Posts Tagged ‘Monty Williams’

Blogtable: What To Make Of The Pelicans

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Dual dueling PGs in Houston | Tough Guy award | What to make of the Pelicans


The exhibition season doesn’t mean a thing … does it? What are we to make of the New Orleans Pelicans? Are they any good?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAs the late, great Tony Montana said, “Fly, Pelican. Fly!” But I see this as more of a “try Pelicans, try” season. The parts are intriguing, but it’s all promise, not yet payoff. I’ll believe in a durable Eric Gordon, for instance, when I see him playing 78 games again some year. Anthony Davis‘ length and liveliness will carry him far as a defender but he still has refining to do. Most of the Pelicans’ roster has that “yes, but…” aspect to it. And while the schedule is balanced, just looking at the big boys in the Southwest Division could be daunting for bayou birds.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Didn’t you just answer your own question? I hear with the right combination of cayenne pepper and a good roux, you can make a tasty pelican gumbo.  And if coach Monty Williams stirs the pot just right, a team that can battle for the No. 8 spot in the West.

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comSometimes the preseason does mean something. Specifically for a young team learning how to win. Anthony Davis‘ impressive preseason is not a fluke. The kid, we are learning, is going to be a force. Are they a good team? Good is relative. Compared to what? Compared to what they were last year? Yes, they are a good team. Compared to the Spurs or Thunder. No, they are an improving team. But to the point, the Pelicans’ preseason does have meaning for a young team with a lot of talent, if not experience.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes. I don’t think playoff good, but no one should be surprised at the obvious signs of progress. Anthony Davis could still turn out to be the best player from the 2013 draft, Jrue Holiday is a nice add, Monty Williams is a quality coach, Eric Gordon continues to have good moments when healthy, and Ryan Anderson is an ideal complementary fit. New Orleans will go from 27 wins to 40-42.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Here’s a Schuhmann Stat: Over the last eight full preseasons (skipping 2011), 17 teams have gone through the exhibition schedule with less than two losses, and 14 of the 17 have made the playoffs. That’s kind of encouraging, though two of the three eventual lottery teams were last year’s Sixers and Raptors. The Pelicans have the talent – a strong top seven – to make get a seven or eight seed in the West, especially if Anthony Davis can carry this type of offensive production into the regular season. Ultimately, it will come down to how well they defend, something they did terribly last season. Watching some preseason film, Davis still needs improvement on his pick-and-roll coverage.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI have a concrete stance about preseason evaluations and I won’t abandon it in this case, even though I’m high on the talent base the Pelicans have put together. I’m ready to buy Pelicans stock, I’ll go that far. But I’m not ready to proclaim them a legitimate playoff party crasher in the Western Conference based on their work in October. I need a larger and more reasonable sample size to work with. And let’s be real, we’ve been here too many times in the preseason or early in the regular season, cranking up the expectations on a team that goes nuts trying to win every quarter of every game, only to see them falter after a few weeks of playing above their heads. The undefeated preseason mark, to date, is indeed impressive. But it comes with an asterisk, just like everything else before Halloween does. Keep it up through Thanksgiving and then we can talk. The Pelicans are worth keeping an eye on, thanks to that collection of young talent that could and should be the basis for a playoff contender in the coming years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I like their uniforms! As far as how they are going to be this season … yeah, we still don’t know. The one thing I feel like isn’t being talked about enough is their acquisition of Jrue Holiday — in the era of the point guard, going out and getting an All-Star caliber guard really makes a statement and helps establish your team on another level. I think health is the other thing to keep an eye on with the Pels — if Anthony Davis and, more relevantly, Eric Gordon are able to give you 70-80 games apiece, the Pels might mess around and sneak into the playoffs.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com BrasilThe record doesn’t mean anything, but you certainly can take away something about chemistry, focus and individual player improvements. For a young, revamped team like the Pelicans, the preseason is important to develop a winning culture, so their impeccable record so far is certainly gonna translate well to the regular season. Anthony Davis looks like he stepped up his game to another level, and Eric Gordon has sparked memories of his best days as a Clipper. Nobody is suggesting the Pelicans are a title contender, but they will surely surprise a lot of people and could have a fast start to their season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italy: You can’t trust preseason games, but winning’s always a good way to boost your morale. I think the Pelicans could be a fringe playoff team this year. To go back to the postseason, though, they need a breakout season from Anthony Davis, they need Eric Gordon healthy and back to his Clippers days and they need Tyreke Evans to play as well as he did in 2009-10, when he won the Rookie of the Year. Now that I write that, I’m getting a little afraid that those are too many ifs.

