General Manager Dell Demps, who said last week the New Orleans Hornets are going to look at every possible way to make the team better, may find all the help he needs in free agency.
After getting hammered inside by the Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and not getting enough perimeter scoring, it is apparent the Hornets need improved depth at center and better overall play at shooting guard.
In free agency, they could have their pick between former Hornets’ center Tyson Chandler or Memphis Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol.
At shooting guard, they could pursue Orlando’s Jason Richardson or Atlanta Hawks’ Jamal Crawford, who will become unrestricted free agents July 1. They could improve their bench with the addition of Caron Butler or former Hornets guard Marcus Thornton, whom thwy traded in February to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Carl Landry.
Of course, Demps and Coach Monty Williams remain vague toward plans. The threat of a work stoppage looms if a new labor agreement is not approved by June 30.
They don’t know what rules could be in play regarding how much they could offer a free agent, or if the current luxury tax threshold will remain under a new deal.
“We want good players — that’s the goal,’’ Demps said. “I think when you look at some of the really good teams in the league, they have four or five big guys that are producing and helping. I think that will be what we look to do to our roster.”
To lure Gasol, a 7-footer, away from Memphis, the Hornets would have to make an offer the Grizzlies would be unwilling to match. Gasol, who made $3.4 million this season, has increased his value by helping the Grizzlies upset No. 1 seeded San Antonio in the first round. Through eight playoff games, Gasol has averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Chandler’s value also has increased, as he has given the Mavericks solid play in the playoffs, especially with his defensive play, against the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. The Mavericks lead the series 3-0 and can clinch it today. In the final year of his contract, Chandler made $12.7 million this season.
Under then-general manager Jeff Bower in 2009, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for current starting center Emeka Okafor.
Resulting from the trade, there is a chance Chandler still could have some ill feelings toward the franchise that gave up on him after he struggled to overcome ankle problems during the 2008-09 season, his final in New Orleans.
However, before a game against the Hornets in April, Chandler said he still loves New Orleans and their fans and still regards point guard Chris Paul as one of his best friends.
“Chris is the kind of guy you need to put athletes and shooters around,’’ said Williams said. “There were certain things that the Lakers exposed and everybody thinks we are supposed to add that. But the Lakers are the Lakers. There are certain things we did that exposed their flaws.
“It’s easy to say you’ve got to get this. But in getting it, does it fit with what we do? That’s the evaluation process that’s going to take place between now and when we do it.’’
Whether they explore free agency or seek trades, they want players that can defend, Williams said.
“There is no need in having a guy who can flat-out knock down shots, but he couldn’t guard a bike if he was riding it,’’ Williams said. “There’s no need having that guy, because he’s not going to like me.’’
With that in mind, the Hornets may not pursue players such as Thornton, who is not considered to be an exceptional defender.
Hornets starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who shot only 36.5 percent from the field during the playoffs, will become a restricted free agent, along with forward-center Jason Smith, who averaged 2.3 points off the bench against the Lakers.
Backup shooting guard Willie Green will become an unrestricted free agent but wants to return. Landry also becomes a free agent. Backup center Aaron Gray, who was effective off the bench against Lakers, can opt out of his contract June 30, as can forward David West, the team’s leading scorer before a knee injury ended his season.
“I think we are trying to establish a place where people want to come to play and like our style of play,’’ Demps said. “You can’t control that, but we’ll have to find that out in free agency.’’