WESTWEGO, La. – Chris Paul(notes) was spent. His knee ached. His legs felt heavy. He had nothing left to give his New Orleans Hornets. The Denver Nuggets had used their bigger guards to batter Paul throughout the teams’ first-round playoff series, and it showed. In the Hornets’ final two losses – one by a humiliating 58 points – Paul averaged just eight points.
Beaten and bruised, the Hornets exited the playoffs knowing what they needed to do. They had to get Paul some help.
Chris Paul averaged more than six points less in the playoffs than the regular season.
As the Hornets try to reestablish themselves as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference this season, they do so with a new mantra: The less we demand of Paul now, the more we’ll get from him later.
Hornets coach Byron Scott is determined to reduce Paul’s workload, hoping to keep his All-Star point guard fresher for the playoffs. The offseason additions of two speedy newcomers – Bobby Brown(notes) and rookie Darren Collison(notes) – could go a long way in helping him do so.
“No disrespect to the backups that done it before,” Scott said, “but now we have two guys who are the type of players that I’ve needed.”
The Hornets lacked a dependable backup for Paul last season after not re-signing Jannero Pargo(notes). Pargo, who played in New Orleans for two seasons, allowed Paul to manage his minutes and also sometimes use his offensive skills at off-guard. Last season, the Hornets tried to make do with lumbering combo guard Devin Brown(notes) and veteran journeyman Antonio Daniels(notes).
Devin Brown and Daniels couldn’t push the pace as quick as Scott liked. Paul ended up averaging a career-high 38.5 minutes, and during those times when he did leave the floor, the Hornets’ point guard production “dropped big time,” Scott said.
“It was obvious that we needed some guys to change the tempo,” Paul said.
The Hornets think Bobby Brown and Collison can do that. Paul actually expected to be playing with Bobby Brown last season after Brown averaged 15.2 points and 6.2 assists for the Hornets’ summer league team in 2008. Paul called Brown to encourage him, but Brown understandably passed on New Orleans’ make-good offer to sign a two-year guaranteed contract with the Sacramento Kings.
The Hornets finally landed Bobby Brown last month in a trade that sent Daniels to Minnesota and also brought forward Darius Songaila(notes) to New Orleans. The Hornets are confident Brown has the talent to prove he is a better shooter, athlete and truer point guard than Pargo.
Paul “needs to take a break here and there on the court, or for somebody to make a play for him,” Brown said. “I feel like I can do that for him and the team.”
Scott is also excited about Collison, who was taken with the 21st pick by the Hornets. Paul learned just how quick Collison is when the rookie blew past him during a scrimmage early in training camp. But while Collison already might be the team’s fastest player, his jumper still needs a lot of work. He also needs to become more vocal and better manage his pace.
With the addition of Bobby Brown and Collison, Paul expects the Hornets to continue to run the floor even when he’s taking a breather. He also thinks he can become more offensive-minded while playing alongside either guard.
“To tell you the truth, the pace of the game might pick up now,” Paul said. “Those guys are extremely fast.”
Scott’s goal is to use Brown and Collison to reduce Paul’s minutes to about 34 minutes per game. Scott also likes that Paul has bulked up by 11 pounds to better help him endure the physical beating he took last season. Unlike a year ago, Paul isn’t coming off the grind of an Olympic summer.
“I love the way he looks,” Scott said. “He’s in the best shape that I’ve seen since we had him.”
Paul and Scott also both like how the Hornets have beefed up their roster. In addition to acquiring Bobby Brown, the team traded oft-injured center Tyson Chandler(notes) for Emeka Okafor(notes). Julian Wright(notes) is expected to play a more prominent role and Peja Stojakovic(notes) could come off the bench.
The Hornets think the changes can help them return to their level of two seasons ago when they won the Southwest Division, had the West’s second-best record and came within a single win of reaching the conference finals. They entered last season as a projected title contender only to finish seventh in the West. The Nuggets then delivered a first-round beating so thorough that the embarrassment still lingers five months later.
“That gives us an opportunity to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Paul said. “Sometimes guys need that motivation, that underdog thing. Hopefully, we can use that to our advantage. I’m excited about this season.”