One Team, One Stat: No D In New Orleans

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the New Orleans Pelicans, who hope not to defend like the Hornets did last season.

The basics
NOH Rank
W-L 27-55 26
Pace 90.9 30
OffRtg 102.7 17
DefRtg 107.6 28
NetRtg -5.0 25

The stat

111.2 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Hornets after the All-Star break. They had the worst post-break defense in the league.

The context

Head coach Monty Williams often says that his team has a defensive identity, but the Hornets were the third worst defensive team in the league last season. They were a top-10 defensive rebounding team, but ranked 25th in forcing turnovers and 27th in both 2-point (50.5 percent) and 3-point (37.4 percent) defense.

As the Spurs figured out last season, rebounds are nice, but contesting shots, is, by far, the most important thing you can do defensively.

Lowest % of opponent shots
from mid-range
Team %FGA
New Orleans 23.5%
Charlotte 24.4%
New York 26.0%
Miami 26.3%
Denver 26.4%

The Hornets’ poor shooting defense was, in part, a result of the shots they forced. Only 23.5 percent of their opponents’ shots came from mid-range, the lowest rate in the league. If you want to be a great defense, you need to run your opponents off the 3-point line and keep them out of the paint, and the Hornets didn’t do that enough.

They were particularly awful, allowing a whopping 115.0 points per 100 possessions, in 697 minutes with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson on the floor together. They basically did everything worse in those minutes. They didn’t defend the 3-point line or paint as well, they didn’t force as many turnovers, they rebounded worse, and they fouled more.

The Orlando Magic ranked 27th offensively last season and went 8-49 after Dec. 20. But on March 4, they scored a ridiculous 72 points in just 25 minutes with Anderson and Davis on the floor, shooting 29-for-47 (62 percent) from the field. Here are some of the defensive lowlights…

Anderson’s primary issue is foot speed. He has a difficult time staying in front of quick guards on pick-and-rolls. Davis, meanwhile, was probably too quick for his own good in his rookie year. He has the potential to be a fantastic defender if he can stay in control more. The Hornets might be better off asking him to contain (stay back on), rather than hedge (jump out on), pick-and-rolls.

That night against the Magic, Robin Lopez was in foul trouble. Now, he’s in Portland. Williams could start Greg Stiemsma or Jason Smith at center, but Anderson and Davis will spend a lot of time on the floor together and they’ll have to defend a lot better than they did last season.

New Orleans added talent this summer, but Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday can’t improve this team as much as better defense can.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

x

HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Rick’s Tips: Buy The Brow Low Now





The time is now to trade for Hornets’ rookie Anthony Davis, who is averaging only 9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 25.3 minutes in seven games this month.

Has Davis hit the rookie wall?

NBA.com/FantasyDavis hasn’t admitted to that cliché and he probably never will, but the stats say otherwise. His points have declined from 15.0 to 14.0 to 9.4 in November, December, and January, respectively. And his blocks have declined from 2.4 to 1.8 to 1.3 in the same months.

Also contributing to Davis’ decline is the return of Eric Gordon, who made his season debut on Dec. 29, perfectly coinciding with Davis’ drop in numbers this January. Gordon, as expected, is taking 15.3 field goal attempts per game, causing Davis’ FGA’s to dip from 11.6 in November and December down to 8.6 in January.

I trust Hornets’ head coach Monty Williams to figure out a way to make it work, such that Gordon gets his, while Davis gets his. Also, I trust in the incredible talents of Davis, who is simply too gifted to average 9 and 6 for the rest of the season.

