By Nick Peruffo
The New Orleans Hornets completed their off-season coaching overhaul Wednesday by naming former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Randy Ayers and former Los Angeles Clippers assistant Fred Vinson to assistant roles on Monty Williams staff. Ayers and Vinson will join lead assistant Mike Malone, as well as Bryan Gates and James Borrego, on the New Orleans bench this year. No coach from the Jeff Bower era was retained by the new brain trust of Williams and general manager Dell Demps.
As purely basketball moves, both Ayers and Vinson make a lot of sense. Ayers adds a veteran presence to an extremely young staff, and has a solid relationship with Williams from the 2003 season, when Williams played for Ayers in Philadelphia. During his time in Philadelphia, Ayers was the lead assistant for Larry Brown, a guy who knows a thing or two about turning around seemingly moribund franchises.
Though Vinson isn’t as big a name as Ayers (“big” being a relative term here), he may end up having more of an impact on the 2010 Hornets. Vinson’s specialty in Clipperland was mentoring young players and helping them adapt to life in the NBA in a city where there was no shortage of potential distractions. The Hornets roster is full of young, talent-heavy players (Darren Collison, Craig Brackins, Quincy Pondexter, Julian Wright, etc.) that will benefit from his presence.
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Add these two to a mix that already includes former Cavaliers lead assistant Mike Malone, San Antonio Spurs product James Borrego and D-League mastermind Bryan Gates, and it appears as if Coach Williams has surrounded himself with an extremely talented staff of complimentary parts. Evaluating coaching staffs in the NBA is a notoriously arbitrary endeavor, but on paper everything seems to add up favorably for New Orleans.
What is probably just as important as the new mix of coaches, however, is the fact that Demps completely cleaned house and brought in all new people. The clearest example of the philosophical emphasis is the case of former assistant and native New Orleanian Robert Pack. By all accounts, Pack was instrumental in the emergences of both Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton last season, earning nothing but rave reviews from players and management alike. If there were ever a candidate to survive a regime change, the home-town Pack surely would have been it.
Instead, Williams and Demps wanted to wipe their hands completely clean of any and all things Jeff Bower. They are trying to implement an entirely new culture in New Orleans, and couldn’t afford to have their message of change tainted by any holdover, no matter how skilled. Even the scouting duo of brothers Kelly and Kip Bass, who had a fairly positive track record with regards to undervalued talent (Collison, Thornton) were not retained.
While this fresh start makes a certain amount of sense, the Hornets do run the risk of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. If Collison or Thornton regresses this season without Pack, the Hornets will have significantly fewer options if the Chris Paul situation once again boils over. Because of Collison, the Hornets could potentially trade Paul and not demand a point guard in return, or package Collison and a bad contract for salary cap relief in the hopes of luring a marquee free agent next summer (which would hopefully appease Paul).
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Obviously Pack’s absence may not spell disaster for New Orleans’ young guards, but it seems like a relatively big risk just to make a statement that has already been made quite clearly. While many of the new, young coaches are touted for their abilities to mentor young players, Pack had proven to be a great mentor for these young players. Williams and Demps, however, decided that a new, unified front was more important than one excellent but familiar coach.