By: Bob Licht, @hortonhomers
April 6, 2011
This New Orleans Hornets season could be a book.
Okay, at least a great chapter, or Jimmy Kimmel guest appearance, or perhaps a cool video on YouTube.
The point is that with everything this franchise endured this season isn’t it amazing that the Hornets can now say “We’re In” (the playoffs)?
After all, a season ago this franchise changed coaches, lost its star point guard to injury, and played the lottery. Then, the Hornets fired their General Manager, hired the youngest coach in the NBA, traded a lottery pick, hired a new General Manager, traded a First Team All-Rookie player from a season ago, turned over more than half the roster, went 1-7 in the preseason, and traded their #1 draft pick for NEXT season.
Plus, during all of that basketball drama the franchise was sold to the NBA, something that had never happened before in league history.
And how did Monty Williams handle all of those distractions and changes?
By setting a franchise record with 8 consecutive wins to start the regular season, by starting 11-1 (also a Hornets record), by winning 10-straight games in January (tying a franchise record), by winning the Western Conference Coach-of-the-Month Award in January, by overcoming his top bench player’s personal tragedy, by overcoming a season-ending injury to his leading scorer during the late season playoff push, by preaching defense first, and by claiming from day one that this would be a “no excuses” team.
Williams certainly handled everything with the aplomb of a savvy, veteran coach. Very few things caught the 39-year-old ex-player off guard, except perhaps some of the distractions.
“I guess I was surprised at the offseason stuff and the off the court stuff. Some things have come up that Nate (Portland head coach and former coaching mentor McMillan) and Pop (Spurs head coach Gregg) couldn’t have anticipated or prepared me for.”
This is a team that traded one of its most popular players (Marcus Thornton) for much-needed frontcourt help (Carl Landry). That happened BEFORE David West was felled by a season-ending knee injury. Landry has put up West-like numbers ever since becoming the starting power forward and is a large reason the Hornets held on to its playoff position.
This is a team led by the most complete point guard in the game (wait, I’ll explain in a minute) who has been managing a comeback from knee surgery.
This is a team that SCORES fewer points per game than any other team in the western conference…yet ALLOWS fewer points than any other team in the west.
So, like Robert Redford asked at the end of The Candidate after he was elected (hope I didn’t ruin it for you), “So now what do we do?”
First year General Manager Dell Demps might answer by suggesting the Hornets go ahead and turn the best NBA regular season story into a headline-grabbing, long post season run.
Most coaches I’ve spoken to this season fear the Hornets because they feature Chris Paul. I’ve always had a theory that as long as CP is right (healthy) the Hornets have the best player on the floor wearing their uniform. Derrick Rose may win MVP. Russell Westbrook may wow you with his athleticism. Rajon Rondo may dazzle with his court vision. Steve Nash may be the best thirty something player ever at his position. But for my money, Chris is can’t miss.
The 25-year-old scores when he needs to score. He dishes when he needs teammates to do their thing. He defends better than any point guard in the game today (he will lead the league in steals for the third time in his young career this season). He manages a basketball game better than anybody in any league and rarely commits a mental mistake. When you’re ready to compare Paul to anybody else at his position, look at his assists, turnovers, and steals. All are TEAM stats and together favor my client. By the way, Paul is also the second best free throw shooter among point guards (#1 among those in the playoffs) making him the no-brainer to handle the ball late in games. The Hornets will go as far as their four-time all star takes them.
CHRIS PAUL’S NBA RANKINGS
|10TH OVERALL||1ST - 179 TOT||2ND - 737 TOT||1ST - 4.44|
|1ST POINT GUARDS||1ST - 2.4/GM||4TH - 9.8 APG|
And the “Man of Steal” has already taken them further than most skeptics believed they would go before the season began. Who are we to believe the final chapter of this amazing story has already been written?
I say, the rough draft has just been finished. Now it’s time to turn some of those notes into a gut wrenching, page turning, spellbinder that makes everyone in New Orleans claim “I’m In”. They’ll declare “I’m In” because if this team can succeed as the underdog, perform blue collar tasks, and back up their confident “we are who we are” talk under the most trying of circumstances then fans can certainly throw their support behind this team.
Dell-Monty has been the most significant move this franchise could make. And they delivered.
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