Davis’ best month was November, when he averaged 15 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 28.2 minutes, and he should return to that level once he gets a second wind.

Sunday’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden was a start, as Davis had 13 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.

You have to give to get in fantasy hoops, so here are a few big men you might want to dangle as trade bait for Davis: Kevin Garnett (14.8 points, 7.0 rebounds), Marcin Gortat (11.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks); Paul Millsap (14.9 points, 7.7 rebounds).

I realize the holidays are over and you’re all shopped out, but you don’t have to leave the house to go fantasy shopping. So what are you waiting for?

Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.

Vasquez, Gordon Give Hornets Some Hope

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Greivis Vasquez deserves a raise — which he’ll get in due time — or the key to the city or, heck, just make him mayor of New Orleans.

The city, and its beleaguered basketball team, couldn’t ask for a better ambassador than the Venezuelan-born point guard who’s leaving his heart and sweat on the floor every night as he emerges as a top talent in the league.

“The biggest thing is I’m getting an opportunity,” said Vasquez, a recent player of the week recipient. “Still, people don’t know about me as much because I’m playing in a small market, which I love. I love this city, I love this team.”

Pretty refreshing stuff from a third-year player just starting to hit his stride for a franchise that’s endured it’s share of hard knocks in recent years — including a hard-luck 7-25 start to this season.

Yet as I wrote after Saturday’s 99-96 overtime win at Dallas, the season really started at that moment. Add Monday’s impressive thumping of the San Antonio Spurs in front of 11,599 that ended a seven-game home losing streak, and Wednesday’s fourth-quarter comeback against the previously streaking Houston Rockets, and the Hornets are on a roll with their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Why the reset on the season?

Because the ridiculously youthful Hornets finally got game-changer and now-healthy shooting guard Eric Gordon in the starting lineup Saturday. It allowed coach Monty Williams to make other changes and roll out the starting five he envisioned.

And this is where Vasquez’s ambassadorial value comes shining through. A 6-foot-6, bearded jolt of energy, smiles, enthusiasm and positivity, his team-first attitude is absolutely contagious. It’s critical to the evolution of this franchise, and no more so than as it relates to Gordon, the 6-foot-3 scoring machine deemed the future of the franchise when New Orleans acquired him in the painful CP3 trade 13 months ago.

“I have a good relationship with Eric and I tell you this, we have been talking a lot,” Vasquez said before Saturday’s comeback victory. “Eric is a pro. I feel him as a player too, because his knee was really bothering him. But now he feels like his teammates got his back, we all got his back. We all know he’s going to make us better and we’re going to make him better. And now, we talked [Friday] night, we’re going to make this situation a great situation. We’re going to start winning games.

“For a guy like that to say that to a guy like me, that means a lot. I’m sure he’s saying that on behalf of the whole team because we’re winners, we want to win and we work. And that has been the main thing of our team, we’re going to work regardless. Whether we lose or win tomorrow we are getting better because our vision is in the future.” (more…)

Hornets Cautious This Time With Gordon

HOUSTON – More than an hour before tipoff, Eric Gordon was out on the Toyota Center court with his teammates, spinning left, moving right, pulling up on the dribble and firing jumpers. Some hit the rim and bounced away, but most found the bottom of the net, just the way you’d hope for one of the main guns in an offense that needs all the help it can get.

Except that when the game started Gordon was in street clothes, back on the bench, where he has spent far too much time over the past two seasons.

The Hornets are taking the very cautious approach this time around, holding their 6-foot-3 guard out of back-to-back games as he continues his comeback from a patella tendon disorder and a bone bruise in his right knee.

After missing the first 29 games of the season, Gordon finally made his debut on Saturday night at Charlotte, scoring a team-high 24 points in 25 minutes of a win. Then he played another 25 minutes and shot just 5-for-17 in a loss at home to Atlanta on Tuesday night.

“It’s not so much rest, but just being smart with his knee,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “It’s what the doctors had recommended … Obviously, as a coach, you want him out there, but you’ve got to err on the side of caution.”

