Posted Feb 2 2010 10:21AM
Hornets coach Jeff Bower cranked the lemonade machine into hyperdrive after learning that franchise point guard Chris Paul is likely heading for knee surgery.
"We'll shift some minutes and rotations to take advantage of the current players we have," said Bower, also New Orleans' general manager.
Well, yes. Lose a guy like Paul, arguably the league's top playmaker, and it definitely opens up playing time for someone else. In this case, it's rookie first-rounder Darren Collison, a starter in Paul's place in Monday night's loss to the Suns.
After taking over for fired coach Byron Scott in November, Bower stressed player development would go hand-in-hand with winning. He spoke specifically of Collison and fellow rookie Marcus Thornton, and they've been a key part of the rotation for some time now.
And the Hornets have won. Before losing Paul, and the subsequent loss to Phoenix, New Orleans had won 13 of 18 games to climb into the top eight in the bunched-up Western Conference.
Holding on to a playoff spot figures to be next to impossible without Paul. The league's leader in assists, according to reports, could be out 1-2 months.
While the loss of Paul won't help, it also won't change Bower's focus. Though he hasn't said a return to the sidelines is the works for next season, he also hasn't said it isn't. Asked if the Hornets' performance the rest of the regular season has any impact on his job for next season, Bower replied: "That's not even a part of any equation that we spend any time on."
Bower also isn't interested in justifying the team's business/basketball approach. Many around the league think the Hornets are in salary-dump mode, and it's easy to see why. Just about every story about a move by New Orleans is accompanied by its corresponding financial implications. A successful season in New Orleans, many figure, is one without a luxury-tax payment.
"Those statements are made by people who aren't as familiar with the real information," Bower said.
New Orleans has made several deals netting little or nothing in return, including last summer's trade of Rasual Butler for a conditional second-round pick and moving starter Devin Brown last week for little-used center Aaron Gray. The Hornets also got back nothing more than conditional second-rounders for Hilton Armstrong and Bobby Brown.
Bower explained that those former Hornets weren't part of the team's future, so the Hornets felt no need to include them in the present. On the other hand, Collison and Thornton are keys to what lies ahead.
"Those guys know we expect a lot out of them, and they come in and work hard every day," Paul said before being injured. "We've got confidence in them to do their job."
Thornton, the 43rd pick last summer, had a team-high 25 points Monday, while Collison did his best Paul impersonation with 16 points and 14 assists.
"It feels good knowing the front office has faith in me and Darren to play big minutes," said Thornton, a 6-foot-4 swingman originally selected by Miami before being traded to New Orleans. "They drafted us, so obviously they have big expectations for us."
Paul and David West, the Hornets' resident stars, see the big picture. A youth movement is necessary for small-market teams, but good business doesn't have to be bad basketball. New Orleans won the Southwest Division just two years ago and still managed 49 victories last season.
"We're figuring out what we have and how to get the best results for our team," West said. "That's really all you can do."
The team still has several high-priced vets -- Paul, West, Peja Stojakovic, Emeka Okafor, Mo Peterson and James Posey -- eating up the majority of the payroll. Bower's long-term vision for the franchise is predicated on homegrown talent and fiscal responsibility, and the moves over the last year suggest he's trying to get there.
"Got to understand it," Paul said. "This is a business. There are people whose jobs are higher than mine that make these decisions."
Just don't tell Bower the Hornets and owner George Shinn are cheap.
"That couldn't be further from the truth," Bower said. "Mr. Shinn wants to win. He wants us to have the most competitive team on the floor that we can. He's given us resources to bring in quality players and it's our job to be efficient with those resources, and to work with the players we have to make sure they keep improving."
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