NEW ORLEANS -- Byron Scott had a chance to chat with Michael Jordan last week when the two were in Orlando to watch prospects work out at a pre-draft camp.
When they spoke, Scott, the NBA coach of the year, had yet to agree to a contract extension with the New Orleans Hornets. Jordan, now a part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, was curious about Scott's plans.
"You're not really thinking about leaving Chris Paul, are you?" Scott recalled Jordan asking.
"Nah, not really," Scott replied.
Shortly after, Scott agreed in principle to a two-year contract to stay in New Orleans. The deal became official Wednesday, when Scott talked about setting new, higher goals for a team that set a franchise record with 56 regular-season victories and won the Southwest Division, the Hornets' first division title in their 20-year history.
"I didn't want to leave. The players knew that -- how I feel about them, how I feel about this city," Scott said. "The turnaround that we've had -- even to this day, walking around the city, how people are talking about next year. There's a buzz here right now."
When Scott took over after the 2003-04 season, he was the Hornets' third coach in three seasons.
In his first season, he oversaw the dismantling of an aging roster, which resulted in an 18-64 record.
The Hornets drafted Paul the following summer and improved their win total by 20 the following season, despite being displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina.
Still playing in Oklahoma in 2006-07, the Hornets narrowly missed the playoffs before returning to New Orleans full time for this season, when they made the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Hornets beat Dallas in the opening round before losing to San Antonio in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Paul, now an All-Star and one of the most popular players in the league, will be the Hornets' point guard again next season, and maybe for a lot longer if the team succeeds in its plan to sign him to a long-term extension this summer.
Also back will be first-time All-Star forward David West, center Tyson Chandler, perimeter sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and swingman Julian Wright, a rookie last season who earned playing time in the postseason and showed potential to become a major contributor.
Hornets general manager Jeff Bower pronounced that the Hornets have "the brightest future the franchise has ever seen in a city that's shown passion and excitement for NBA basketball."
He then turned toward Scott, adding, "It's something you've helped create."
Scott, who won three championships as a player with the
Los Angeles Lakers, relates to his players as a mentor, father or older brother might, kidding with them after practice and joining in long-range shooting contests, sometimes with money on the line.
Those same players tied up Scott's phone with congratulatory calls when news emerged of his new contract, which pays Scott a base of about $5 million a year, with incentives that could push it above $6 million annually.
For that kind of money, the Hornets are getting a coach whose loyalty is tough to question.
The Lakers invited Scott to participate in pre-game ceremonies during their upcoming NBA Finals series against the Boston Celtics, part of an effort to celebrate the history of the Celtics-Lakers old rivalry, of which Scott was a part in the 1980s.
But while Scott said he "still bleeds purple and gold a little bit," he now sees the Lakers as the team he must beat next year to bring the finals to New Orleans.
The Lakers "asked me if could do something and I said, 'No I can't. I'm working,'" Scott said. "That's a conflict of interest to ask me to come back and give out the game ball or something like that, and I'm saying, 'That doesn't sound right.' I love the fact that they (offered) ... but I can't do that right now."