NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Hornets hardly resemble the team Monty Williams took over as a rookie head coach three seasons ago, from the ownership on down to an overhauled roster featuring the top overall pick in last summer's NBA draft.
It remains to be seen whether a lineup led by rookie Anthony Davis and injury-plagued but prolific guard Eric Gordon can even contend for the playoffs this season. Still, a franchise that arguably led the league in instability a year ago now has a locally rooted owner with deep pockets and a roster with young players locked into multi-year deals, giving them the chance to grow into winners together.
``We have a great future, looking ahead of us - a lot of young guys and it's built for the long run to be very good,'' said Gordon, who is in the first year of a four-year, $58 million contract he signed as a restricted free agent. ``No complaint about that and it's good to be back here feeling like it's a new fresh start.''
Gordon came to the Hornets just before the start of last season as part of a trade that sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers. If the trade did not assure the Hornets a losing 2011-12 season, Gordon's right knee injury did.
Gordon played in only nine games last season and his knee problems, which required surgery, have lingered into this preseason.
Yet Williams has said he still expects Gordon to be the face of the franchise, and Gordon has said he is in good shape overall, resting during the preseason mostly as a precaution.
In the meantime, the rest of a lineup has shown promise during New Orleans' exhibition slate, offering hope for the regular season, which begins at home Oct. 31 against San Antonio.
``You've seen flashes of how good our team can be,'' said rookie guard Austin Rivers, drafted 10th overall. ``We have so many different things that we can do. ... We have tons of shooters, you already know how athletic our team is with our bigs as well. We just have so many different pieces, so we've just got to keep putting it together.''
The ``bigs'' are led by Davis and include two new players acquired by trades: 7-foot center Robin Lopez and 6-10 forward Ryan Anderson.
Davis and Lopez both pride themselves on playing tough defense, while Ryan Anderson can stretch a defense by making 3-pointers in bunches. All three of them can run in transition.
Rivers and Gordon each can play either guard position, and both expect to do so, morphing from scorers to play-making as needed.
The Hornets have another veteran guard in Roger Mason Jr. who can score from outside, as well as rookie small forward Darius Miller, who won a national title with Davis at Kentucky last spring.
Williams looks at the stability provided by new owner Tom Benson, who won a Super Bowl as owner of the NFL's Saints, and the youthful enthusiasm across his roster, and he understands why his team has gone from one shrouded in uncertainty to one overflowing with optimism.
He just doesn't want his players' growth stunted by the weight of expectations set too high, too early.
``I share in that excitement, yet the reality is we have a lot of work to do,'' Williams said.
Davis said his primary objective is to make sure the game remains fun while growing into the best and most adaptable, if not dynamic, player he can be.
Asked what kind of player he is earlier this preseason, Davis responded, ``I don't know what I am. I'm a guy who goes out and plays basketball.''
Davis loves blocking shots, running the floor and soaring over the rim for alley-oop dunks.
Having once played guard before a dramatic growth spurt in high school, he has a smooth mid-range jumper and is open to Williams' decision to have him take turns defending opposing teams' small forwards, which means scrambling around the perimeter to chase shooters rather than hovering near the post.
``He can guard faster guys,'' Williams said. ``He has the length to create some havoc when they shoot the ball.''
And the payoff is leading the break after he has forced an errant shot.
``One thing we want to do, we don't want to run plays after (opponents) miss,'' Davis explained. ``We just want to go ... and try to get an easy bucket.''
That means Davis and Co. should be an entertaining team that fills up highlight reels. If they can also enjoy good health while demonstrating discipline and a sharp learning curve, the winning should accompany the crowd-pleasing action.
``We have great camaraderie,'' Davis said. ``We've got a chance to be a great team.''