By: Calder Hynes, Hornets.com
Aaron Gray is somewhat of a rarity on the 2011 New Orleans Hornets playoff roster. For starters, he is one of only four players remaining from a disappointing 2009-10 squad that missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons due to an injury-plagued campaign.
Gray, acquired from the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 25, 2010 for guard Devin Brown, has been with the organization longer than even general manager Dell Demps, head coach Monty Williams and the entire coaching staff, who since being appointed last summer have worked tirelessly to overhaul the roster and bring in players who fit their mold.
The whole mindset, Gray bluntly states as the biggest change from last year and the reason the Hornets will once again be participating in games in late April. Not taking away anything from last year, but this year its more a business-type atmosphere. The mentality is that if we dont make the playoffs, then its not a successful season. Weve had that mentality from day one.
Gray is also one of only eight Hornets who know what the postseason feels like, having experienced the playoffs with the Bulls in 2008-09, but acknowledges that his role on the current team is much larger that with Chicago, where he appeared in only two games. This time around, the bigger role has led to increased anticipation for the NBAs second season from the 7-foot, 270-pound center.
The exciting thing for me is that no matter who we play (in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs), they have some big boys, and I hope Ive built enough trust from my coach and my teammates to where I can be a factor. Its what we all prepare all season long for collectively as a team. Its not going to take one man; its going to take all of us.
That trust the fourth-year player from Pittsburgh has been striving to gain from his coaches was evident earlier this season, when Gray was tasked with stepping into the starting lineup for six games at center in place of the injured Emeka Okafor. Gray, who averaged 3.1 points and career highs with 4.2 rebounds (in addition to being the most efficient per-minute rebounder on the team) and 56.6 percent shooting from the field this season rewarded his coachs decision by posting averages of 6.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 0.7 blocks as a starter.
I know if I put him in the game, hes not going to get frazzled. He wont lose his mind because he hasnt played, Williams says. Aarons a guy we always felt could do some things. Hes big, he has size both ways. He gives us a different dimension.
The Tarzana native, who will return to his native California for the Western Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Lakers, is eager about the prospect of postseason play, while remaining focused on the task at hand.
Its an exciting feeling, he said. Anytime you get to keep playing basketball knowing that other guys are going on vacation early, its a great feeling. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
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