Tuesday night at around 10pm I was getting in my car after a few hours of pick-up games at the gym. I checked my phone and saw I had a new email. I opened the email and and stared down in disbelief, reading over it a few times. The email was from our fearless leader, Rohan, asking me if I, as an LSU alumni, would like to write a farewell piece for Marcus Thornton, while he would do an analysis of the trade. I sat in my car for a couple minutes, let a few choice expletives, sent a quick response to Rohan, and sped home to see exactly what had happened. As some of you can probably guess, I was pretty perturbed with Dell Demp's latest move. I was (am) about as emotionally tied to Marcus as you can be to someone you have never met. I had been watching this guy play basketball for four and a half seasons, and I was seething because that was coming to an end. That lasted a full day, and I began thinking a little more clearly. After digesting all the news, reading some analysis, and getting to ask Demps himself about the trade, I am fully at peace with the move and prepared to complete the task that Rohan set out for me. So join me after the jump to say goodbye to one of the most popular, exciting, and polarizing Hornets in recent memory, Marcus "Buckets" Thornton.
I suppose we can start by trying to figure out what made Thornton such a popular player in New Orleans. One explanation is his local roots, being from just up the road in Baton Rouge and playing collegiately at LSU. I'll tell you right now, that's a cop out. I'm sure the fact that Thornton was a Tiger influenced some people to take more of a shine to him, but it's not enough. For one thing, basketball is never more than the third most popular sport on campus at LSU, and that is probably even more true when talking about fans in New Orleans. I never hear cheers in the Arena for guys like Brandon Bass, Glen Davis, or Tyrus Thomas (except for his mom one time). Marcus is not the most athletic or talented player we've seen either. He can elevate, but it's not out-worldly like a Nate Robinson, and his jumpshot won't be on any Better Basketball videos anytime soon. Personally I believe the appeal with Marcus comes down to one thing: his personality.
Now I am not talking about personality in the general sense. Marcus is not the best interviewee, and his attempts at public speaking are awkwardly hilarious. I am speaking about his on-court persona. Marcus played with a confidence and fearlessness that is not often seen in NBA rookies. Whether it was pre-draft questions about his size, his falling into the 2nd round of the draft, or his first NBA coach having no faith in him, something caused Marcus to play with a chip on his shoulder, and he'd be damned if that chip was coming off whenever he was on the court. I feel like this is something people admired, from the casual fans in the upper reaches of the New Orleans Arena, to the basketaball junkies at home on League Pass. Marcus' attacking mentality will win him fans wherever he plays until he hangs up his sneakers. His absolute indifference to whomever was guarding him on any given night amazed even me, and I was advocating for his selection by the Hornets before the draft. I had higher expectations than most for Marcus, and he blew those out of the water.
Any discussion of Marcus will come back to what he accomplished last year. I am not talking about his 14 points a game or his franchise records for 3 pointers and bench points by a rookie. I am talking about how he (along with fellow rookie Darren Collison) was able to bring enjoyment to a fan base that was going through a tough season. Coming from a game within the Western Conference Finals to an embarrassing first round exit against the Nuggets, and a couple signifcant injuries to Chris Paul, there was not much to be hopeful for in these parts. Those rookies gave thousands of fans a reason to watch, to show up, to care. Did they lose more than they won? Yes. Was it still exciting as hell? Yes. There were tons of great moments last season (DC's buzzer-beater against the Bucks, beating the Celtics and Lakers at home, the emergence of Aaron Gray as the secret to win a thriller over the Magic), but the one that encapsulates Thornton the best is his career and franchise record night against the Cavs.
A second round pick, an undersized SG on a struggling team, taking on every guy that a 50+ win Cavaliers team could throw at him, and he was scoring at will. I will never forget seeing LeBron James switch onto Thornton after he had just torched the Cavs for 23 points in a quarter. This was the best player in the league, a 6-8 monster with unmatched athletic prowess, having to switch positions to guard OUR 6'3" shooting guard that no one had ever heard of. The Hornets ended up losing that game. I didn't care one bit. People were talking about our guy and his 37 point game, and I sure as hell wasn't going to miss the next game to see what he might do for an encore.
Hornets fans owe thanks to Marcus for his accomplishments last season, regardless of how disappointing his stint under Monty Williams was. Monty relented often enough this year to give us glimpses of the guy we saw last year, including in big wins over the Spurs and Magic, and a franchise record comeback over his future team. I'm not bitter for how things ended, and I don't think other fans should be either. Things didn't go how we planned for Marcus. The trust was never established with his new coach for whatever reason, and it is pointless to direct blame now. Marcus is off to Sacramento and hopefully the Hornets have found a player that will fill a need for a few years. I hope Marcus flourishes in Sacramento (not Anaheim, support your fellow small market), and becomes the player we all hoped he could be. Is Sacramento possibly a bad place for him? Could the questionable leadership and a young locker room encourage bad habits? Could his rookie year be a fluke?
Yes, yes, and yes.
But I sure as hell wouldn't bet against him.
Thank you, Marcus Buckets, and good luck.