My fandom in various sports is highly diverse and sort of crazy. I'm a New York Yankees fan in baseball, a Denver Broncos fan in football, a fan of the New Orleans Hornets in basketball and a general fan of the Pacific-10 in college sports. I haven't even been to half these places. But those last two things have given me pretty good perspective on new assistant coach Tim Floyd.
I remember the 2003-2004 Hornets' season pretty vividly. The team had just moved to New Orleans, but it was the team's last season in the Eastern Conference (it had already been announced). At the time, the disparity between the conferences was pretty vast. Switching over to the West was a death blow for a team that was pretty good, but not fantastic, like the Hornets. In many ways, I felt like it was the Hornets' last chance to advance far in the playoffs for a while. When the Hornets crashed and burned to a 41-41 record and lost in the first round of the playoffs (with a very young Dwyane Wade absolutely toying with Baron Davis), I associated much of the failure with Tim Floyd. He was an easy target, having won 49 games in 3+ years with the Chicago Bulls.
Floyd's time with the Hornets ended ignominiously with his dismissal and his subsequent quote about his time in the NBA: "I wasn't very good at it."
He sat out a year before USC's basketball program hired him in 2005. To be perfectly honest, Floyd's Trojan days will be most remembered for his weird, off-court incidents. In his first season, he famously attempted to recruit a 14 year old who had not yet played a high school basketball game. At the end of the 2009 season, Floyd strangely turned down an offer from the University of Arizona, a far more established basketball program. Soon after that, accusations surfaced that he had hand-delivered $1000 cash to former Trojan O.J. Mayo's handler. As if all this wasn't enough, he broke up a random fight in Vegas a couple weeks ago.
On the court, though, Floyd hasn't gotten the credit he deserves.
Floyd's coaching history is pretty extensive. A graduate of Louisiana Tech, he first broke in to the coaching ranks at the University of El Paso in 1977. After 9 very successful seasons (3 NCAA tournaments, 4 WAC championships), he earned his first HC job at the University of Idaho. Then, in 1988, it was back to the state of Louisiana, this time as the head coach at the University of New Orleans. In his time there, UNO posted 6 20 win seasons in 8 years.
In 1994 came Floyd's big break- a move to a bigger conference and bigger program at Iowa State. From 1994-1998 he was so successful that numerous NCAA coaches referred to him to the press as "Timothy the Great." He parlayed the ISU success into an NBA head coaching job, completing 20 years of work in college basketball. Of course, as his luck would have it, he walked in the door just as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Steve Kerr exited past him. Oh, and Michael Jordan.
Floyd absorbed 3+ horrific seasons in Chicago, with a 17-65 second season being the high point. Among other players he coached during his tenure were Ron Artest (3 seasons), Jamal Crawford (2 seasons), and Tyson Chandler (25 games).
A Year in New Orleans
In June of the 2003 offseason, the Hornets decided to bring Floyd aboard for their final season in the Eastern Conference.
I mentioned earlier how I associated our failures with Floyd at the time. Looking back at it now, I don't know how I could have possibly been very objective. Paul Silas had been one of my favorite coaches; it was his departure that opened the door for Floyd. Under Silas, the Hornets were only a year or two removed from some of the franchise's greatest successes: 2001 when they advanced to Game 7 of the conference semifinals, and 2002, the year that Baron Davis absolutely dismantled Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic.
Floyd didn't really have much of a shot at success in his one year. Jamal Mashburn missed 64 games, while Baron Davis missed 16 for good measure. The roster was littered with washed up veterans, a George Lynch here, a Stacey Augmon there. Not too much young talent was available, excluding the rookie David West, who couldn't do much but rebound at the time. Overall, Floyd undeniably had more talent at his disposal than in Chicago. But as with the Bulls, he was put in a position to fail, relative to the fans' expectations. In Chicago, fans had just witnessed the greatest dynasty of the modern era. In New Orleans, fans had arguably just seen the three most steady playoff seasons in franchise history. In both cases, Floyd lacked the players that made those two runs possible.
And thus ended his brief NBA career.
