AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – When the New Orleans Hornets gave Tim Floyd a second chance to coach in the NBA after his dreadful three-plus season stint with Chicago, the skeptics were abuzz.
His NBA coaching record – 49-190, one of the worst ever – was difficult to overlook.
Media mocked. Fans questioned. Then there was Charles Oakley, who played for Floyd in Chicago.
"I give Tim Floyd three months, maybe four at the most," ripped Oakley to the Chicago Sun-Times. "The man is not an NBA coach. He doesn't have a clue. He proved that trying to coach the Bulls."
Floyd, a small-town son of the South, isn't much into how-do-you-like-me-nows? But he'd be forgiven if he wanted to do a little NBA-style chest thumping one month into the season. In lieu of that, we'll take his celebratory charge out on the court as the buzzer rang on Sunday's thrilling, 81-80 New Orleans victory over Detroit.
Don't look now but Floyd's Hornets are 10-4, second in the Eastern Conference and getting the job done with grit and guts. They managed to win at Detroit despite shooting 34.8 percent.
"I love the way we are winning," Floyd said outside a jubilant locker room. "We are guarding people, rebounding the defensive glass and not turning it over much."
The Hornets' zone defense baffled the Pistons and generate several critical stops on Sunday. Then there was the winning play. Down one with 6.4 seconds remaining, Baron Davis drove in for a dunk thanks to a give-and-go and two perfectly placed picks.
Now when was the last time you saw a game-winning, last-second dunk?
"Coach drew up a great play," Hornets forward George Lynch said. "Great call, great execution."
Sorry Oak, but the only thing that might not last three or four months is Floyd's original contract. Keep winning like this and he'll get an extension.
If nothing else, the idea that Floyd is a dunce has put to rest. The reality is, no one was going to succeed in Chicago. Not only was Floyd following Phil Jackson, he was left with a roster full of raw teenagers and disinterested veterans.
At the start of the 2000-01 season, his team had a combined 15 seasons of experience. These Hornets have 90. Floyd coached 36 players in Chicago. Within a year of his resignation only 10 still were in the league. And none of them were as talented as Davis – let alone P.J. Brown, Jamaal Magloire or David Wesley.
To make matters worse, Floyd was told by Bulls management he had to stick with the triangle offense, basically eliminating his freedom to coach.
"In Chicago he was told how to play, which offense to run and what players to play," Pistons coach Larry Brown says. "I don't know how many people could succeed doing that. He is now with someone who coached before [Hornets GM Bob Bass] and it is paying off."
Not that there weren't some initial doubts when Floyd got the job. His rep with the Bulls was difficult to shake.
"At first I was concerned," Magloire says.
Floyd knew this. So he took a couple weeks and flew all over North America to meet with each player in his home. Instead of telling them what to expect he tried a different approach.
"I just listened," he says. "I asked, 'What would you tell Paul [Silas] if he were coming back next season? How would you like to see this team play?' They laid it out how they wanted to play and we sort of scripted the style to fit that."
"Once he came up to Toronto to talk with me I was relieved," says Magloire, who had 15 points and 20 boards on Sunday. "He listens."
It wasn't like a complete overhaul was needed with a good, veteran club.
"Their nature is to play hard," Floyd says. "They are at the point in their careers where winning is the most important thing, not individual stuff."
Time is of the essence here. Realignment puts the Hornets in the Western Conference next season, meaning a road the Finals won't be this clear again.
"Now we have expectations," Floyd says. "In Chicago we were always picked 29th and the expectation was to get to 28. Here it is win now."
Which is what the Hornets are doing, in part because of their talent, in part because of their attitude and in part, indeed, because of strong coaching. Not that Floyd wants the praise.
"To get a second chance is a dream come true," he says.
So is making the most of it.
- Tim Floyd