April 28, 2009
One national columnist has recently taken to pointing out how, in his eyes, the New Orleans Hornets have essentially given up on their coach, Byron Scott. Now, he might be correct in that regard, and last night's 58-point home defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets would only seem to drive that point home.
But I think there's a bigger problem, here. And it's been pretty obvious since the beginning of the season; and though to me it seems a lot more obvious and way more influential toward whether or not New Orleans plays well, for some reason it doesn't get the pub it deserves.
The Hornets just aren't that good.
Chris Paul is an MVP candidate. David West is a very good scoring forward. Tyson Chandler can be a dominant defensive force when healthy, even without having to block a ton of shots. But beyond that, the team is awful. And for some reason this has been passed over time and time again by media and fans alike.
Now, I realize I'm treading on some of the same ground Woj went over last night, but I wrote the bulk of this post on Sunday, when I found this quote from Tyson Chandler in a months-old ESPN the Magazine, stuck under several other periodicals in my lavatory.
In talking to Chris Broussard last February, Chandler huffed aloud (in an otherwise tactful take, I should add) regarding Hornets GM Jeff Bower's post-trade comments after dealing Chandler to Oklahoma City.
Though the move was done with financial considerations in mind, Bower mainly wanted to talk about the depth he accrued in return for Chandler, in the form of big men Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. Chandler wasn't buying it. "Sometimes a team has to make financial decisions, I get that," he told Chris Broussard.
"But don't make it sound like you traded me to make the team better. I chuckled when I heard that."
Tyson probably would have chuckled had he read this post, written before the deal to Oklahoma City was rescinded due to Chandler's failed physical. In it, I mention the changing economic landscape for the NBA, but also point out how the trade would have likely helped the Hornets in the short term, even if Chandler came back relatively healthy.
Trading one B+ player for two B- minus players — and let's be honest, Wilcox and Smith can play, despite their limited minutes — on a team as thin as New Orleans? That was a damn good deal. And when it was rescinded, because everyone knows Tyson's name, it was hailed as one of the great "WHEW!" moments for the Hornets. As if they had saved themselves from some form of NBA hari-kari.
Without actually doing any research, of course. Without realizing that Chris Wilcox's per-minute production was about the same as Tyson Chandler's this season, and that Joe Smith's was actually better (much better after he moved onto a better team in Cleveland). And that you could sustain that production over about 60 combined minutes, even with David West in the flow, where Tyson tops out at about 32 minutes a game (23.5 in the playoffs).
And Joe Smith? In the playoffs, 10.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, one turnover in four games. About 20 minutes per game.
Tyson? 3.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, eight turnovers in 23.5 minutes per game. Ouch. And lousy defense.
So who's bumming that the trade was rescinded? The team that missed out on better production and eventual salary relief? That's who I'd go with.
All of which brings me back to the point about Byron Scott. Sure, they may have quit on him. But Peja Stojakovic isn't thinking about how much he can't stand his coach when he airballs an open three-pointer from the 22-foot corner. And he's not questioning Scott's rotations when he hits back iron on another open three-pointer a few possessions later. Scott makes some curious choices to say the least, but if anyone's rotation should be questioned, it's Peja's.
David West isn't making fun of Scott's mustache when he whiffs on yet another defensive rotation. Chris Paul isn't yelling "dammit, Byron!" every time he tries to raise up over three defenders after having broken a double-team after a pick and roll, before driving into heavy traffic around the basket.
And Rasual Butler isn't dribbling wildly to the left corner to hoist up a contested fallaway 20-footer because he's fallen out of favor with his coach. He may have fallen out of favor with his basketball IQ, but that's assuming it curried any favor with Rasual to begin with.
They may have given up on Byron, fine. But the real problem is that this is a crummy, crummy roster beyond CP3 and West. And West killed his team yesterday, despite leading it in scoring.
That falls on Hornets GM Jeff Bower, and the team's owner, George Shinn. Shinn spends cash nowadays, but he's in the NBA's toughest market, and he's the only NBA owner who doesn't have an actual business outside of being an NBA owner. Not the easiest jumping off point.
And though Bower did well to put together a playoff team, he killed his squad's chances at sustaining its station in the West — where you have to improve in the offseason just to repeat your record from the year before — by wasting all sorts of money on James Posey.
You heard it last night, Rick Kamla talking about how Posey "hits all the big shots when they need him
to." The guy's reputation, I'm sorry, but this is madness. Aren't shots
made in the second quarter of a playoff game "big shots" as well? And what
point is having a guy with two rings to hit an open three-pointer in the corner
(with all the attention on the stars) late in the fourth quarter if your team
is down 21 points to start the second period?
Nothing against Posey. He's one of the hardest workers in this league, and that's not reputation. I've seen it. But heading into the 2008 offseason we knew the Hornets badly needed depth at the center and guard positions, and Bower spent $25 million spread out over four years to purchase the rights to ... a small forward.
Now, it's late April, the Hornets are in the playoffs, Posey just contributed his 12 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and four turnovers in 22 solid minutes off the bench and ... the Hornets lost by 58.
Mainly because they badly, badly need help on the interior, and in the backcourt. That hasn't changed, and Posey did nothing to help, because he's a bleedin' small forward, and because he's just one man. They needed several players, they spent all their cash on one player, and this is the result. Out in the first round. In a likely rout.
So, pile on Scott. He probably deserves it. Yes, it's a bit much to ask him to get his team to replicate the smoke-and-mirrors act on defense that we saw in 2007-08 (7th in defensive efficiency) without a healthy Tyson Chandler, or to get the offense to stay in the top five as it was last year with Peja falling off so badly and Jannero Pargo wearing a suit made out of fine sable. That said, he's a part of the problem. As Woj noted, he doesn't develop players, and he often doesn't inspire them.
But the biggest problem, make no mistake, is the fact that he has to play Sean Marks in the first quarter of an NBA playoff game. The problem is that people like Rasual Butler have to be counted on for anything more than seven or eight minutes per game. The problem is that Antonio Daniels has to be counted on in any significant way at his age, and that Devin Brown — a player who doesn't dribble well for a small forward — entered the season as New Orleans' backup point guard.
The drop off on this team between its star, and his helpers, is significant, and I've never seen anything like it. When you consider just how much David West's life is made easier by Paul's passes, this team doesn't even compare to the mess that surrounded Kobe Bryant following Shaquille O'Neal's departure, or what LeBron James had to work with before this season. It comes close, but those teams didn't have Sean Marks in their rotation. One through 12, Paul has suffered the most.
In a game where the players matter, no amount of coaching or superstar play could do anything with this lot. Consider that, when doling out the blame.