Hornets’ new coach must win over Paul

The slacker son of the New Orleans Hornets owner went to Los Angeles with the team and began to grumble about the priorities of the coach. Yes, it was over for Byron Scott now. The old man had crowned Chad Shinn with a VP title and authority on choosing the Honeybees, and even he knew Scott failed to understand the urgency of his plight. With three games in four nights, his franchise in freefall, the coach was planning tee times in SoCal.

Photo Chris Paul and Byron Scott helped guide the Hornets within one game of the Western Conference finals in 2008.
(NBAE/ Getty)

“Yeah, that bothered some people,” one Hornets source said.

This wasn’t out of character for Scott. His players wanted a more sophisticated playbook, management wanted longer hours and more diligent preparation and, well, Byron Scott wanted to hit the links. To be fair, this was Scott when he was the NBA’s Coach of the Year, and this was him now.

Embarrassed by the Lakers on Sunday, the Hornets beat the Clippers on Monday, and the team’s departure to Phoenix for Wednesday night’s game had been pushed back to accommodate the coach’s golf game. Scott played 18 holes with his last two allies in the organization, superstar Chris Paul(notes) and his brother/business manager, C.J. Paul.

Six years ago, Jason Kidd(notes) inspired a locker-room revolt to push Scott out of the New Jersey Nets. This time, Paul was still on his coach’s side, when everyone else had left it. “Chris is heartbroken and he’s angry,” a source close to him said Thursday. “Byron is the only coach he’s known in the pros, and he’s practically in mourning right now. The only thing that made this worse for him was that [Jeff] Bower took over.

“Jeff’s got a lot of work to do to win Chris over.”

That’s the case for the entire organization. After Hornets president Hugh Weber met privately with Paul and David West(notes) to tell them Scott had been fired, the team wanted Paul to stay, wait out the news conference and give a brief statement to the press. He wouldn’t do it. His best friend, West, stayed and declared publicly what he had been saying privately: The Hornets desperately needed a change, and West made no apologies for it.

Privately, West bluntly told friends: “We really don’t run any plays.”

For Paul, this wasn’t so much professional as it was personal. He takes things hard and feels them deeply. Truth be told, Paul is livid. C.J. Paul posted an apparent dig at Weber on his Twitter account: “I can’t stand when [people] that don’t know basketball make major basketball decisions. It turns out to be a disaster.”

As the Hornets’ general manager, Bower had been reluctant to replace Scott with himself, but there was no suitable interim on the coaching staff. Bower is a burly man with a shaved head who looks far more like a prison warden than a basketball coach. Bower’s no Showtime Laker, and he sure won’t try and sell himself to the Hornets as a sideline star. His job is momentous and his mandate unmistakable: To save this season, to save his job, Jeff Bower has to win over the best point guard on the planet.

Photo After serving as the Hornets’ general manager since 2005, Jeff Bower will now also coach the team.
(NBAE/ Getty)

Bower has come a long, long way into this job – a small-college assistant turned NBA advanced scout who kept climbing on merit, not connections. He worked his way into the Hornets front office, to the bench as an assistant and ultimately to the GM job. Two years ago, New Orleans was the NBA’s biggest success story. Today, Bower’s job is on the line. Things changed fast. Bower has made some costly misjudgments, but it offended several respected GM peers to see Weber, the Hornets’ fake tough guy who married into the job, so publicly grandstand at Bower’s expense during a news conference.

“How about the statement from Weber?” one Western Conference GM emailed on Thursday night. “ ‘Bower put this together and he’s going to be held accountable.’ I’m sure it was his vision to dump salary and give away all the pieces they did to reduce salary.”

Bower will coach the rest of the season, and ownership allowed him to bring back Tim Floyd, his old boss, as his top assistant. No one has to tell Bower how loyal Paul is; he’s seen it over and over. Yes, Paul loathes change. He grows attached to people, and holds on when maybe he should let go. As flaws go, it isn’t much. Paul was disconsolate when the Hornets traded Bobby Jackson(notes). Once, he struggled with the release of a nonguaranteed training-camp rookie named Tre Johnson. It’s just his nature. In the end, Paul’s had two coaches since high school – the late Skip Prosser at Wake Forest and Byron Scott.

And to try to explain Paul’s angst over the firing of Scott, one source said, “Remember how he last lost a coach.” Paul had to read the eulogy at Prosser’s funeral two years ago. Prosser was a monumental figure in Paul’s life, and Scott worked hard to have the relationship with Paul in New Orleans that Scott never had with Kidd in New Jersey.

Yes, Chris Paul hates change, and the firing of Byron Scott is the most dramatic of his professional career. Eventually, Paul will come to understand that Scott had chances to save himself. When the Hornets were young and restless, bouncing between New Orleans and Oklahoma City, the franchise valued Scott’s evenness. He always makes you believe everything will be all right, but that eventually evaporated. They needed something more tangible, something they could touch, and Scott struggled to deliver it.

Now it’s Bower’s turn and it could just be a matter of time until he’s pushed out the door as well. He knows that, and it’s a big part of why he agreed to step out of the shadows and into the light. Jeff Bower doesn’t come out of Showtime Lakers but St. Francis and Marist. He shops for shirts in hotel gift stores and blasts ’80s cover bands in the privacy of his pick-up truck. Two years ago, he finished third to Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak in the voting for NBA Executive of the Year.

For his own job, for the sake of the franchise, Jeff Bower has 73 games left to win over Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. Yes, Paul hates change, but he hates something else far more: losing. Between now and the playoffs, the planet’s best point guard doesn’t need a new father figure or a golfing buddy. Chris Paul needs a basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Nov 13, 2009