Especially with the memories of a year ago still fresh in their minds. That’s when Gordon suffered what was originally thought to be a bone bruise in his knee in the Dec. 26 season opener, sat out four games and then came back and played 39 minutes of a loss to Philadelphia.

That turned out to be the last game Gordon would play until April, following arthroscopic surgery Feb. 14 when rehabbing the knee with rest and therapy was unsuccessful.

“I’ve got to be more careful this time,” Gordon said. “The last thing I want to do is push too hard too fast and find myself right back in a position where I’ve got to sit out again. That’s not something that I want to go through again.”

After coming to New Orleans as part of the controversial Chris Paul trade just before the start of last season, Gordon has played in just 11 games for the Hornets. He became a restricted free agent last summer and signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Suns and caused a stir in New Orleans by saying he hoped the Hornets wouldn’t match it.

“That was just part of getting the contract and me doing what was best for me,” Gordon said. “I think everyone is past that now and the reception I got in my first home game in New Orleans the other night was what I expected. It was good.”

What Gordon had also expected was to be able to team up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis before now and to start putting the pieces back together for the Hornets.

“It can be very positive for us going forward,” Gordon said. “Now it’s all about the growing process. When you see young guys being consistent, that’s when you’re growing. Of course, to do that we’ve all got to be out there playing together.”

To be able to stay out there together for the long run, Gordon is willing to have the reins held tight for now. His minutes will continue to be limited in the near future, but Williams said they could be increased by 4-10 minutes by the next game at Dallas on Saturday.

“When you’re like me and you haven’t played much basketball for 1 1/2 years, it can be mentally draining,” Gordon said. “You want to push. You want to hurry. You get so eager. But then you have to sit down and remember all those long, hard days when all you could do was rehab and rehab and couldn’t be with your team.

“My passion and love is this game. These limited minutes right now are tough to swallow. But last year I came back and played full-out right from the start and look where it got me. It’s a lot harder mentally to do it this way. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot smarter.”

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Will Gordon Return Be Naughty Or Nice?


HANG TIME, Texas
— Ho! Ho! Ho!

Look who came down the chimney of the Hornets early on Christmas Eve.

Guard Eric Gordon, who has been on the shelf all season due to problems with his right knee, took part in his first practice since training camp on Monday.

Though he is a present that still requires more assembly before all the kids can play with him in a game, just the sight of Gordon out on the court is a lift to a New Orleans bunch that has lost 11 in a row.

Coach Monty Williams said Gordon will not play Wednesday at Orlando. But Gordon says he felt great and indicated to our man John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he would like to play before the end of 2012. After the Magic, the Hornets will play at home against Toronto on Friday and at Charlotte on Saturday.

“I felt pretty good,” Gordon said after Monday’s practice.“I was just ready to get out there with the guys. It was full contact and I participated in every thing. Now it’s just the conditioning part.”

It was only Gordon’s third contact practice he has participated in since training camp began this past October. He participated in two contact practices before the Hornets opened the regular season against the San Antonio Spurs, but he did not play because of recurring problems with his knee.

Before rejoining the team Saturday, Gordon had been in Los Angeles since early November going through extensive rehabilitation work to strengthen his knee.

“He looked pretty good out there at attacking the basket,” Williams said after Monday’s practice. “He looked pretty encouraging, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Of course, the big question that still hangs in the air is whether reception Gordon will receive a naughty or nice reception when he finally return to the court before the home fans in New Orleans. Many of them still haven’t forgotten that he said he wanted to put the Hornets in the rear view mirror and continue his career in Phoenix after the Suns signed him to a four-year free agent contract worth more than $58 million last summer.

All might have been forgotten quickly if Gordon had been able to make a good early impression while teaming up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis. But when Davis had early aches of his own that kept him out of the lineup and with Gordon missing the first 27 games, Hornets fans have watched another season go south quickly (5-22).

Gordon has said that his statements were only part of the regular negotiating that is done in free agency and Williams has already made a public plea for the guy who could put a big kick into his offense to be forgiven.

You’ve got to figure delivering big in that first game will be the only way to heal the wounds.

