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Hornets facing home away from home year

New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott talks with his players following practice. The Hornets season opener will be Tuesday in their temporary home in Oklahoma City.
New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott talks with his players following practice. The Hornets season opener will be Tuesday in their temporary home in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — With everything tucked inside one giant rental van, the Hornets left hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and headed for Oklahoma City. For now, at least, this is home.

The Hornets will play 35 of their home games this season in the Ford Center here, and another six in Baton Rouge, La., while repairs are made to their home city and the New Orleans Arena.

In a profession in which players get 48 hours to move from one city to another after they're traded, the transition is pretty much over. It's been two months since Katrina struck, and the Hornets will complete their fourth week in Oklahoma City when they open the season at home Tuesday.

"This definitely feels like home now," point guard Speedy Claxton said. "I thought it was going to feel like an 82 road-game schedule, but it doesn't. This definitely feels like home."

At first the players were living in a hotel, but many since have found their own places in town. Forward Chris Andersen has moved six of his cars to Oklahoma City. Claxton, an avid bowler, is more comfortable now that he's found an alley he likes.

It was getting here that took the most effort.

After Katrina hit, former general manager Allan Bristow and three others went to salvage what they could from the Hornets' practice facility.

"They went out and rented the biggest U-Haul they could get, and they loaded it up literally from one end to the other," equipment manager David Jovanovic said. "There was no more room."

For the most part, everything from the practice facility was unharmed. But anything at the arena — from gym shorts and shoes to washers and dryers — was lost. All told, Jovanovic lost about one-third of his equipment. About half of the training room supplies and 90 percent of the team's video equipment were destroyed.

Jovanovic took about 10 days to tend to his own family's home, which was "half-destroyed." The family cats were retrieved, the carpet pulled up, the walls torn down. Right now, he says he has a new roof "but I have no sides to my house."

After taking care of his family, he's been dealing with the Hornets full time. Once Oklahoma City was chosen as the new home, he was on the scene unpacking the truck and making arrangements to get the team ready to go.

"We were shipping players' shoes, we were shipping the rest of our equipment," Jovanovic said. "We needed Gatorade. We needed bottled water. We needed coolers. We needed taping supplies. We needed taping tables. We needed whirlpools. We needed all these things, and the moment we could get someone an address, we were calling someone saying, 'Ship this here."'

The Hornets started practice at their new training facility on Oct. 4, and it's been relatively smooth sailing ever since. A few items have gone missing, but the Hornets have made do or ordered a replacement. There's still some adjustments to be made. The team hadn't played in its home arena until this week.

"I think we'd probably like to be a little bit more in a comfort zone, but you know what? We're getting there," Jovanovic said. "Every day, we're getting more comfortable with our surroundings, and that's what we're trying to do really. It'll all work out. There's no question about it."

The uprooting has in some ways brought the team closer together. They've had to rely on one another to navigate around Oklahoma City. Hornets coach Byron Scott initially said he might take it easy on his team until the players could get settled. But, after a light first day, Scott was pushing his team on Day 2 of training camp, trying to improve on last year's 18-64 record, the second-worst mark in the league.

The Hornets hope first-round draft pick Chris Paul will help push the tempo in Scott's offense, and they traded former All-Star center Jamaal Magloire this week to the Milwaukee Bucks for athletic forward Desmond Mason to fit into the scheme, too.

"We refuse to go through 18 wins. It's not something that I'm going to tolerate," Scott said. "That means if I have to continue to push hard in practice every day to get these guys to understand what we're trying to achieve as a basketball team, that's what I'll do."

There's no telling if or when the Hornets might load up another truck and head back to New Orleans. The NBA and Hornets owner George Shinn both have expressed their desire for the team to return after this season, but the relocation agreement with Oklahoma City includes an option for a second year.

With families, homes and belongings still there, New Orleans remains on the Hornets' minds.

"I don't think any of us can help but wonder and think about all the stuff that has happened because you see the images on TV all the time. It is devastating," Scott said.

"I kind of look at it with a heavy heart because I know how fun it was to be in that city, and I know how tough it is as far as the times go and what they're going through. It just kind of gets you a little bit sick in your stomach because it really is a great city."