| ||Tuesday, October 26|
Last year: 26-24, fifth place in Central
Coach: Paul Silas
Arena: Charlotte Coliseum (24,042)
Last NBA title: None
Record the last 5 years/NBA rank: 222-156 (13th)
By Ken Cross
Former National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle surely would have smiled at the parity in the NBA's post-Michael Jordan era. Before the Bulls dominated on the court in the 1990s, Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers ruled the game. Now, as the new millennium approaches, any one of 10 teams appear capable of claiming an NBA title. That's why the depth, versatility and burgeoning cohesiveness of the Hornets have the team thinking big.
"You've got to love the talent we have and the chance we have in front of us," says Eddie Jones, acquired last March with Elden Campbell in a trade with the Lakers for Glen Rice. "In L.A., they were never happy with the team, and they had real potential. Here, we're happy, and we feel we can compete."
The Hornets are two-deep at every position, and friendly training camp battles between Derrick Coleman and Anthony Mason, and point guard David Wesley and first-round draft pick Baron Davis had fostered a sharp intensity in the early weeks of training camp. They may also have left Paul Silas, in his first full season as head coach, with some dilemmas.
"Paul has got to be thinking, 'Great, we've got all of these players who can play,'" says Wesley. "But I don't know if I would want his job. It could be tough to keep this many talented guys satisfied. But you've got to go with whatever wins."
The Hornets worked out together so much over the summer and before camp that they have drawn comparisons to last year's Indiana Pacers squad. But will this team take it to the next level or fall well short, as the Pacers did?
"The team cohesiveness is wonderful," says Jones. "We hang out together, we came in this summer to ball together. Guys even went fishing and traveled with each other. Everyone has the right mind and a lot of confidence."
"David is a proven point guard," says Silas. "Baron is just learning. He has to be given time to come in and learn the league."
Davis, an explosive athlete with scoring and pure playmaking skills, fell into the Hornets' lap with the third pick in the draft. He was elated to be picked at that position and still be on a team with a chance to contend for a title in the near future.
Jones has become more assertive on offense with the Hornets, and his defensive skills will set up a team that loves to get out on the break with additional scoring opportunities.
Silas will have plenty of depth here with Eldridge Recasner, Ricky Davis and Bobby Phills, who will play mostly at the 3, all able to spell Jones. The Hornets would like to see Recasner regain his shooting touch of two years ago, when he made 58 threes on .414 shooting for Atlanta.
"Last year we had lots of unanswered questions," says Phills. "This year all the expectations are to finish in June with a trophy. It is hard to imagine all of this from where we have come from in a year."
Ricky Davis, currently out with torn knee cartilage, will back up Phills at the 3. His 32-point outing in the season finale and an outstanding summer league performance should spring Davis into a key role player off the bench.
Mason and Coleman are vying for the starting position, but Mason downplayed the competition during the early stages of camp.
"They're building the battle for the starting job as more than it really is," says Mason. "Our competition is against people in other uniforms. All we're gonna do is make each other better."
Coming off the bench could help Coleman's career. With his proneness to injury and often-subpar physical shape, he might lead a longer, more productive NBA life by playing decreased minutes. In his defense, Coleman seems willing, for now at least, to toe the line. He even showed up early for camp and participated in the Hornets' pickup games.
Coleman will serve as Campbell's primary backup at center. If there's one thing Coleman can do in almost any shape, it's rebound, which is obviously high on Silas' list of priorities.
If Coleman is unmotivated or out of shape, second-year man Brad Miller will get the opportunity to pick up the slack. Miller was another Hornet who had an excellent summer league, and he's added bulk to his already-solid frame.
This will be Silas' first full season as a head coach since the early '80s, when he had very little going for him as front man of the San Diego Clippers. He likes the fact that he's in a situation in which there are expectations. But with whispers of a title run surrounding the Hornets going into the season, those expectations are considerable.Material from Basketball News.
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