Billups To Suit Up, Start For Clippers




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If veteran guard Chauncey Billups can do anything to cure what ails the Los Angeles Clippers, losers of four straight games, we will all find out tonight.

Billups is expected to make his season debut tonight against Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV), per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

It’s an injury return that couldn’t come at a better time for the Clippers, who have found themselves embroiled in one mess after another lately during their mini-slump.

Vinny Del Negro is suddenly on the hot seat (his normal spot, nothing new) and the Clippers are struggling to find the rhythm they had when they kicked off the season on a 8-2 surge.

Chris Paul was critical of his team’s effort, and some people feel his head coach, Vinny Del Negro, after Monday’s loss to the New Orleans Hornets. He even tweeted about it, creating an uproar with words that lacked the context of his more nuanced reaction that only some seemed to pay attention to:

“We lost to a very … let me choose my words … not a very talented team but well coached,” Paul said. “I watch them play every game that they play. One thing about [coach] Monty [Williams] is they’re going to play hard. If you watch their games, they been to a couple of overtimes and they’ve only been in a couple of blowouts, which were against Denver and Oklahoma City. They’re going to play hard. … With those guys playing like that and us waiting until the fourth quarter to turn it on, it’s going to be tough.”

Paul’s praise for his former coach, Williams, was seen as a direct shot at Del Negro.

The return of the Clippers’ most prominent leader not named Paul, however, could be the infusion of positive energy needed to get this team back on track.

Of course, Billups hasn’t played since he tore his left Achilles tendon last Feb. 6. Before that injury he was playing a critical role alongside Paul, averaging 15 points and four assists, in one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league.

Now he joins not only Paul, but his replacement, Willie Green, and bench stars Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, in what has to be one of the deepest and most explosive backcourt rotations in all of basketball.

Paul’s Words After Loss Could Raise Pressure On Clips’ Del Negro

It was, and will end up being, one of the more dizzying games of the season. Caron Butler making nine 3-pointers and the Clippers losing. The Hornets, down their two best players, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, winning. A career-low four points for Blake Griffin. The Clippers making just one more two-point shot (19) than from behind the arc (18). And New Orleans, a lottery team even at full strength, on the road on the second night of a back-to-back and still getting better bench play than one of the deepest teams in the league.

And afterward things got really good.

Chris Paul, as quoted by Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, said Los Angeles lost to “a less-talented team that was well-coached.” Shots fired.

On one hand, Paul may not have intended to run over his own coach, Vinny Del Negro, then back up and run over Del Negro again by complimenting the opposing coach, Monty Williams. Paul may simply have intended to praise his former coach from their days together in New Orleans. It could have been pro-Williams without being anti-Del Negro.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter.

Del Negro is already facing enough much-deserved scrutiny. Now Paul’s comment will only increase it. Paul’s words will be interpreted by many as the star point guard, in the final season of his contract, putting his coach in a bad light.

With a lot of other teams at other times, a player so much as appearing to pull the chair from under a coach — whether the actual intention or not — could be explained away as over-analyzing a deserved compliment for Williams. But this is about the Clippers in win-now mode yet being unable, again, to harness a championship-hopeful’s focus. It is also about Donald T. Sterling.

While a lot of owners ignore popularity contests to guide personnel decisions and go with the opinions of the basketball-ops staff, Sterling has spent decades trying to win the press conference. He famously asks security guards and ushers at the arena, media, fans, anyone, for advice in solving the Problem of the Day. Not because he is making conversation. Because he will make major decisions based on the subsequent approval rating.

Sterling has been known to care more about what his friends think than what his general manager thinks. So Paul stoking the many fans who have been hoping for Del Negro’s departure will be read as CP3 saying something along the lines of “If only we were well-coached.” Paul didn’t have to mean it that way. What matters in the Sterling universe is that it looks that way.

One thing about Del Negro continuing to catch heat, though. If he gets the blame for all performances like last night’s — such as those seen in a loss to the Warriors, a loss to the Cavaliers, a loss to the Hawks and a loss to the Hornets — he should get the credit for beating the Spurs twice and the Heat, Lakers and Bulls before the first full month is complete. There has been some good, after all. However Paul meant it.