After the worst playoff performance in NBA history, New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott had no choice but to march out of that numb locker room and confess: I did a lousy job, too. That’s all.
As much as his players deserved scolding for such a startling submission on Monday night, they needed to hear Scott take his burden of blame for an unfathomable 58-point loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Only, Scott didn’t do it. He’s a proud, assured man, but no one should’ve deserved to escape responsibility for this stunning 121-63 loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference playoffs. To no one’s surprise, Scott suggested that the Hornets didn’t compete at the New Orleans Arena. In the history of the NBA, no truth had ever been so resounding. Yet, it was odd to hear him punctuate that thought with, “I don’t know what you can do to change that.”
It wouldn’t be Scott’s worst idea to come up with something between now and an embarrassing season’s end in Game 5 on Wednesday night. Multiple agents and rival league executives say that Scott’s job could be in peril.
General manager Jeff Bower has been supportive, but the fact that he would extend Scott through only the 2009-2010 season suggests that he wasn’t completely sold on a coach whom he inherited.
Scott is respected and beloved, and everyone wants him to succeed. He’s a prince of a man and has shown an ability to get teams through tough times and the grind of rebuilding. Yet there have long been questions about preparation and attention to detail. Those issues lost him favor with his veteran stars in New Jersey and cost him his job after taking the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances. He was the NBA’s Coach of the Year a season ago, and yet it changes nothing for Scott.
This series shouldn’t cost him his job, but it probably complicates matters now. A contract extension appears unlikely. At best, Scott will enter the final year of his deal for the second time in three years. And who knows – maybe that’s something he doesn’t want to do again. Sources close to him say he was agitated with a modest commitment after one of the best seasons in Hornets history.
In the coach’s defense, the Hornets are hurting. Tyson Chandler shouldn’t be on the floor. Chris Paul and David West have knee and back injuries. The list goes on and on. Truth be told, they’ve been blown out of three of the four games in this series. In Game 4 on Monday, New Orleans quit. They just stopped playing.
This is a moment of truth for the Hornets. They climb on a flight to Denver for a Game 5 on Wednesday, where almost assuredly this season will come to a humbling end. They’re no longer the feel-good story of the sport, but one more franchise losing traction in the Western Conference arms race.
The Hornets signed Paul to a four-year contract extension in the summer, but they still have much to prove to him. He’s always the dutiful public face, but he was beyond seething on Monday night. He sounded like he was delivering notice to his coach and management. “Every time we tried something, they countered it,” Paul said. As for the gulf in talent, he simply said, “Look at their team – a lot of great players.”
The best point guard on the planet should’ve had a stronger supporting cast for these playoffs. He can blame his owner, George Shinn, whom two league agents say pulled the Hornets' free-agent offer to keep Jannero Pargo in a late hour of negotiations. For some reason, he decided that the offer sat long enough on the table. This pushed Pargo overseas for the season, a back-up who last year had 27 points against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. There was no one of his ilk left on the market.
Scott has lamented his bench, and been reluctant to play recent late lottery picks, Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong. Most league executives still expect that they’ll be solid, if not better, players in the league. They haven’t developed with the Hornets, and multiple teams have tried to pry them out of New Orleans. J.R. Smith has turned into one of the most explosive bench scorers in the sport, but the Hornets parted with him because Scott – often rightfully – couldn’t stand him.
For the Hornets, they are a cash-strapped small-market team with an owner forever angling for the next city to court him, for the next financial score. Who knows their future in New Orleans? For now, they have to slash payroll over the summer, and that’ll start with center Tyson Chandler again.
When everyone dismissed the Chandler deadline trade to Oklahoma City as a pure contract dump, Bower politely disagreed. He watched Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox rebound and defend – something that Chandler no longer did with ferocity. With the way that Chandler has hobbled on that ankle, his trade value has never been lower.
Something is going to change here, something significant. New Orleans lost by 58 points on Monday, the league’s worst playoff loss in 53 years, and this happened to be one of those nights when everyone expects broad and sweeping change for the Hornets. Maybe it’ll be the coach, maybe not.
Nevertheless, Byron Scott could’ve done himself a favor and publicly wondered about his own part in this embarrassing episode. It wouldn’t have taken much, and probably would’ve gone a long way with management and players. As much as they need to hear it, he needed to say it.