Last week, the New Orleans Hornets announced that the services of their head coach and former NBA coach of the year, Byron Scott, would no longer be needed. The Hornets had gotten off to a less than satisfactory 3-6 start and someone had to be held accountable. It certainly couldn’t be ownership.
Scott has since been replaced by Jeff Bower, the team’s general manager. Tim Floyd, who coached the Hornets to a 41-41 record in 2003-4, has also been added back to the staff.
The Bower-Floyd combo hasn’t fared much better since taking over for Scott. In their home debut, the Hornets lost to Portland by twelve. In that game, they lost their superstar Chris Paul for 2-4 weeks with a sprained ankle. In their first Paul-less game of the season, the Hornets lost to the Atlanta Hawks by 23.
Immediately after the Scott firing, I sent a text to DJ Arthritic Semitic, a New Orleans resident and Paul aficionado. I joked that by releasing Scott, the Hornets had gotten rid of their second best player. Puzzled by the move, he chuckled, knowing that statement wasn’t all that far from the truth. Well, at least New Orleans still has the Saints.
The reality is that aside from Paul, the Hornets don’t have much in the way of talent, as witnessed by their two most recent drubbings. David West is a serviceable power forward and former All-Star, but he’s a product of the system. Take him off the Hornets and he’s Shawn Marion without Steve Nash. This off-season, the Hornets traded 10 points and 10 rebounds a game (Tyson Chandler) for 14 points and 10 rebounds a game (Emeka Okafor), a move that hardly strikes fear into the hearts of the Western Conference elite. And it wasn’t Byron Scott who wrote a $13 million check for Peja Stojakovic who’s averaging under nine points a game. That was ownership.
The Hornets are just not very good. We’ll continue to find out just how bad they are with Paul out of the lineup. This summer, the Lakers added Artest, the Magic landed Vince Carter, the Cavs added Shaq and the Celtics added Rasheed Wallace. The Hornets did none of the above. If ownership seriously thought this roster was title-worthy, then someone stirred a little too much brandy in the roux. (I know, I know, there’s no brandy in roux but humor me).
Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league, but the last time an under six-foot point guard won an NBA title without help was never. And the last time a coach won a title with just one superstar was just as long ago.
In 2007-8, the Hornets snuck up on a lot of teams, winning 56 games and making the Western Conference Semifinals. Byron Scott won Coach of the Year. The following year, defenses started to key on Chris Paul and despite a successful regular season, the Hornets were bounced in the first round. Perhaps Scott didn’t make adjustments. Perhaps he didn’t have the talent to do so.
Scott went 105-59 in his last two seasons but this year’s rocky start led to his demise. Maybe ownership wasn’t aware four of those losses came at Boston, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Phoenix, all playoff teams and title contenders. The Hornets couldn’t have won those games with John Wooden, Phil Jackson, Bobby Knight and the ghost of Knute Rockne on their bench. Pete Maravich is not walking through that door any time soon.
But back to Scott. This is a coach who took the Nets…. THE NETS to the NBA Finals in back-to-back years. Without him, and Paul, the Hornets are dangerously close to being a team in total disarray. Chalk it up to a change of direction or difference of opinion but now Scott is unemployed like the rest of America. Allegedly, George Shinn, the Hornets’ owner, was disappointed that former Hornets Brandon Bass, JR Smith and Chris Andersen thrived on different rosters and not under Scott, yet one could argue that Scott got the best out of both David West and Tyson Chandler.
It takes more than just talent to win an NBA title. A team must also have health, luck, chemistry and coaching. There’s a reason why only eight different coaches have won NBA titles in the last 26 years. Sure, Byron Scott isn’t one of them but neither is Jerry Sloan, George Karl or Jeff Bower for that matter.
Scott will undoubtedly land on another team’s sidelines or perhaps as a television analyst in the meantime. Whichever team ultimately grabs him will end up with a sharp basketball mind and a man who now has more to prove than ever before. As owner, Shinn reserves the right to make whatever moves he think will improve his team. Time will tell whether getting rid of Scott is the right play, but with that roster, the Hornets might miss the post-season altogether. This time they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.