In the Lane: March 27, 2008
TOP TEAMTOP PLAYERTOP COACHAND TOP G.M.
Its impossible to ignore, irresponsible to forget, and inevitable to apologize for omitting the Hornets current General Manager in any discussion of the immense success of this Hornets team.
The bright lights of this incredible season obviously didnt happen overnight and certainly didnt occur without unprecedented obstacles. There have been draft successes (David West, Chris Paul, and Julian Wright), lopsided trades (Tyson Chandler), and shrewd free agent acquisitions (Peja Stojakovic and Jannero Pargo). But these strokes of genius happened before, during and after the team survived hurricane Katrina, a temporary relocation to Oklahoma, the rebuilding of a community they have been reconnecting with, and of course the challenging western conference that reminds some of an arms race between countries to acquire the biggest, the best, and the most.
Through it all there have been plenty of accolades to go around. From principal owner George Shinns commitment to New Orleans (including selling 25% of the franchise to local businessman Gary Chouest), to Chris Pauls MVP chase, and Byron Scotts steady stewardship of a young contender. Still, it is Bowers quiet confidence that has perfectly complemented the rest of the organization.
In speaking to Bower, who was either General Manager or Director of Player Personnel during the molding of the current roster, it is obvious he helped create a team that is a reflection of this organizations basic philosophy of sharing and caring on the court and inside the community:
DAVID WEST, 18TH OVERALL, 2003He showed steady improvement as a rookie, including a playoff series against Miami that proved he was developing. After missing most of his second season with a knee injury he returned to show continued growth over the final 10 games. In his third season he came into his own as a starter. This was made possible by the Jamaal Magloire trade to Milwaukee and the move of PJ Brown to center.
CHRIS PAUL, 4TH OVERALL, 2005He and West became two key pieces quickly. He did the same things for us he did at Wake Forest University both on and off the court. Our entire scouting staff saw him play that season and we were very comfortable with him as a possible high pick. After all of our scouting and analysis one thing stood out to me. It was his lower game outputs. I asked his coach, the late Skip Prosser, about these below average statistical games and his answer cinched it for me. He said I thought it was all about winning. Paul is a guy who does what he has to do to win.
TYSON CHANDLER, 2006 TRADE WITH CHICAGOAs CPs rookie season unfolded we looked at how to start to build around him and we knew we needed another big man to run the floor and rebound. We needed to find someone whose offense could get better with Chris Paul. Tyson was young (not yet 25), could help defensively and with rebounding. We felt it would really help us. I wasnt surprised he became available because of what was happening in Chicago at the time. The circumstances of their timetable had them going in a different direction. Ben Wallace was being brought in. Their objectives were different. We had the time to grow, and its worked out well.
WHY THE BIG THREE HAVE WORKED SO WELL
All have similar goals. Theyre all about team first, they all have something to prove, they all rely on each other for success, and are all great complimentary players.
IS THIS THE BEST CHEMISTRY OF ANY HORNETS TEAM YOUVE HAD?
Probably. They seem to feed off of each other so well. The key is understanding each others roles and how it all fits into the bigger picture.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 REASONS FOR THE HORNETS BECOMING AN ELITE TEAM?1. Attitude and Approach
2. Cooperative Effort between Players and Coaches
3. Maturity and Growth as a group
WHAT MOTIVATES THIS TEAM?Lack of respect nationally has been discussed by the media and occasionally by the players, but I believe it is bigger than that. This is a team that suffered through unheard of injuries last season, yet stayed in the playoff race until the 80th game. They were not going to come up short again. They concentrate on performance. Theyve played and beaten most of the top teams and they continue to concentrate on improving.
CP3 FOR MVP
Its all based on his play and the play of his team. Its a great reflection of the coaching staff and the team maximizing their potential. Hes having an incredible year and hell continue to grow. Whats surprised me the most is the unchallenged respect he has earned from older players and coaches and how everyone accepts him. He is generally met with respect and not with jealousy or resentment. This is because of who he is and how he treats others. People see that and appreciate it.
ON THE STRING OF SELLOUTS AT THE NEW ORLEANS ARENA (2-straight and 8 of last 13 games)
As our team improved and people started to learn who our guys were on and off the court it became a team worth investing in. Its great coming to the arena and seeing large crowds who are passionate and loud. Theyre having an impact on games.
THE REST OF THE PIECESPeja Stojakovic, F, free agent, signed in 2006. One of the all-time great three point and free throw shooters in NBA history, who played only 13 games last season due to back surgery, has bounced back as the obvious Comeback Player of the Year. He leads the league in made three pointers per game (3), and has been in the top five in both made threes and three point percentage all season. Some wrote him off after last season. Maybe they forgot he is only 30 years old. Bower gets to smile this season after Pejas lost first campaign.
