Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS ― Two weeks ago to the day, folks were writing off the New Orleans Hornets.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul was gone, shipped to the glamorous West Coast and the glitzy Hollywood scene, while All-Star forward David West signed on in middle America’s Indiana instead of staying on the Gulf Coast.
With no owner to be found and a lease extension still unsigned, the Hornets were supposed to be trash, playing in what some have termed a no frills arena while practicing in a facility suitable only for reptile and bird shows.
But what wasn’t taken into account was one factor – one very important factor.
The Hornets are coached by Monty Williams, keeper of perspective and inspirer to all.
“He’s a positive guy,” center Chris Kaman said. “He cares about his players personally and on the court, and he tries to make everybody happy and does a great job with scheming the defenses and offenses and he’s very thorough in his explanations. You really understand what he’s trying to do and I think everybody does.”
Behind Williams’ guidance, the Hornets are 2-0, with a win over Phoenix to go with Wednesday night’s 97-78 shellacking the Boston Celtics.
For much of the preseason, Williams has dealt with uppercuts.
First it was the failed trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers.
Then it was the trade that did go through.
Then it was the matter of West signing elsewhere.
The three players who came in the trade with the Clippers had only a week to learn Williams’ defensive sets before the season began.
Two days before the Hornets were set to open with the Suns, New Orleans sent Quincy Pondexter to Memphis for Greivis Vasquez.
Still, the Hornets have held both opponents to less than 40 percent shooting, forcing a combined 28 turnovers while out-rebounding both opponents by 13 total boards.
Not that this should be a surprise.
“It’s exactly what coach preaches,” forward Jason Smith said. “Defense is first. Offense will come with great defense. That’s what he has told us practice in, practice out. Defense. Defense. When the new guys came in, we got our defensive strategies in. He didn’t care about offense.”
During the preseason, Williams was pestered with questions about how he was dealing with all the nonsense.
And for much of that time, Williams reiterated the same thing over and over – he wasn’t dealing with anything; he and his players, he said, get paid a lot of money to play a game.
They don’t face real-world problems, such as poverty and famine and genocide, a nod to his trip to Africa this summer.
Back on the basketball court, likely because of Williams’ perspective, it’s obvious that others believe in him.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Boston coach Doc Rivers, a close friend of Williams, stood in the hallway outside the Celtics locker room and put things in a bit of perspective.
“I think this team’s going to play with a chip on its shoulder the entire year,” he said. “If I was a player and all I heard was if you lose Chris Paul it’s be the demise of the franchise that would make we want to prove a lot of people wrong and watching them in preseason and watching them in the first game, they pretty much played with that chip.”
They played with that chip again against Boston, thrilling the riled up sellout crowd of 17,802.
Their gritty play – blocking 12 shots, holding Boston to 37.2 percent shooting, muscling their way into rebounds – went over well to those in the stands in the Arena on Girod.
“The way we play is pretty exciting to me because I feel like we have guys who not only play hard, they’re trying to do the right thing,” Williams said. “We make a lot of mistakes and I think most teams do, but what I’m seeing from our team is a passion and level of emotion that you can’t conjure up, can’t fake it. When guys make mistakes, they feel it, take it to heart. It’s something I think we can build on.”
And that’s a reflection on Williams himself.
And that’s why the Hornets will be all right in the long run and why being written off in a condensed season of 66 games with a new team wasn’t right.