Monty Williams cuts a frustrated figure these days. Life should be great for him right now. He is the head coach of an up and coming NBA team, the New Orleans Hornets, that consists of some really good young players, all capped off by the best big man prospect in nearly a decade; no. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis. Williams has the full backing of his GM, owner and the city of New Orleans, yet for a season that has so much promise, things haven’t exactly kicked off with a bang.
Most of the blame has to be attributed to Eric Gordon‘s phantom knee-injury, which threatens to sour the whole season. I’m sure you’ve heard the whole story already but just to recap; Gordon has been all but holding himself out of games due to complaints of soreness in his knee, doctors and team trainers have said there is nothing structurally wrong with his knee, Gordon has made a bunch of flaky, even contradictory statements regarding the situation and the whole thing just reeks of a player trying to weasel his way out of town.
A lot of people correctly point out that it doesn’t make sense for Gordon to try and get out of New Orleans. He would be one of the top 2 players on an up-and-comer with some really good young pieces around him. But Gordon pulled a similarly unsavory routine over the summer when he begged the Hornets not to match the offer sheet that he had signed with the Phoenix Suns.
The whole situation has lead to Williams, coaching in his third season with the Hornets, to sound somewhat skeptical on the matter, stating; “He probably does feel pain; that would be the only reason why a guy can’t play, for me to try to read an MRI … I’ll find out more as we go forward. I try to not get into all that because that would just make me upset.” Hardly a vote of confidence for Gordon there. When pressed about the medical reports, Williams could only offer up this; “I’ve checked with Doc, but for him to explain to me what’s going on with his body and then have Eric feel a certain way doesn’t matter. You know what I’m saying? If Doc says one thing and the guy is feeling another, then you have to . . . what am I supposed to say? I’m sure it’s got to be medical. A guy just can’t not play. It’s got to be medical. At this point of the year, everybody is excited to play. I’m sure it’s medical.” It’s becoming more and more clear that Williams is unhappy with his star guard, the man who was the centerpiece of the famed trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.
If that wasn’t enough, Davis, the other key component of the Hornets’ rebuilding attempt, has missed the last few games with a concussion. It is apparent though, that Davis’ omission from the starting lineup in Saturday’s win over the Chicago Bulls and last nights fixture with the Philadelphia 76ers was as a result of the League’s concussions policy rather than a decision made by Williams and the Hornets.
In remarks made before the Bulls game, Williams stated; “Now, they treat everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it’s getting old. It’s just the way the league is now.” That remark earned Williams a $25,000 fine from the league and it’s safe to assume that Davis will continue to be held out until the league sees fit. Williams has since retracted his comments with a less than contrite apology that began with; “I work in a business where you just can’t say anything you want to say.” Seems that Monty isn’t exactly sorry about the sentiment, just that he said it out loud.
It’s easy to see where Williams is coming from. This is a guy who battled a heart condition to play in the NBA, he’s old school tough. As far as the Gordon situation is concerned, the whole thing grows more fishy by the day and he is rightfully annoyed.
In Davis’ case, the NBA is taking a page out of the NFL handbook when it comes to concussions. While basketball isn’t near the level of physicality as football, it’s still understandable with all the recent research on the damaging nature of concussions that the League is being very careful. The problem is that Davis’ condition was mild, and most of the research causing the controversy with the NFL is to do with multiple concussions in a short timespan. While it can’t be guaranteed that Davis won’t get another one, it’s far less likely than it would be were he to play football. So Williams’ frustrations there aren’t entirely unfounded either.
The Hornets sit at 2-2 following last night’s dismal 62-point showing against the 76ers and it’s hard to think that Davis and a guy with Gordon’s offensive prowess wouldn’t have helped in that game. The Hornets set a franchise low in points without Gordon, Davis, and rookie guard Austin Rivers who had a sprain in his index finger. These early season injuries have got to be cleaned up if the Hornets are to meet their goals this season, though with Gordon’s situation looming, perhaps another trip to the lottery wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
One thing that Williams can take comfort in early on this season is the improved play of small forward Al-Farouq Aminu who is averaging 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Aminu has long been considered a raw talent since his time at the Clippers but it seems that under Williams’ tutelage, he is becoming a defensive force and is using his athleticism to much greater effect on the offensive end. Now, if only Williams could get his star guys back, these Hornets might really be on to something.