Thursday, November 12, 2009
Updated: November 13, 9:10 AM ET
Hornets fire Scott, name Bower coach
By Marc Stein
After nearly losing his job following last season's first-round exit in the playoffs, Byron Scott's coaching tenure with the New Orleans Hornets lasted only nine more games.
The Hornets on Thursday responded to their 3-6 start -- and a limp effort on national television in Wednesday's 20-point loss to Phoenix -- by firing Scott and replacing him with general manager Jeff Bower.
The firing is the second major move that the Hornets have made since the end of last season in an attempt to reverse their recent slide and ease the growing frustrations of star guard Chris Paul, although sources close to the situation stressed that Paul has remained a strong Scott supporter.
"I felt like, maybe somebody would have at least consulted with me and asked how I felt before it happened," Paul told the New Orleans Times-Picayune after Scott's firing was formally announced. "It's not to get my approval, but we feel we should know about the decision before it takes place."
The Hornets' tinkering began in July with the trade of center Tyson Chandler -- who was plagued by foot problems throughout last season -- to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor.
New Orleans has also rehired former coach Tim Floyd, who left USC in June in the wake of ongoing questions about the recruiting of O.J. Mayo, to serve as top assistant to Bower. Floyd posted a 41-41 record in 2003-04 in his only season as Hornets coach; Bower was an assistant to Floyd that season but has never been a head coach in either college or the pros.
"I just think that we had gotten to the point where things that we were doing just weren't working, weren't being effective," Hornets forward David West told local reporters.
Saying that the Hornets "needed to try some new things," West added: "Amongst the team I think there was a sense [that] a few guys weren't trusting what we had in terms of our system and our ability to know what we were going to get every single night from our system."
Although he was named NBA Coach of the Year as recently as 2008 and despite obvious holes on the Hornets' roster that he had no power to fill -- particularly at the wing positions -- Scott has been under pressure since the playoffs last spring. The Hornets were pounded in the first round by Denver after an injury-filled regular season, losing by a whopping 58 points in Game 4 in what wound up as New Orleans' final home game of the season.
Scott managed to hang on to his job in spite of the concerns about how much sway he still had in New Orleans' locker room in terms of getting a response from his players. But various NBA coaching sources have maintained for months that Scott's survival had more to do with the $5 million he was owed this season in the final year of his Hornets contract than any endorsement from management.
Team president Hugh Weber described the team as "broken" in a session with local reporters, pointing to the signs of subpar energy and effort in four of New Orleans' six losses to date. It's also believed that Scott's reluctance to play prized rookie Darren Collison and preference for Bobby Brown or Devin Brown were also factors in Thursday's decision.
"He knows this team better than anyone, has the respect of players and in basketball circles, is regarded as one of the best basketball minds in the business," Hornets owner George Shinn said of Bower. "This is our best opportunity to reach our goals this season."
Said Weber in explaining Scott's dismissal: "It goes back to our performance last year. Obviously you see habits forming. You don't want to see those habits re-form when you bring in new guys. You're hopeful through training camp, you're seeing signs of hope and glimmer, but again, the body of work has to come together in a way that you see progress and we saw that gap actually growing. We saw frustration throughout the organization."
But Weber also said: "I told Jeff the genie is out of the bottle. Nobody can say he didn't have the right players. ... Jeff has hand-selected this team and we like the idea that now Jeff will be held accountable for the results."
Yet it remains to be seen how Paul responds to this move. Paul was especially close with Chandler and maintained a good relationship with Scott even amid the Hornets' recent struggles, sources reiterated.
Paul and West would undoubtedly welcome more scoring help, but the Hornets have been operating on a tight budget in recent months with their 2009-10 payroll already more than $3 million over the league's $69.9 million luxury-tax threshold. Given its lack of financial flexibility and limited cache of tradable assets, New Orleans surprised few league observers with the change even at this early juncture. Firing Scott appeared to be the easiest shake-it-up card that Shinn could play.
Scott also helped the Hornets through two seasons during which they split time between New Orleans and Oklahoma City (2005-06 and 2006-07) in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and posted an overall record with the Hornets of 203-216 after last season's dip to 49-33.
Bower is in his 15th season with the franchise, having worked his way up from an advance-scouting position after stints as a collegiate assistant coach at Penn State and Marist. Floyd rose to coaching prominence at the University of New Orleans in the early 1990s before his difficult stint as Phil Jackson's successor with the Chicago Bulls.
"Accountability was our theme this past summer," Hornets vice president Chad Shinn said. "We talked about the fact that everyone on our staff is held to a certain standard of performance and we didn't feel that was happening at the head coach level. We feel like we still have an opportunity with our nucleus to get to where we want and Jeff is the right guy, right now, to move us in that direction from the bench."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.