NBA@2: Deron Williams Next For Hornets?
It’s never easy for a team to move on in wake of a superstar’s departure. That lesson seems to be more prevalent in today’s NBA than it has ever been before. Players like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire all left gaping holes behind when they moved on, and Chris Paul joined that list when he forced a trade in December.
In two cases, the teams losing their stars got enough in return to give them a definite direction going forward. The Denver Nuggets got so much in return when they traded Carmelo to the New York Knicks that they are now regarded as one of the deepest teams in the NBA. It’s even widely believed that the Knicks gave up too much, and their record is reflective of that belief. Similarly, the Los Angeles Clippers gave up an awful lot to land Chris Paul, and it remains to be seen if they have enough depth to contend.
The trade allowed the New Orleans Hornets to basically trade three starters for one, with Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu all coming to town. Kaman has been an All-Star and Gordon seems destined for the same, meaning the Hornets are ahead of the curve in the rebuilding phase.
“We’ve got some good guys with Aminu, we just acquired Xavier Henry, Eric Gordon,” Hornets GM Dell Demps tells HOOPSWORLD. “We’ve got some young guys and we’ve got some solid vets also in (Jarrett) Jack, (Emeka) Okafor, (Carl) Landry, Kaman, so we’ve got a good mixture right now. We want to get healthy with (Trevor) Ariza out right now and Gordon out – it’s hard when those two guys are out. It’s early, but still we think the future is bright.”
On the forefront of that future is Jack, who made a strong impression on Demps after the Hornets acquired him from the Toronto Raptors. He’s having the best season of his career so far this year, averaging just under 16 points and eight assists per game.
“He’s embraced the leadership role and I think that’s where it starts,” says Demps. “He’s our leader and I’m really happy for him. He was the guy last year and we had to find minutes for him and when we went on a run last year he was a big part of what we did. I’m happy he’s getting the opportunity to show what he can do because he’s a really good player.”
The writing was really already on the wall for the Hornets in terms of replacing Chris Paul. Just as the media had been hyping Paul’s departure for months, the Hornets were preparing for life after CP3 when they acquired Jack.
“Last year when we acquired him we thought there was a possibility that he would be our next team leader,” reveals Demps. “We always thought it would be a possibility that Chris would leave and we wanted to make sure we had someone there that could run the show. I’m really happy for Jarrett right now. His work ethic, his leadership, just the way he communicates with the guys has been big for us.”
Another important move Demps made last season was the trade that sent Marcus Thornton to Sacrament and brought Carl Landry to town. Much like Jack has replaced Paul, Landry is the heir apparent to the departed David West. Landry played well immediately for the Hornets, but it was his postseason play that really secured him a roster spot this season.
“We’re bringing him off the bench right now, but we view him as a starter,” says Demps. “He was really big for us in our playoff run last year. He had a really good series against the Lakers (15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds per game starting for the injured West) and we want to grow off of that. Carl’s one of the guys that he can score and bring energy. We think that he is one of our core pieces moving forward.”
The lockout-shortened and compressed 2011-12 NBA season is not being kind to teams like the Hornets, who have so many new pieces to incorporate into the system. The team is off to a 3-6 start, owing partially to all of the new pieces, but also to the fact that Gordon has been out with a knee injury and Jason Smith has missed games dealing with a personal issue. The Hornets have yet to really field their best lineup.
“It’s hard to get practice time; it’s hard to get your defensive schemes in because we’ve got some new guys,” says Demps very matter-of-factly, not looking to make excuses. “We’ve got some young guys just learning our system and a good example is Jason Smith. Last year he was just trying to figure things out and now I see him out here being one of our leaders and helping the new guys with our system. It’s going to take a little time and we’re going to learn on the fly, but we’re thinking long-term more than short-term right now.”
One of the long-term realities for the Hornets is the fact that their trades and signings have created a great situation for them next summer. The team would like to have a new owner in place by then, and that new owner would be inheriting a team with only $35 million in committed salaries for 2012-13. That means the Hornets will be able to be major players in free agency, and could very well target New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams as their next All-Star floor leader.
For now, however, Demps would just like to see how good his team can be when everyone finally gets back on the court.
“I really want to see our team healthy. We haven’t played a game yet where everyone healthy. So it’s really hard to evaluate us right now because we haven’t had guys time to mesh and play together and we don’t know when that’s going to happen. We’re going to just keep plugging away at it.”
Grant Hill Talks Free Agency, Phoenix Suns
It wasn’t an easy decision for Grant Hill to stay in Phoenix when potential contenders like the New York Knicks were calling, but Hill did, indeed, stay. He talks about his decision process, the immediate future of the Suns, rookie Markieff Morris, and more in this exclusive interview:
Avery Johnson pulls no punches; it’s what made him a championship point guard with the San Antonio Spurs and it’s what helped him make his way from assistant coach to head coach in Dallas in near-record time. He’s fiery, he’s passionate, and he won’t hesitate to call a player out for not playing as hard as he should.
No one could possibly be more frustrated with the New Jersey Nets’ 2-8 start than Johnson, who has been at the helm for a little more than a year. Granted, the roster is not exactly built to contend, but that hasn’t stopped Johnson from pushing his players to the limit, including what has been described as his most contentious practice yet in Denver yesterday.
In fact, Nets players described Johnson’s last screaming match as his most intense since joining the Nets.
“There could be some truth to that statement,” Johnson admitted. “We continue to stand by them. But the worst thing you can get, especially in our situation, is what I call a losing spirit. We’re trying to guard ourselves against having that losing, ‘poor-me’ spirit. This league is a league of sharks. This is shark-infested water. And you’ll get eaten alive if you don’t have the right attitude mentally and if you’re not ready to play physically.”
“There are certain areas of our games and our system that we’ve been explaining the correct way to do something and we have been consistently malfunctioning in that area,” Johnson concluded, “so they had to understand how important it is to us as a coaching staff.”
“It was definitely the angriest I’ve ever seen him,” rookie MarShon Brooks said. “His main point was the little things. They’ve been doing a lot of trapping of Deron (Williams), and we haven’t been there in the bailout spots, just the spots we need to be. Little things. He was mad about that because he felt it was something he shouldn’t have to go over with us.”
It’s never easy for a team to live up to Avery Johnson’s expectations, even when fully healthy. The likelihood that a half-roster like the Nets have – even when healthy – will be able to accomplish the feat is almost completely remote. Expect there to be a lot more screaming from the Little General before this season is in the books.
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