite while doing so. He averaged a career high in points (9.9), rebounds (4.9), blocks (1.0) and minutes (23.7). Coach Monty Williams loves Smith's energy and improvement. He's under contract through 2014-15 and he shouldn't, and likely won't, get cut.
G Xavier Henry: No one is more confounding on the Hornets roster than Henry. He looks the part he has size and athleticism. But darn. Every time he tries to do something it seems to end in an air ball or a bad shot. Yet, he just turned 21 and finished his second year after leaving Kansas as an early entry into the NBA. Williams likely will want at least one more year with him to see if he's just young or just not NBA material.
F Gustavo Ayon: A project when he signed, he outpaced expectation within his first month as a Hornet. Despite not being used to an NBA season, especially a lockout-crunched one, he averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. According to 82games.com, the Hornets were nearly six points worse with him off the floor than on it over a 48-minute period. 'Goose' will definitely be around next year.
G Greivis Vasquez: In regard to head-scratching players, you could put Vasquez on that list. But not necessarily in a bad way. Vasquez had six double-doubles this year. He was thrust into a starting role 26 times and ended up averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 assists per game. What was confounding, though, was his inability to take care of the ball; he finished with a 2.34 turnover-per-game average. He has a bright future, at the very least, as a first or second man off the bench. He should be kept around.
C Chris Kaman: Now out of contract, it'll be interesting to see if the Hornets try to keep him around. Kaman likely won't be interested in taking a pay cut to play in New Orleans and this past season, he costs them $14 million. He averaged 13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 47 games this season. The Hornets actually averaged more points with him off the court, but so too did the opponents, according to 82games.com. Should the Hornets want him back? We think so. Will he come back? Good question.
F Carl Landry: For a stretch this past season, Landry remained sidelined with various injuries. Williams, during that time, said he was trying to find out which players could play through pain. Landry came back and by the end of the season, hit his stride. He's a free agent but he fits nicely into the Hornets rotation. He gives them muscle off the bench and the crowd reason to be energetic. Keeping him around isn't a must, but it wouldn't be a bad idea.
G Marco Belinelli: The outside shot artist finished 16th in the NBA in 3-pointer made this season with 107. But for everything he might make on offense, he lets up on defense. When he's playing shooting guard, which is his main position, the opponent usually gets the better of him. He's not close to the team's best defender. We think the team should move on from him.
G Eric Gordon: Here's the big question do you think Gordon will be able to play at least 80 percent of a season? If you do, then this is a no-brainer. You pay the restricted free agent everything you possibly can and hope he sticks around. If you don't, then you've got a decision to make. It's undeniable that he's a game-changing guard. He can create his own shot and he's confident down the stretch. But the 23-year-old fourth-year pro has played more than 60 games only once. This past season, he was in only nine games. In the end, he's too tantalizing to pass up. The Hornets should pay the man and try to keep him around.