NBA @ 2: Monty Williams Can’t Complain
Last season the New Orleans Hornets finished seventh in the Western Conference with a 46-36 record. It was Chris Paul’s final year with the team and Coach Monty Williams’ first. The result was a strong six-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers despite playing without injured forward David West.
Williams impressed as a rookie head coach, getting the most out of his players and Paul was nearly unstoppable.
Now Chris is with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Hornets are struggling at just 12-37.
Fortunately for Williams, he was able to showcase his ability as a coach before the team head down the difficult path of rebuilding. Not every coach gets that chance. New Orleans may be losing at a 75.5% clip but Monty isn’t on the hot seat.
The Hornets are currently owned by the NBA but could be sold before the offseason. In theory the new owners may want to institute their own staff but as a free agent coach, Williams would easily have a number of suitors lined up.
The New Orleans roster isn’t nearly as bad as the record would suggest. Injuries have been a major factor.
Guard Eric Gordon, the centerpiece of the Paul trade, played in just two games before going down with injury. He’d eventually have knee surgery in February.
The team attempted to negotiate an extension with Gordon but couldn’t come to terms. This summer they’ll give him a qualifying offer of $5.1 million to make him a restricted free agent.
One of the reasons the Clippers decided to bend in the Paul deal, including Gordon, was an expectation that he’d demand a near max contract. That burden falls on the Hornets now and Eric is sure to get a sizable offer sheet on the market.
The Hornets will have the right of first refusal but so far this season, the audition has been inconclusive.
“I’d love to have him back right now because I think you need more than 10 or 12 games to get a good look at somebody,” said Williams. “The kind of investment we’re talking about making, you want to make sure you’re right about that.”
The Hornets expect to have him in a week to ten days. Pencil in the April 4th games in New Orleans against the Denver Nuggets.
Gordon said on Monday that his knee has responded very well to rehab.
“No problems cutting, jumping and now it’s all about having a comfort level and being ready for contact,” said Gordon.
As a Clipper, Eric spent much of last season developing as the team’s fourth-quarter closer. “I was more of a second-half scorer. I tried to get Blake [Griffin] going . . . really being the main focus of the second half, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Gordon. “Those are the things I strived for and when I was here [in Los Angeles] Coach [Vinny Del Negro] put it in my hands from day one.”
In the season opener for the Hornets, Gordon immediately showed what he could do, hitting a jumper with 4.2 seconds left to beat the Suns in Phoenix by a single point.
Unfortunately that’s about all the Hornets; not a lot to base a major contract on. Gordon is hoping to pick right up where he left off once he’s finally cleared to return.
Coach Williams didn’t quite know what to say about the swollen knee of center Emeka Okafor that has kept him out 22 games. There’s still no timetable for his return.
New Orleans has also seen Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza miss sizable chunks of season with injury.
The Hornets have been forced to rely on less-experienced players to carry the load and naturally winning games has been hindered by the learning curve.
Williams bristled at the notion that his team was just trying to get through the remainder of the season.
“We’re not getting through anything. We’re playing every game to try and win,” said Monty. “In the city we live in, people have more problems than we have. We have good problems . . . I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Still he admitted he had to adjust his priorities as the coach of lottery-bound team compared to his time leading a team to the playoffs just a year ago.
“My expectations were a lot different at the start of the season and then when all of the stuff changed, you don’t have enough time to react to that so you’re finding yourself changing on the fly and then when you start losing games you have to re-evaluate,” said Williams. “You go from trying to win, to redesigning, to straight up development to try and help guys for the future.”
That’s not an easy thing to do for a coach who prides himself on competitiveness.
“That doesn’t fit my personality because I want to win every single time we step on the floor and yet I’ve got to make sure that I get some guys out there that might not give you the best chance to win games but I know it’s going to help us in the future,” said Williams. “It probably took me a good twenty games to get over that. I was probably pulling guys out of the game every time they made a mistake and now I’m in the mode of trying to win but making sure I do what’s right for the organization which is to build for the future.”
The nixed original deal for Paul would have given Williams more immediate pieces to work with (Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic). Instead ownership, represented by the league and Commissioner David Stern, Went with the Clipper offer that was more about future concerns then present value.
It’s a painful year for the players, the head coach and certainly the fans but the Hornets should have relatively high odds at a top-three lottery pick in a strong draft this summer.
Additionally they’ll get the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first (via the Clippers) and while it looked like the Wolves might make the playoffs, an injury to point guard Ricky Rubio may ensure the Hornets have an extra set of lottery combinations (although perhaps lower than initially projected before Minnesota’s strong comeback season).
Williams and the Hornets will add on a couple of solid prospects in the draft. The big decisions will be Gordon, unrestricted free agents Chris Kaman, Carl Landry and Marco Belinelli; otherwise New Orleans may have a sizable amount of cap room.
In the moment, it may be a tough time to be a Hornets fan (or coach) but the right player in the draft could change the face of the franchise overnight.
Including the Monday-night loss to the Clippers, New Orleans is in the middle of a stretch with six of seven on the road. The Hornets will next visit the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.
Mo Williams Out
The Los Angeles Clippers have been struggling of late, although they’ve strung together two-straight wins.
On Thursday, guard Mo Williams injured his big left toe. By Monday, he was given a timeline of roughly two weeks although he noted he hoped to return sooner.
To the naked eye, Williams’ toe looked black on the top and somewhat yellowish on the bottom. He walked with a noticeable limp before the Clippers’ Monday night game in the locker room. If he beats two weeks, it’s not going to be by much . . .
The Clippers have actually won two-straight with Williams sidelined. Coach Vinny Del Negro started Randy Foye with newly-acquired Nick Young in Williams’ role as the team’s primary scorer off the bench.
Young has averaged of 16.5 per game in that stretch on 45.8% shooting from the field and 44.4% from three. So far this season Williams has put up 13.6 points per game on 42.9% shooting (38.5%) from three.
That’s a significant jump for Nick who, through six appearances with the team, is shooting just 37.7% from the field and 33.3% from the arc.
Williams and Young are very different players. Mo averages 3.1 assists per game while Nick, a scorer through-and-through, is at just 0.7.
It will be interesting to see if Young can continue to play at an elevated pace in Mo’s absence. In the meantime, Eric Bledsoe has filled in as the team’s backup to Chris Paul.
Milwaukee the Favorite over New York?
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are tied at 27-22, giving both a five-game cushion over the 22-27, ninth-place Milwaukee Bucks.
Boston has the tie-breaker over Milwaukee but the Bucks can take two of three for the season over the Sixers (if they take the April 25th meeting at home against Philadelphia).
Even if the Bucks did get the edge over the Sixers, Philly still has the advantage. They can win just nine of their remaining 17 games and Milwaukee would still have to win 14 of their final 17 to eclipse Philadelphia.
A more reachable goal may be overtaking the Knicks. NY is dealing with a back injury to Amar’e Stoudemire. The opponents meet one more time. If the Knicks win, they’d send the tiebreaker to conference record (which they currently lead) otherwise the Bucks would have the edge.
A Milwaukee victory would put them just one loss behind New York. The Knicks have 16 games remaining including eight of 13 on the road (Indiana, Orlando, Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, etc.).
The Bucks have just six left on the road all year. Only two are against team currently in playoff contention (Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics.
Given the schedule and Stoudemire’s back, the Bucks may now be the favorite for the eighth seed over the Knicks.
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