OAKLAND – They’re back to being the anchored Hornets, out of relocation limbo in New Orleans until further notice after drawing enough fans by a Jan. 31 deadline to avoid triggering an option that would have allowed the owners to break the arena lease and move after the season.
This passes for stability in their world. Yet, the NBA is still the caretaker owner until a permanent buyer can be found. No one can say for sure whether the Big Easy is still an interim home for the franchise that started in Charlotte. And, finally, the lockout is bearing down. Try getting customers excited to buy season tickets if it’s impossible to tell them when (if?) the season is going to start.
The other perspective: While reaching the statistical benchmark to keep the lease in place was an important victory for civic and government leaders who rallied locals for increased fan support, the Hornets were still No. 24 in the league in attendance entering Wednesday. Only the Hawks, Pacers, Grizzlies, Nets, 76ers and Kings had a worse showing at the turnstiles than the 14,487 in New Orleans.
Looking good: Who says the Hawks can’t survive without Joe Johnson, who is out 4 to 6 weeks with an elbow injury that will require a surgical procedure from Dr. James Andrews to fix the problem? They did just fine without him in this win over the Hang Time Grizzlies. The Hawks piled up a season-high 33 assists (on 42 made field goals) without Johnson in the mix. It’s the best Larry Drew‘s movement-based offense has looked this season.
Sound the Alarm: Whatever experiment our Grizzlies are conducting at shooting guard needs to stop. Rookie Xavier Henry got the start against the Hawks and O.J. Mayo finished with 10 points off the bench. But their combined work didn’t come close to matching the 25 points and 10 assists the Hawks got from Mo Evans and Jamal Crawford.
HT’s Take: All that chatter about Jeff Teague snatching Mike Bibby‘s starting job has vanished in just one month of the season. Bibby was clutch in the win over the Grizzlies, nailing four of his five shots from beyond the 3-point line. Without Johnson for the next month or so, the Hawks are going to need more big games from Bibby, Crawford, Evans, Teague and rookie Jordan Crawford.
Looking good: Nets point guard Jordan Farmar will have to wait a while longer to get the shine he deserves, because as good as his 28-point, nine-assist night was, it wasn’t nearly as wicked as the performance Russell Westbrook had. Westbrook scored all 13 of the Thunder’s points in the third overtime and finished his night with 38 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. If Westbrook keeps this up, the Thunder will have to make room for two names (Kevin Durant and Westbrook) on the marquee. And I want to see the Western Conference coach brave enough to leave Westbrook off of the All-Star team.
Sound the Alarm: Despite the fireworks, this wasn’t an instant classic. Neither team played well before halftime and it did take them three overtimes to pile up 223 total points. That’s what happens when both teams are missing their catalysts (both Durant and Nets point guard Devin Harris were in street clothes). The injury concerns for both of those guys will have a serious impact on their respective teams if they persist.
HT’s Take: We hear all the complaints about the Thunder being overhyped and not really ready for prime time, yet they keep finding ways to win games, with and without Durant in uniform. They have the same record as the Los Angeles Lakers, so they can’t be too far off the pace. We predicted the Thunder would be among the top two in the West when it was all said and done and we’re not ready to toss that out just yet. We still believe they have the potential to chase that spot.
BOSTON 99, PORTLAND 95
Looking good: Raise your hand if you thought the Celtics’ Big 3 would still be going strong like this 200 games deep into this experiment. We certainly can’t make that claim. But the Celtics continue to defy all of the rules of age by continually waxing the opposition. It certainly helps when Paul Pierce is dialed in the way he was against the Trail Blazers — he torched them for 28 points (including a 4-for-5 showing from long distance).
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For the longest time, going all the way back to middle of summer, we weren’t sure what it was Chris Paul was looking for.
We heard the rumors. Then we heard from him, dispelling the rumors. And then came the sit down meeting with the Hornets’ brass and word that everything was good.
But we still had no idea what it was CP3 wanted.
Then the season started and everything cleared up. The Hornets rolled to the best start in the league and went about their business like the summer and all the drama had never happened.
We see it now. Chris Paul wants his crown back, the one Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose and several others have tried on in his absence from the throne as the NBA’s top point guard.