From NOLA to LA
After another year off, Floyd joined USC, as their second choice behind Rick Majerus. And all his ridiculous incidents aside, he was undeniably a very good coach for the Trojans. He led his team to an 18-12 record his initial season. His second season saw even more success: a 25-12 record, a 3rd place conference finish, an appearance in the conference tournament finals, and the school's first Sweet 16 appearance in nearly 30 years. In 2009, the team won the conference tournament and went to a third straight NCAA tournament.
More than anything else, his teams were defined by tight ball control and excellent defense. The Trojans annually finished among the slowest teams in the country, which is odd since this didn't allow highly touted recruits O.J. Mayo and Demar Derozan to pile up fancy stats for draft purposes. Floyd was best known for his ability to draw up exotic defenses to slow the nation's better offensive attacks. In 2008, the Trojans came within a combined five points of defeating both of the year's eventual NCAA finalists- Memphis and Kansas. Defensively, Floyd used a variety of zone-man combos (most commonly, the "box and one," which combines a box zone defense plus a single man defender, free to roam the floor).
The Gorilla in the Room
The circumstances under which Floyd left USC are highly questionable. Any way you slice it, Tim Floyd probably, most certainly, almost positively performed some illegitimate maneuvers during his tenure.
A rule violation? For sure. Excusable? This is where we get into a grey area.
I should preface this by stating my hate of the NCAA: not the teams or programs, but the overarching board, committee, or whatever else they call themselves. To me, they combine two of the most base qualities one can find: greed and an exceedingly pathetic sense of self righteousness. On the one hand, they expect their athletes to be "students"; they expect no NCAA athlete to accept pay of any kind from any one. On the other hand, the NCAA pockets millions and millions of dollars through the abilities of young men and women across the country. A prime example of this hypocrisy: the NCAA allows EA Sports to make NCAA videogames; they make a ton of money off providing exclusive contracts to video game makers. In the video games though, they disallow the use of any player "names"; instead, all players are identified by numbers. It's absolutely ridiculous; the players all look like themselves in real life- the faces, the height, the everything. But the NCAA keeps them anonymous in the name of promoting "student athletics." To me, NCAA videogames are the perfect metaphor for the absolute garbage that is NCAA rules.
My point is this. The idiocy of the NCAA creates a black market for student athletics. Student athletes across the country are getting paid under the table; every year, a handful of these cases are revealed, many go unnoticed. What Tim Floyd did was illegal under NCAA rules. In my estimation, it does not deviate from the norm by much. Floyd just chose an extraordinarily bone-headed method of going about his business, and he was caught. So for those who won't accept this move on the grounds that Floyd is a cheater, I understand the viewpoint completely. I just can't shake the feeling that paid NCAA players is systemic. What Floyd did was wrong, but I certainly think it was at least partly the result of a larger culture.
And finally, we come to Mr. Bower. In name, it's Bower that has been named the official head coach. Honestly? I think this is a face-saving move for the Hornets. They don't want to name Floyd- whose reputation has been disgraced- the outright head coach for obvious reasons. But it's clear here who the more experienced of the two is. Heck, Bower served as Floyd's assistant coach during the 2003-2004 season. Bower will be the guy roaming up and down the sidelines (or sitting, I guess). But Floyd should be the guy doing everything else.
It will be hard to get a good read until tomorrow night vs. Portland. Floyd has run various offensive styles in his career- the triangle with Chicago, a heavy-iso based system with New Orleans, and a drive-motion system with USC. It will be interesting to see if the Hornets decide to stick with their current offense (which has become a lot more varied this year with Tyson Chandler's departure) or move to one of Floyd's base sets. Either way, defense is where I see this team improving the most. Floyd proved his defensive worth with USC, and even his New Orleans 2003 team finished 12 overall in D-efficiency whilst featuring such defensive luminaries as Baron Davis and David Wesley.
I anticipate Floyd sticking around till the end of the year, progressively gaining more control over the gameplay aspects of the squad. In that vein, I wouldn't be surprised if the team gameplan stayed the same for a few more weeks before we see changes gradually incorporated.
What's my overall point? I don't really know. I'm tired of writing about why the Hornets stink and who's responsible. The Hornets are a mess right now, but hiring Tim Floyd isn't the worst thing in the world.