Paul has led Hornets’ turnaround
Since the start of training camp, the New Orleans Hornets have been sold to the NBA, wondered about their long-term future in the city, welcomed nine new players, answered questions about the possible departure of Chris Paul(notes) and David West(notes), and transitioned to life under a new general manager and coach. If the Hornets had struggled through the first half of the season, no one would have blamed them. Instead, they have only thrived, rising to fourth place in the Western Conference thanks to their current 10-game winning streak.
The biggest reason for the Hornets’ success has been the play of Paul, who has performed at an elite level despite being more hurt than he’s let on. Paul isn’t fully recovered from the left knee surgery he had nearly a year ago, and has more recently been slowed by a tender left ankle.
Paul is averaging 16.4 points – his fewest since his rookie season – 9.7 assists and a career-low 35.1 minutes. But he’s also averaging career highs in 3-point percentage (.462) and free-throw percentage (.893) and leads the league in steals per game (2.6).
“He hates me talking about it, but he plays through pain,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “I look at him like I do Tim [Duncan]. Those guys play through pain that most guys would sit out with.”
Said Paul: “I’m just fortunate to be able to play every night.”
The Hornets also have dealt with the uncertainty of West’s future. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that West isn’t likely to sign a contract extension before the end of the season and will opt out of the final year, when he could command a free-agent deal worth more than $10 million a year.
West said he doesn’t expect the Hornets – who could risk losing him for nothing in the offseason – to trade him.
“I’m looking at it as an opportunity for myself, for my family,” West said. “I’m just trying to finish this year and do some good things with this team. When I get to that particular juncture, I’ll deal with it then.”
The Hornets also recently learned that they’ll stay in New Orleans for at least another year after the team met an attendance quota that could have freed it from its arena lease. Still, the Hornets will have to match the same quota a year from now to secure their lease through the 2013-14 season. West said GM Dell Demps has lessened the stress of the ownership situation by keeping the players informed.
“We knew it wasn’t doom and gloom and the team was going to be uprooted,” West said.
Demps credits Williams for implementing a system and defensive philosophy which the players have embraced. Still, as resilient as the Hornets have been, it’s difficult to figure out how formidable they can become in the postseason.
The Hornets won 11 of their first 12 games, then lost 13 of their next 21 at year’s end. Now, they’re riding a 10-game winning streak that includes victories over the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Demps might even make a trade to further strengthen the team for its stretch run.
“Right now, we just feel like we’re in a good place and we just want to play consistent basketball,” Paul said.
Curry seeks security
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry(notes) was surprised after the franchise’s new owner, Joe Lacob, told the San Jose Mercury News he would be willing to break up the team’s small backcourt of Curry and Monta Ellis(notes) if the right offer came along. Lacob also called Ellis “our core, franchise player” in the interview and didn’t give Curry similar praise. As recently as the summer, Curry had been viewed by franchise officials as the player they’d least likely trade.
“It was the first time that I had my name associated with the word ‘trade’ in the same sentence,” Curry told Yahoo! Sports. “It’s a little bit of a shock; I can’t lie about that. I feel like I’m working hard to get better every day and doing what they ask me to do.”
Curry said he received an apologetic text message from Lacob the morning after the Mercury News interview. Warriors general manager Larry Riley also called Curry, his father and his agent to calm the situation. In an interview with Bay Area radio station KNBR this week, Lacob said both Curry and Ellis would be Warriors “for a very long time.”
“He was making sure I was certain that he liked my game, liked me here, liked how I fit with the system,” Curry said of Lacob. “He could have easily let me read and interpret it for myself.”
Curry doesn’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon.
“I think optimistically about everything,” he said. “I like it here. I like my teammates and everything about the Warriors organization. I can’t picture being anywhere else, especially this early in my career.”
Clippers try to survive without Gordon
Prior to Gordon’s injury, the Clippers had won seven of nine games. While rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes) has earned a lot of praise for the team’s improvement, Gordon has become one of the NBA’s top young guards, averaging 24.1 points.
“I’m holding up,” Gordon said. “It’s tough being out three, four weeks when your team is heading in the right direction. It’s tough to be out and watch that. We were just finding ourselves.”
The Clippers have been a formidable team in the Western Conference since late December, winning 12 of their past 18 games. But after a 1-13 start, Gordon believes the team had dug itself too deep a hole to make a serious postseason push.
“Even before I got injured, we knew it was going to be a tough run to try to get to the playoffs,” Gordon said. “We’re so far behind .500. We might start thinking about getting to .500 before we start thinking about anything else.”
Could ‘Melo be an East All-Star?
One longtime NBA official couldn’t recall the league having to deal with a similar situation. Allen Iverson(notes) was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Nuggets more than a month before the 2007 All-Star starters were announced, so his votes were simply transferred to the West. Anthony is different in that he’s already officially voted onto the West team.
While most of the attention in the four weeks before the NBA’s trade deadline will be devoted to following what happens to Carmelo Anthony, here are some other players to keep an eye on, one GM said: Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph(notes); New Jersey Nets forward Travis Outlaw(notes); Golden State Warriors center Andris Biedrins(notes); Phoenix Suns forwards Hakim Warrick(notes) and Josh Childress(notes); Dallas Mavericks center Brendan Haywood(notes); Denver Nuggets forward Al Harrington(notes); Minnesota Timberwolves guard Sebastian Telfair(notes) and forward Corey Brewer(notes). Nets forward Troy Murphy(notes) and Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton(notes) – who would have been swapped for each other in the Nets’ proposed offer for Anthony – obviously continue to be shopped. … The Houston Rockets will look to move at least one of their swingmen, including Shane Battier(notes) and Jared Jeffries(notes). … Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford(notes), in the last year of his contract, isn’t expected to be traded, one league source said.