Even better, Paul is going about getting it back the ol’ fashioned way, he’s going to earn it back. It always helps when the organization has your back. And the Hornets are making all the right moves these days.
Their weekend trade — Toronto sent Jarrett Jack, David Andersen and Marcus Banks to New Orleans for Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless — is just the latest master stroke of new GM Dell Demps, who knows a thing or two about building a winner after working in San Antonio prior to taking over the Hornets in the summer.
(The Nuggets might want to take notes or at least call Demps for some pointers, what with Carmelo Anthony‘s name being mentioned more prominently than Paul’s in nearly every trade rumors since draft night.)
The message the Hornets are sending is as simple as it is impressive. If you want to keep your superstar happy and in the fold, don’t just talk about it, act like it!
The Hornets have not only reshaped the roster and shown Paul that they can put the winning pieces around him, they’ve also slid out from under the looming guillotine of the luxury tax, proving that you can be proactive and tax-minded at the same time (while retaining just enough usable assets to make more moves, if need be, in the coming months).
Think about all the work the Hornets have done since summer, all of the new faces that have been added and all of the dead weight tossed overboard. It’s a rather remarkable makeover on the go when you sit back and admire the changes. And they’ve used a splendid mix of old and new to run off this 11-1 start, which is a product of the approach of coach Monty Williams (the defensive-minded Hornets have allowed just one opponent to score 100 point so far).
David West and Emeka Okafor are playing fantastic basketball right now, as the top-flight recipients of Paul’s assists tend to do. But raise your hand if you knew where Marco Belinelli‘s played this time a year ago. Trevor Ariza, Willie Green and Jason Smith are all doing their part. And the additions of Jack and Andersen give the Hornets some much-needed depth.
With Jack in the backcourt rotation, he can play both spots, ensures that Paul’s minutes can be managed throughout the course of the season and the Hornets can continue their feel good story for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, it might be time for someone to get Paul his crown back!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If Shaun Livingston‘s devastating knee injury is your lasting memory of the former lottery pick, it’s time to let it go.
He’s currently rewriting his own story with one of the better comeback stories I can remember in recent years.
No, he probably won’t be the All-Star many predicted when the Clippers made him the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft (at the time one former Eastern Conference GM told me he thought Livingston was the “most talented” player in a class that included Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Martin, Luol Deng, J.R. Smith and Devin Harris, among others).
But he’s rebuilding his career after blowing out his knee three years ago.
Go ahead, you can call it a comeback.
It always helps to have time and situation on your side. And the Wizards are using the all-hands-on-deck approach these days. But it’s hard to dismiss the production and steady hand he’s provided the Wizards during these tumultuous times.
“Shaun Livingston again presented an argument about keeping him here beyond the final six games as he matched his career-high with 21 points and added eight assists with no turnovers. He started the game 9 for 9 from the field and had two dunks, including an impressive driving two-hand slam that gave the Wizards a 77-55 lead. After the Warriors got within 16, Livingston later dribbled the ball behind his back and pulled up for a fade away jumper. He got fouled on the play and added a free throw. Livingston finally missed a shot late in the third, as he came up short on a rebound tip.
Over his last four games, Livingston is averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 assists. “I’m just trying to finish strong. I’m getting the opportunity to play, getting a lot of minutes, unfortunately with the loss of some teammates,” he said. “With more minutes, I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
And [Flip] Saunders is gaining more confidence in him. “Everyone has always known, he is a point guard and the only reason he’s not an all-star at this point is because of the injury,” Saunders said. “We knew he had the mental capacity to play the position. We knew at one point, he had the physical skills. Even though he might not be as physically explosive as he used to be, he seems to be getting better and better with that. He’s got unbelievable size, so you can do a lot with him. He’s progressed and he’s getting more confidence.”
I know we are technically not supposed to root for anyone specifically. But I’m willing to pay whatever penalty for pulling for this kid to regain his footing in the league.
Having watched him twice during his high school career (he won back-to-back prep titles at Peoria, IL, Central HS), I was like that GM I mentioned. With his size, talent and skill level I thought he was going to be the steal of that draft.
He won’t deliver on that prediction, but I’ll take a long and solid career from here on out.