Morris Peterson, G, free agent. Pursued three seasons ago as a restricted free agent, Mo finally became a Hornet this off-season as an unrestricted FA. Although hes had his ups and downs in general he has been an upgrade at a position that has been shaky ever since the rebuilding process began (with the trading of David Wesley). Finding the perfect backcourt mate for Chris Paul has been a challenge, but Peterson is a smart, hard-working player who gives Byron Scott another three point threat.
Jannero Pargo, PG, free agent, re-signed. Originally signed the same summer of the Chandler trade, Pargo is one of those guys who just goes out and plays basketball. Hes a streaky shooter who has become much more proficient at distributing the basketball. He has great chemistry on the court with his best friend (Chandler) and fellow point guard Chris Paul, often joining CP on the floor for a smaller, quicker tandem that continues to befuddle the opposition. He was undrafted and waived twice, despite a pretty impressive shooting display in a Chicago playoff series several years ago. Just 27, Pargo is one of Bowers best bargains ever.
Julian Wright, F, drafted 13th overall last June out Kansas. He was projected to be a high lottery pick, but slipped to the Hornets after concerns about his shooting. He is a perfect fit as a long defender, tireless worker, and complementary personality on this young squad. Who knew back in November he would develop so quickly on a contending team? Apparently, Bower did.
Bonzi Wells, G/F, acquired via trade with division rival Houston along with Mike James for Bobby Jackson. Although Jackson led the Bees bench in scoring in his season and a half with the Hornets and was a terrific locker room presence, Wells has changed the way teams have to play New Orleans. Hes tough, gets to the free throw line, plays defense and, as Tyson Chandler says, hes a small JUCO center, because nobody seems to have an answer for his low post game. He brings experience in a deadline-beating trade that added one of the final pieces to this team. If the Hornets make a deep playoff run, this will be looked upon as one of Bowers best moves.
Chris Andersen, F/C, signed on March 5th as a free agent following his reinstatement by the NBA after a two year banishment for violating terms of the leagues drug policy. The Birdman returned to the court during a late March road trip and showed the same athleticism (a block on his first trip down the floor) he had prior to his suspension. Still just 29, the 6-10 Andersen provides another big man on a bench lacking consistency from the position this season. It remains to be seen how much of an impact Andersen will have down the stretch, but if he contributes its another smart move that enhances the teams size and athleticism.
Ryan Bowen, F, free agent signee. He played for the Hornets on their summer league team and was immediately identified as a player who filled a need: energy and blue collar work ethic coming off the bench. Floor Burn Bowen has been the teams utility guy, filling in for injured starters, defending bigger, faster players, and in general using his experience (8 NBA seasons) and guile to inspire fans and teammates. Bower and Scott targeted him early on as a key addition (even trading prospect Cedric Simmons to create space for him).
Melvin Ely, F/C, free agent signee. He experienced the Spurs championship run last season, although not in uniform for the post season. He has provided, at times, low post offense and rebounding. He was an under-the-radar signing that has helped the inside depth of the team.
Hilton Armstrong, C, 12th pick, 2006 draft. The 6-11 pivot man appeared on the verge of a breakout season after leading the Hornets in scoring during the preseason, but inconsistency has plagued him. Hes still a nice prospect behind Chandler.
Mike James, acquired in the Jackson-Wells trade. Hes a smaller shooting guard, similar to Jannero Pargo with a history of streak shooting and with post season experience (won a title in Detroit in 2004). After a fast start he slumped (2 for 12 overall and 1 for 6 from three point distance) that saw him fall out of the rotation. Hes great insurance on a bench that cant have enough shooters.
Rasual Butler, re-signed as free agent, originally acquired in a trade with Miami. Butler has been an enigma. After starting 57 games last season, leading the team in made three pointers, and setting career high in scoring and rebounding, Sual Bop looked like another underestimated pickup by Bower and the Hornets. But, he has not even played in 58 games this season. Inconsistent shooting is at the root of the problem (just 33% from three point range, 35% overall), and the Wells and James pickups probably prevent him from moving back into the lineup anytime soon.
Bower is a low-key, patient basketball man. He has served the organization in a multitude of roles, from scout, assistant coach, director of player personnel, assistant general manager, and now general manager. His hard work and knowledge of the game have now come together in what could soon become the most successful season in the 20 year history of this franchise.
So, when youre fantasizing about all of this teams grand possibilities just remember the practically anonymous general manager who helped rebuild the bees from an 18-win lottery team to a 50-plus win NBA title contender.