Thursday, 18 April 2013 16:38

End of New Orleans Hornets era, will Benson find old-Saints in new Pelicans

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benson-boogie1Today's theme, at least in New Orleans, is out with the old and in with the new. The Hornets lost to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night to end a dismal 27-55 season, but on Thursday morning the New Orleans Pelicans are undefeated and looking skyward. At midnight, the Hornets turned into a pumpkin likely to be returned to Charlotte, and Tom Benson's new Pelicans franchise officially opened for business.

Those of us familiar with Benson's purchase of the Saints in 1985 see some juicy similarities between then and when he bought his way into the NBA. When Benson bought the Saints from John Mecom Jr., he kept the football staff, including Coach Bum Phillips, in place until another Bum season led Benson to purge the closet. Benson wasted no time in putting his own team together, hiring Jim Finks shortly before the Super Bowl. Finks hired Jim Mora, Billy Kuharich and an enthusiastic young contracts guy from the NFL Management Council and it was wall-to-wall football in New Orleans. Benson did not have to reach so far in putting together a management team to run the basketball operations, having the luxury of solid leadership in the persons of Mickey Loomis and Dennis Lauscha who are responsible for overseeing GM Dell Demps and Coach Monty Williams.

Having the right management team in place did not mean instant success for the Saints. The team went 7-9 in Mora's first year, but the Saints led in the fourth quarter of four eventual losses. First-year rookies such as Dalton Hilliard, Reuben Mayes, Pat Swilling and Jim Dombrowski matured rapidly the next year joining veterans Bobby Hebert, Eric Martin, Morten Andersen and Stan Brock in a dream 12-3 season and the first playoff appearance in team history.

The first season of Benson's NBA ownership revealed similar flashes of optimism such as the addition of a young franchise player in Anthony Davis and the emergence of solid starters such as Greivis Vasquez and Ryan Anderson. Eric Gordon has the ability, but his injury situation and his attitude are both troubling. His value might come in a trade for a contributing veteran. Austin Rivers is young and might develop into a solid starter, and the team will have another lottery pick in the upcoming draft. An addition such as power forward Anthony Bennett of UNLV could provide another young stud to build around.

The Pelicans probably will go through a season similar to the Saints' first year under Finks and Mora, showing improvement with a record hovering around .500. And then the next year, playoffs and beyond. That was Benson's formula with the Saints, and it would be a good one to replicate with the Pelicans.

His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores, at and at his website:


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