For Hornets, things can only get better ... right?

Updated: March 4, 2005, 8:54 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

He doesn't feel so lordly or great these days. Byron Scott feels pretty mortal. Human is a good word, too.

So it's inevitable that, occasionally, Scott has to wonder about the coaching job he didn't wait for last summer.

Byron Scott
Byron Scott is putting a positive spin on the Hornets' situation. Now he needs positive results.
That coaching opening with a certain glamour franchise in Hollywood ... which will teasingly reopen again this summer.

"At some point you always ask, 'What if?' " Scott said Monday night in Dallas, readying for what would be recorded as the 45th loss in 56 games for the New Orleans Hornets.

"That's an organization I'll love 'til the day I die. I still have purple and gold in me, no matter what. And you have a young man there who I'm very fond of.

"But I also know I have a great situation here. So I don't necessarily ask, 'What if?' Sometimes you just [wonder] how you would look sitting over there on that sideline."

Totally understandable. Because of his close ties to that young man -- Kobe Something -- Scott would have undoubtedly had a decent shot at replacing Phil Jackson last summer if he hadn't already accepted the Hornets' offer. He'd likewise be a strong Lakers candidate now, after the shock resignation of Rudy Tomjanovich.

Yet Scott apparently is serious when he says, as offered recently, that he has "no interest whatsoever" in leaving Bourbon Street to coach Kobe Bryant, insisting that he's "extremely happy where I am." Forever confident as Magic Johnson's championship backcourt mate -- though he never made it to a single All-Star Game as a player -- Scott also is unshakably brash as a coach, just as you remember him from his time in New Jersey.

Nope. He hasn't changed. Not after being fired by the Nets, and not after he had more injured All-Stars than victories in a shockingly dreadful 2-29 start with the Hornets. Mere days after trading away franchise cornerstone Baron Davis in a deal that failed to net even one future first-round draft pick -- and with New Orleans needing a win Wednesday to avoid a season sweep by expansion Charlotte -- Scott sees a future with the Hornets where few others do.

"When I took the Nets job, everybody said it was the Clippers of the East, and we went to two straight Finals there," Scott said.

"This will probably be a little bit tougher, but I just look at Phoenix. It's always one player. If you can get one player [like the Suns did with Steve Nash], it can change the whole complexion of your organization. And we're going to be looking for that player in the summer."

Of course, gettting that guy's considerably tougher than it sounds, and our skepticism is no reflection on Scott. You will not convince me, as many have tried to do, that he was merely an accessory when the Nets were ruling the East. No matter how often his influence and coaching ability were downplayed, the belief here is that Scott gave those Nets their personality as much as anyone in Jersey after Jason Kidd.

Scott's problem in his new city is that New Orleans doesn't have a Rod Thorn presence in management. It's hard, for instance, to believe that Hornets general manager Allan Bristow couldn't extract more from Golden State for Davis than the expiring contract of Dale Davis and Speedy Claxton, even with injuries having limited Baron to just 18 games before the trade.

It's likewise highly uncertain how much Bristow will be able to do with the resulting cap space from the deals that exiled Davis and Rodney Rogers. It's twofold uncertainty, actually: Will a marquee free agent want to come to New Orleans, and will owner George Shinn be willing to spend on a big name or use the cap space to try to trade for one?

Shinn, in fairness, has been spending more than ever since moving the Hornets from Charlotte to New Orleans. Davis was awarded a max contract, Jamal Mashburn received a lucrative extension and P.J. Brown re-signed at a tidy sum with San Antonio chasing him hard. After firing Paul Silas and Tim Floyd, furthermore, Shinn guaranteed some $10 million over three seasons to convince Scott last May not to wait and see if Jackson would be leaving the Lakers.

All that spending, though, hasn't helped the Hornets in the standings or at the gate. New Orleans is one of only two teams (along with Atlanta, yes) averaging fewer than 14,000 customers per home game, underlining all the concerns about the market's ability to support a sporting venture. Only the NFL's Saints have managed there.

The NBA, remember, did not want Shinn to relocate, but it ultimately couldn't refuse when Shinn -- perhaps the most hated man in Charlotte after alienating the fierce support his Hornets had there -- and former partner Ray Wooldridge brokered a lease deal so favorable that the Hornets virtually can't lose money.

Shinn recently bought out Wooldridge to take 100 percent ownership of the club and has begun the search for local investors to buy back minority shares. He also spends his time trying to convince the locals that the Hornets won't be moving again soon. However, he recently acknowledged to the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "there are a lot of people out there who are questioning if this team is really going to stay in New Orleans."

Dan Dickau
New point guards Speedy Claxton (left), now in New Orleans, and Dan Dickau are two of the few reasons for Hornets fans to show up.
Which naturally won't help when it's time to court free agents this summer. It's difficult to envision the Hornets, in their current state, attracting a bigger name than Memphis' Stromile Swift, an LSU man. Which obviously won't be enough to make this a playoff team in the mighty West. At a time when franchise players from the amateur ranks are more scarce than ever before, New Orleans nonetheless needs a draft home run -- or three -- to fill out a roster that still has Brown and Jamaal Magliore ... but nothing else proven.

J.R. Smith is a super-raw rookie who's starting at small forward purely out of need right now, not because he's ready. Dan Dickau has been a surprise since coming over from Dallas, and Claxton helped San Antonio beat Scott's Nets for the championship two years ago, but both realistically are backup point guards.

"I think the future is bright -- I really believe that," said Brown, the Louisiana Tech alumnus who continues to carry himself gracefully, even though he's pretty much the Hornets' last link from their playoff years, with Magliore out injured.

"It's going to take a little time, but if we make the right choices and right moves, I think we can get back on track," Brown said. "Mr. Shinn has said he's committed to make this work in New Orleans. As far as the fan support, it's been good. It's maybe not like it was the first two years, but it's been a down year [on the court] because of our losing. I think we're going to be here a long time."

Said Scott: "I think everybody worries about [the future], but I think we're trying to rectify some of that. We're opening a new practice facility, which can hopefully help attract free agents, but we know winning is what attracts fans.

"I know this market is capable of having sellout crowds, because I saw them last year against Miami in the playoffs. I saw when it was Mardi Gras and the PGA Tour was here and they still were sold out. I know we have the capability of being successful."

Like we said, Scott's a confident guy. He admits that what-if thoughts about the Lakers are natural, but he's also not afraid of what's next for his current employers. A franchise that, even in the words of the classy Brown, can't help but feel "kind of jinxed" after a succession of hardships dating to its Charlotte days.

"It's a little bit like my first year in Jersey," Scott said. "We had a bunch of injuries and had a real difficult year. It's kind of the same scenario. Any time you lose it's not easy -- you still have the sleepless nights. But it's probably a little easier for me to deal with it this second time around."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics