In the 2004-05 NBA regular season, the New Orleans Hornets floundered, recording a 18–64 record. They would go on to snag the fourth overall pick in the lottery, and with that pick they drafted point guard Chris Paul out of Wake Forest. Out of an otherwise middling draft class, Paul would go on to be the marquis player of the bunch, posting over 200 win shares, which is ninth all-time and 122 more than anyone else in his class.
His incredible passing talent and court vision would help him lead the league in both assists and steals in his third and fourth seasons. His high level of play was exactly what the Hornets had needed, and as they began to tailor the roster to Paul’s skillset, their regular season win totals quickly skyrocketed. In 2008, Paul and company lifted their team to a 56–26 record, which still stands as the best regular season in the franchise’s 20-year history.
A pair of early postseason exits in 2008 and 2009 at the hands of the Spurs and Mavericks and a stretch of terrible team play to start the 2009-10 season led to the firing of head coach Byron Scott, who had tenured for all five years of Paul’s career. To start the next season, the Hornets hired Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Monty Williams to take the job.
Again, the Hornets made the postseason, and again, the team underperformed, losing in six games to the Lakers. As soon as the offseason started in July of 2010, Paul requested a trade. Judging by the list of teams he preferred as destinations, he wanted to go to a big market that already possessed or could attract a better supporting cast.
Then, in December, Hornets’ owner George Shinn gave up control of the franchise and sold it to the NBA, as the challenge of marketing a professional basketball team in Louisiana had grown untenable.
The league’s commissioner, David Stern, then, would have the final say on Paul’s situation. A three-team trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers was accepted by all sides but Stern, who vetoed the deal. In the end, it would take a full year of sitting out games for Paul to get himself out of town: in December 2011, he and two second-round picks were traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2012 first-round pick.
With their own record standing at a dismal 21–45, the Hornets had the fourth-best chance at 13% to win the first overall pick, and they did. With the pick the team selected Kentucky power forward Anthony Davis. A generational talent, Davis’ time in New Orleans mirrored Paul’s in many ways: a maximum contract, playoff appearances and, ultimately, a trade request involving the Lakers.
This time, the trade went through, but the bounty for New Orleans this time was much more impactful than the 2011 haul, because the 2019 haul included multiple first-round picks that would prove to be within the top 10 each of the last three years.
That Minnesota first-rounder would turn into the tenth overall pick, with which the Hornets selected Austin Rivers, who would ultimately be traded for Quincy Pondexter, who would then be traded for salary cap room.
This is but a microcosm of how the Hornets would mismanage the picks and the players they received when Tom Benson purchased the team in 2012. Because he put all of his Saints’ staff in charge of the Hornets, and eventually the Pelicans, they were rarely successful in the NBA. They had no understanding of the NBA, and this all came to a head with Benson’s death in 2018.
His wife, Gayle Benson, assumed control of both franchises and attempted to rectify the issue by hiring David Griffin in 2019. He had won with the Cavaliers, and is currently attempting to rebuild the Pelicans with the tools left at his disposal as a result of the Anthony Davis trade, a pyrrhic victory for the Lakers and a blessing in disguise for the Pelicans.