Chris Paul Has To Be Pleased With New Staff
National sports headlines back in July covered Chris Paul’s frustration with the Hornets lack of movement in free agency, and lack of communication with the face of their franchise. Chris Broussard of ESPN quoted CP3 as claiming that he loved New Orleans, but did not want to play for a team that was not commited to winning. Soon after, Jeff Bower was fired as the team’s GM, a move that was long overdue. Monty Williams was hired by Bower before he was let go. The Hornets then signed Dell Demps as their GM. Williams and Demps met with Paul in the offseason to discuss their commitment to winning, and the proof is in the pudding. The Hornets are off to a franchise best 6-0 record, and Chris Paul is playing at an MVP level.
John DeShazier of the Times Picayune covered Chris Paul temperament two weeks into the 2010-2011 season, and how Williams and Demps have made their franchise player happy.
Whatever it is that Williams and Demps promised Paul during their meeting last summer, when rumors were rampant that Paul wanted out and that little or nothing could be done to change his mind, has been delivered beyond any reasonable level of expectation.
This New Orleans team, as you already probably know by now, is off to the best start (6-0) in franchise history, and is poised to add to that record-setting total entering Tuesday’s game against the Clippers (1-6) at the New Orleans Arena.
Given that neither Williams nor Demps could promise Paul a rose garden during their meeting – all they confidently could say was that they had a plan and that they’d work hard to implement it – the fact that Paul has seen what this team is capable of has to have had a significant impact.
Granted, there remains the possibility that the wheels still could come off. NBA teams lose nine of 10 games just as easily as they win 12 of 15. But the Hornets have a formula – defend so tightly that an opponent believes you’re inside his jersey with him – that has proven to be sound for any franchise that has emphasized it.
Simply, defense doesn’t slump.
Shooters lose their touch, rebounders forget to box out, turnovers occur in bunches. But defense mostly is about “want,” and the Hornets have been nothing less than outstanding in that department as a team. Individuals have had success but no team has been able to solve New Orleans.
Not one opponent has cracked the 100-point barrier. Four times in the first six games last season, opponents scored at least 107 points. The Hornets played 16 games last year before holding six opponents to less than 100 points and they finished the season as one of the league’s most accomodating defenses.
The snapshot of the season? The 6-foot Paul attempting to guard LeBron James – 6-8 and 260 pounds of muscle mass that appears sculpted from rock – in the post because Paul’s teammates seemingly couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take on the responsibility.
A couple of games ago, when the Hornets hosted James and Miami, Trevor Ariza handled that duty. And then Willie Green. And then the team. But Paul never once, out of frustration or necessity, was forced to toss his 180 pounds into the legs of James (that’s about as tall as he is compared to James).
What it all means is that New Orleans, it appears, has a chance to compete.
Now, are the Hornets ready to win the NBA title? No. But at least they appear to be moving in the direction of being competitive, of not being embarassed by the top five or six teams in the Western Conference. And since Paul’s main/only concern is whether his team has a chance to win, he only can see it as a positive step that New Orleans already has won five games against teams that were in the playoffs last season.
At present, there’s no way he can see his window of opportunity in New Orleans closing as clearly as it appeared to be completely shut after last season. In an offseason of roster-juggling by Demps that has made the first-year GM look wise beyond his years, the Hornets picked up an NBA-caliber shooting guard (Marco Belinelli) and a small forward (Ariza) who can play both ends of the floor. And you have to know the Hornets to know how desperately they’ve been lacking in those areas in recent years.
The fact that both are young – Belinelli is 24 and Ariza is 25 – has to be pleasing to the 25-year-old Paul. Add in that starting center Emeka Okafor, who is playing better than he did at any time last season, recently turned 28 and David West only is 30 and is playing All-Star level ball, and you won’t get carried away with the possibilities for New Orleans, but you will understand that prospects are promising.
We won’t know exactly how promising they are for a while; the season is a marathon and the Hornets figuratively haven’t broken a sweat. But literally, they’ve made a statement already.
Literally, they’re winning games the way good teams win games, not with smoke and mirrors.
Obviously, most of that credit goes to the players. They have to do the actual work, have to make the shots and, more importantly, defend like many of them never have been asked to defend before.
But the impact of Willliams and Demps can’t be minimized. So far they’ve delivered what they said they could, have given Hornets fans and the Hornets point guard reason to be optimistic about the direction in which the franchise is heading.
That’s important to fans. It might be more important to the point guard, though.
Great piece by DeShazier. If Chris Paul is happy, that means the Hornets are winning. If the Hornets are winning, that means Paul is playing at an MVP level.