It looks like they're trying to blow up the roster, with Chris Paul and David West remaining as the cornerstones. I wonder about any team that hires a coach [Monty Williams] before they hire a GM [Dell Demps], because the GM and coach have to be on the same page.
Even with Paul, I don't see how they can be back among the best in the West. You're always going to have a chance when you have a great point guard to make plays -- that's always been the case with Steve Nash. But I think about the success they had three seasons ago when they challenged San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs -- they've upgraded their athleticism but lowered their skill and experience since then.
I would be concerned about Paul's attitude over the course of the season. When he's on the court, he has a lot of personal pride. But if he's facing a losing streak or he's frustrated with the performance of the players around him, it's going to grind on him. Most of the really good players face that kind of frustration when things aren't going well. But it's going to be different for him because he's the guy with the ball all of the time, so all of the eyes are on him all of the time. If they're not having success, behind the scenes there is going to be a lot of tension. I don't think that's something they can avoid. And then it's going to be interesting to see how their young staff handles it.
You don't hear a whole lot from Paul anymore, but everybody knows what he's thinking -- he already said it by questioning the talent around him and opening the door for a trade. So now we're supposed to believe he suddenly changed his mind, like somebody brainwashed him? Any team would want to keep him because he's so good, but if he's not patient and not showing leadership, it could be really disruptive. He's coming to the point in his career where he's wanting to get into contention, but how is that going to happen in New Orleans?
West is definitely a good power forward, but he's not going to carry a team. Initially they acted as if West was their go-to guy after Paul was sidelined last season, but then they realized he couldn't do it night after night. West can get 20 points a game, but he needs someone like Paul to set him up. He's a skilled guy who can play inside and outside. I'm not trying to cut him down because West is very good, but he's not going to create his own offense.
I like their pickup of Trevor Ariza. He brings some of the things they were missing in terms of defense and athleticism. Ariza can make threes, but he's more of a slasher and open-court player. Rick Adelman gave him all of the freedom he wanted last season in Houston, which makes it a bad sign for Ariza that they traded him. But I think he'll prosper in New Orleans for as long as Paul is there. Defensively, he's good on the weakside because of his length and his ability to cover a lot of ground to go with his instincts for sniffing out passes and getting into the lanes. When he's defending on the ball, he has a knack for stripping it away.
Marcus Thornton has good range, and his athleticism is very good. But if you're looking to challenge for a top playoff spot, you may be asking too much from a second-year guy like Thornton. He's inexperienced, he doesn't know the league and what to expect, and he's still recognizing plays instead of responding instinctively to what he sees on the court. Those are all major weaknesses for young guys.
Emeka Okafor never really got going last season. I wouldn't count him out yet because he was playing better toward the end of the year. As a defender Okafor is pretty solid, and he's athletic enough to change shots. He'll rebound. You can't go to him repeatedly in the post, but he's not a stiff. If he has a weaker defender on him, you can give it to him and he can score.
I'm of the theory that it's worth double-teaming Okafor even though he doesn't really command that level of attention. But he's not a good passer out of the double team and you can get some easy points off turnovers, because he's one of those guys who has to be told where to pass it.
Backup center Jason Smith is a pick-and-pop guy who shoots it well and can put it on the floor for a couple of dribbles. He reminds me of Marty Conlon -- remember him? -- because he's not the prettiest player but he can get some points. Aaron Gray is going to have a hard time because of his constant fouling. Darryl Watkins is a more athletic big man who will play spot minutes.
Peja Stojakovic may be able to help them as long as they don't ask him to do much of anything in practice. Condition him as best you can and monitor his back and maybe you can get him through the season. But it can be hard for young coaches to accept that.
I've liked Marco Belinelli, but he's heavy-footed. If he's going to have any kind of future in the NBA, he has to show it with this team. He's a good passer and shooter, but he has a hard time getting around guys and a hard time defensively. So he's going to need a coach who sees more in him than what other coaches have seen and focuses on his strengths.
I was surprised that Williams got the head-coaching job. He doesn't have that much coaching experience. When the Bulls hired Vinny Del Negro, they surrounded him with former head coaches like Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff. But I look at Monty's staff in New Orleans and the only older guy is Randy Ayers. That might put more pressure on Monty to know his stuff because in this situation, with guys like Paul and West watching closely, a coach can lose his credibility quickly.
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