A week ago last year, Byron Scott was fired.
And let's not make any bones about it; there was almost a sense of relief at his departure. The rookies (Dimes and Buckets) weren't playing, the Bobby Brown experiment was playing out in all its resplendent glory, and to quote myself, "watching the Hornets chase the ball around on defense [was] analogous to watching Adrian Peterson play keep away with a baby." There were so many elements of our mediocrity beyond Byron Scott's control- the injuries, the role players traded away- but Byron was the one to ultimately take the fall.
It wasn't an acrimonious separation, but it did leave a bitter taste. The Hornets were just a season removed from their 2008 playoff success. That certainly played a role in our exit evaluation of Scott.
Time heals all wounds of course, or as Charles Barkley put it last night, "Father Time is still undefeated." With a new coach, a new GM, and a healthy Chris Paul, it's a little easier to step back and appreciate what Byron Scott did for the New Orleans Hornets in his time here.
His most criticized trait was his development of young players. His handling of J.R. Smith, Brandon Bass, and Julian Wright puzzled many. But at the same time, he helped mold both of our All-Stars to their current levels of play.
I've said this over and over, but I really believe that Byron Scott's coaching was an absolutely critical component of David West's development. Without Byron Scott, David West doesn't become an All Star. No way. West was always skilled enough to catch on as a role playing big in the league. He started as a superb rebounder and was always a fiery, driven player. But in his first two seasons, we really didn't see too much potential beyond that. Byron Scott did.
Considering the fact that West shot poorly from the floor and didn't create much in his first two years, that's impressive. West's jumper slowly improved under Scott, and obviously, the arrival of Chris Paul didn't hurt. The offense was tuned to allow West looks from his favorite areas on the floor. Byron gradually expanded West's role in the offense (8.8 FGA/36 to 11.2 to 14.8 to 16.4 in his first All-Star campaign in 2008). In the end, it all goes back to the fall of 2005. Byron Scott trusted in a player coming off a lost season (50+ missed games due to a knee contusion) who hadn't necessarily looked stellar when healthy. We're still being rewarded for it today.
As far as Chris Paul, I agree with Byron's own assessment that "it didn't really matter who coached him." From the moment he stepped on an NBA floor, CP3 looked transcendent. But Chris Paul has always cited Scott's influence in his development as a player. His quote after practice yesterday- "He's very responsible [for my development]. He gave me the opportunity. Coach had a lot of trust in me, and he expected a lot from me"- suggests as much. And I think Chris Paul probably knows the factors that contributed to his development better than anyone else.
Byron Scott installed great defenses in New Orleans, but his legacy was ultimately defined by the offense he designed around his two All-Stars. The Paul-West high pick and roll proved to be Scott's biggest strength and his biggest weakness. We rode it to playoff success in 2008, but its predictability meant we couldn't adapt when players went down with injury. Anybody still scarred by the infamous Devin Brown-Hilton Armstrong high pick and roll can attest to this. But it sure looked great when it worked. Take away Tyson Chandler's unfortunate injury problems, and maybe the end wouldn't have come so quickly.
The Byron Scott Era may have ended prematurely, but that doesn't trivialize its place in Hornets history. Byron Scott oversaw the team's return to New Orleans post-Katrina, the development of its best player ever, and one of its finest seasons ever. Everyone at the Hive should be cheering tonight.