- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The transition from the Paul Silas-Jamal Mashburn Hornets to the Tim Floyd-Baron Davis Hornets is clearly underway. Yet the big challenge is still ahead for Floyd. Much as you don't want to look past games like Friday's showdown with Indiana, with the Hornets at 9-3 and the Pacers at 9-2, you can't help but wonder how he'll fare when Mashburn returns to the lineup.
In years past, Davis has always deferred to Mash when both are healthy. This season, it's difficult to see Davis deferring to anyone, or any coach asking him to do so. It's virtually a chorus around the league that Davis is playing better than any point guard out there.
If Floyd can get Mash to flourish in a secondary role at the turn of the year, New Orleans will indeed be a legit Finals contender, in spite of the coach's infamous 49-190 career record. If not, you then have to wonder whether the Hornets will be forced to consider trading Mashburn closer to the February deadline.
Teams who call the Hornets today would be told that Mashburn is unavailable -- and teams wouldn't call now anyway with Mashburn recovering from a knee injury. When Mash returns, though, he will find that the Hornets are playing a different game than they used to, which could ultimately make him movable. Especially if you buy into the theory that Davis and Mashburn, who have always liked each other personally, actually play better when one of the twosome is missing because both dominate the ball so much.
Floyd's Hornets are playing an up-tempo continuity offense similar to New Jersey's, but with more 3-pointers spliced in -- which is tailor-made for the slimmed-down Davis.
"He's doing a great job," Hornets veteran P.J. Brown said of Floyd. "It started from training camp. We had a great meeting before the beginning of training camp and we had a great training camp. Guys are still getting familiar with him, he's still getting familiar with us. (But) so far it's been great. We have an open line of communication, which is very important in today's NBA."
Said center Jamaal Magloire: "It has been a transition. Two different coaches, the offenses are different. But as long as everybody buys into it, we're going to have good results with it."
"The players," Baron said, "make the coach."
Chauncey proving a point, too
If Davis is the consensus No. 1 point in the league at present, Detroit's Chauncey Billups is in the conversation for No. 2 in the East, depending on what position you assign to Philadelphia's inimitable Allen Iverson.
Billups is a combo guard like Baron and AI and he's quietly playing at a level not far below. Billups joins Davis as the only two point guards in the East averaging better than 20 points and six assists, which hasn't been done by a Pistons point since a little guy named Isiah Thomas did it in 1986-87.
More on the Flip phenomenon
In our obligatory Ronald "Flip" Murray note of the week, let's consider how fortunate the Sonics are.
Let's just say they really owe Milwaukee a nice Christmas gift. Not only did the Bucks kick in Murray in the Gary Payton-Ray Allen trade -- a throw-in that is making Sonics fans forgive management for dealing GP -- but the Bucks also signed Murray to a three-year contract after drafting him in 2002's second round.
Second-rounders, remember, almost never get three-year deals. Gilbert Arenas didn't, which is why Golden State couldn't give Arenas a raise to more than $5 million in the offseason ... a salary-cap technicality that prevented the over-the-cap Warriors from matching Washington's $60-plus million offer to Arenas.
Manu Ginobili is another prominent second-round pick who didn't get a three-year contract, which is why the Spurs (after missing out on Jason Kidd) refused to take on any new player with a guaranteed contract beyond this season. San Antonio wanted to retain as much salary-cap flexibility as possible for next summer, so it can exceed that $5 million league average to match any Arenas-like offers to Ginobili.
The Sonics? Because Murray has a three-year deal, they don't have to worry about an Arenas scenario. If Murray isn't signed to a new Sonics contract this summer, and waits until the summer of 2005 to be a free agent, Seattle will hold his full Larry Bird rights. That would enable the Sonics to outbid anyone to keep Flip, a suddenly hot property.
It will be interesting to see if, assuming the league's current cap system remains in place beyond next season, teams start signing more second-rounders to partially guaranteed three-year contracts because of what happened to Golden State with Arenas. As it stands, if a team's second-round pick is signed to a two-year deal at a minimum wage -- as is the normal custom -- and then blossoms into a star, that team cannot give the player a raise exceeding the league's average salary if it is over the cap.
There are plenty of interesting names on the trading block already, but no significant deals yet since Phoenix swapped Brevin Knight and Cezary Trybanski for Bo Outlaw and Jake Tsakalidis. Bonzi Wells? Jamal Crawford? Mo Peterson? Something will pop eventually, but here's the theory of one GM: "You'd be surprised how many teams just don't want to be the first team to make a big move." ... If the Suns' Frank Johnson is indeed the next coach bound for the hot seat, his seat has the potential to boil quickly. That's because Marc Iavaroni and Mike D'Antoni are on Johnson's staff as qualified replacements -- Iavaroni as an up-and-comer and D'Antonio as a former Nuggets head coach who enhanced his reputation by later coaching in Italy. ... There remains a slight chance Eddie Griffin will play again this season, but if he does make it back in Houston, it would be as a third-string power forward. The Rockets are publicly supporting Griffin because of the gravity of his off-court issues, but privately they've moved on, as much as that stings after giving up Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins to get Griffin in the 2001 draft. Moving on became much easier when the much-maligned Kelvin Cato started the season in passable fashion as Houston's new power forward, as Yao Ming definitely benefits by having a more physical frontcourt partner compared to the slender, perimeter-oriented Griffin. And with the money the Rockets have sunk into Cato, they're obligated to find out if he can contribute next to Yao long-term.