June 10, 2010
Any idea how Monty Williams will do as head coach in New Orleans? No? I'm with you, there.
He's definitely got the pedigree. Williams has just about everything we look for when hypothetical potential head coaching names are tossed about. The guy was an extremely heady player, using smarts and savvy to bounce around a league that he had just enough talent to make. A Notre Dame product, Williams jumped into the ranks as an assistant coach just two years after retiring from the NBA, going to Portland just as Nate McMillan made the jump from Seattle SuperSonics head man to Trail Blazer sideline stalker.
And last year, when McMillan's torn Achilles made it so he couldn't properly stalk the sidelines, Williams more or less took over as Blazers head coach, with little consternation from the players as the Blazers continued apace. Long bandied about as one of this league's up-and-comers, he now gets the Hornets gig.
We can tell you this, the Hornets are expecting a quick fix. Williams, 38, will be the NBA's youngest head coach when he takes to his first game in New Orleans, but the franchise is banking on his strengths — on-court leadership, practice-court personnel development — to do wonders with a team that is just two years removed from being considered an up-and-comer itself. With no real cap space to work with, a middling draft pick and no obvious trade options on the horizon, the Hornets are banking on Williams to completely reform a team that won only 37 games last year.
Now, the Hornets aren't a 37-win team. Chris Paul's(notes) injuries and a wasted month at the beginning of the season with Byron Scott (who refused to play standout rookies Marcus Thornton(notes) and Darren Collison(notes)) as coach forced the team's lottery status. But they're a lot closer to 37 wins than they are 57 wins; or 56, a mark they hit two seasons ago. The West is stacked, and the Hornets are pretty old.
Peja Stojakovic(notes) will be around next year, and so will James Posey(notes), and Morris Peterson(notes), combining to make over $27 million. Beyond that, the Hornets feature Emeka Okafor(notes) coming off an incredibly disappointing year, David West(notes) in his prime, and the league's best point guard, Chris Paul. When healthy.
Because Paul wasn't healthy last year. He played in 45 games, put up superior stats (almost 19 points and 11 assists), but he looked himself for a few weeks, tops. It took those fantastic rookies, and some sound coaching from general manager Jeff Bower, to right the ship.
This is a make or break hire for Bower. Whether he deserves it or not, the Hornets brass is pretty impatient, and they likely thought a little too highly of themselves following the team's second-round appearance in 2008. In Williams, Bower his hiring a coach who reportedly did wonders with players like Travis Outlaw(notes) and Nic Batum in Portland, and it will only be that sort of internal development that will put the Hornets back in the playoff picture.
Because even with Paul returning to form, Stojakovic, Peterson and Posey will continue to fade, and those three are just forced into too many minutes for a team to consider a .500 record its birthright. Even if Williams waltzes in and suddenly turns Julian Wright(notes) into some all-knowing basketball sage, and Thornton develops as expected, the Hornets will still be relying on those older wings more than they'd like.
David West turns 30 in August, so don't expect much drop off from him, though Williams is going to be counted on to make Okafor once-again look comfortable in his own skin. Beyond that, Williams has to make sure the rookies from last year build on their success rather than tail off in their sophomore seasons. Because even with Paul back, Collison and Thornton will be leaned on heavily to push the Hornets past 75 points per game.
It won't be an easy task, and in spite of his time spent essentially running the Trail Blazers, Williams will be learning on the fly. He clearly cares about the men he's charged with leading, as evidenced by this emotional interview from earlier this week, but emotion and hard work only go so far in a conference like the Western Conference. With no team likely biting on Peja's expiring contract, the Hornets are going to fly as presently constructed, and Williams is being counted on as the difference between the lottery, and the playoffs.
Can he handle it this soon? Your guess is as good as mine. Like the guy, appreciate where he's come from, fancy his potential; but this will be a formidable task he won't have the luxury of slowly growing into.