Hornets fire coach Byron Scott; GM to take over
November 12, 2009
WESTWEGO, La. – The New Orleans Hornets fired Byron Scott only nine games into the season on Thursday and replaced him with general manager Jeff Bower, hoping the man who put the current roster together can get more out of it on the court.
“I told Jeff, ‘The genie’s out of the bottle,”‘ Hornets chief operating officer Hugh Weber said. “Nobody can say he doesn’t have the right players. … Jeff has hand-selected this team, and we like the idea that now he’ll be held accountable for the results.
“Our expectations are high. Our sense of urgency is high. Our patience is low and we hope that translates into results quickly.”
Scott, who only two seasons ago was the NBA coach of the year, was fired one day after a 124-104 loss at Phoenix dropped New Orleans to 3-6.
Bower, who will remain general manager while in his first head coaching job, immediately moved to name Tim Floyd his top assistant and said other assistants will be retained as well. Floyd, a former Chicago Bulls and Hornets head coach, most recently coached at Southern California. He led USC to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, then resigned last June amid allegations he paid to have O.J. Mayo play for the Trojans. An NCAA investigation of the matter is ongoing.
Bower was Floyd’s assistant coach with the Hornets during the 2003-04 season, and the two are still friends.
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“I have a high comfort level with Tim, who has proven himself to be a quality coach, who has proven himself to have some very specific areas that he’s outstanding in,” Bower said.
The Hornets were 41-41 in Floyd’s only season as head coach, losing in a seven-game series to the Miami Heat and then-rookie Dwyane Wade in the first round of the playoffs.
The only player left on the Hornets roster from that season is David West, a rookie back then who has since become an All-Star. West said he respected Scott but understood the rationale behind making a change.
“The good thing is we’re 3-6, so getting back to .500 and getting going in the right direction isn’t something that’s out of the realm of possibility,” West said. “With Jeff coming in, bringing in Tim, for guys who’ve only played for coach Scott, it will be a dramatic difference.
“We’ve got to be receptive to what this brings because what we had wasn’t working,” West said. “Hopefully we can get some different results.”
Chris Paul, who has not played for any NBA coach but Scott, was not available after players gathered at the club’s suburban training center. Team officials said he had a prior commitment and had to leave. Paul was close with Scott. The pair golfed together and Paul once referred to Scott as a father figure who was closer to him than many of his own relatives.
“I understand personal relationships,” Bower said. “Chris, that’s one of his strengths, his ability to connect. And obviously it’s a very strong personal relationship (with Scott) and that should remain in place. This is a professional decision and a professional relationship that we have here and I have a lot of confidence in what he wants. He wants to win. … None of us are pleased from a personal standpoint to ever have a day like today.”
After spending 12 years as an assistant college coach at Penn State and Marist, Bower joined the Hornets’ scouting department in 1995 and began his first stint as general manager in 2001. He returned to a front office role in Scott’s first season and became general manager again during the 2005-06 season.
Messages left with Scott’s Los Angeles-area agent, Brian McInerney, were not immediately returned.
When Scott took over as coach following the 2003-04 season, replacing Floyd, he was the Hornets’ third coach in three seasons. The Hornets won only 18 games in Scott’s first season, a rebuilding year that saw the departure of Baron Davis in a trade with Golden State.
The following summer, the Hornets drafted Paul, and the team improved steadily during the next three seasons.
In 2007-08, when Paul and West were named to their first All-Star game, the Hornets went a franchise-best 56-26 during the regular season, winning the club’s first division title.
The Hornets went on to beat Dallas in the opening round of the playoffs before losing to San Antonio in the seventh game of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Scott was in the final year of a two-year extension worth about $5 million a year. The Hornets hired him hoping he could repeat what he did in New Jersey, when he twice took the Nets to the NBA finals. He wound up 203-216 in a little more than five seasons with the Hornets.
Scott’s stock in New Orleans began to drop last season, when the team struggled to make the playoffs as the Western Conference’s seventh seed before being bounced in the first round by Denver in five games.
The Nuggets won several lopsided games in that series, including a Game 4 victory by a whopping 58 points, tying the largest margin of victory in NBA playoff history.
Before this season started, Hornets owner George Shinn said he was disappointed to see young players like Brandon Bass, J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen, who’d been let go by the Hornets while Scott was coach, thrive elsewhere. He said he wanted Scott to do a better job developing young players.
Scott’s common response was that he had nothing against young players, only players who failed to grasp the nuances of the schemes he put in place. He pointed out that Paul started immediately as a rookie and flourished right away.
Bower said he studied the team throughout the preseason and the first nine games of this season, looking for evidence that the team was improving, and instead saw the squad falling back into the same stagnant patterns that plagued it a year ago.
Bower said he, Scott and the ownership collectively set out a plan in the offseason to change things, “And up to now we’re not satisfied with the way the plan has been executed, so it’s my job to change that.”
“We believe our personnel has the ability to perform at a much higher level than it has been.”