Bower to lead Hornets' coach search

After coaching the New Orleans Hornets for all but nine games this season, Jeff Bower is returning to the Hornets' front office.

The Hornets announced Tuesday that Bower is officially reverting to his role as general manager and will head the search for a new coach.

"This move allows Jeff to fully focus as the team's general manager and build off of our great draft success of last season," Hornets president Hugh Weber said. "He has been a valued part of shaping our franchise for a long time, and we feel fortunate that Jeff will continue in a major role."

Final details regarding the proposed sale of the team from longtime owner George Shinn to minority owner Gary Chouest continue to be negotiated, but one source close to the situation reiterated Tuesday that the transfer to Chouest remains "inevitable."

ESPN.com reported April 9 that the Hornets, with Chouest in a much stronger financial position than Shinn, plan to court top-tier coaching candidates, such as ESPN analysts Avery Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy.

Johnson is a New Orleans native whose interest in coaching the Hornets has been anticipated for some time. Van Gundy's willingness to leave television for a return to coaching is not clear, but he and Bower are longtime friends.

It's believed the Hornets also will look at top assistant coaches such as Dallas' Dwane Casey, Boston's Tom Thibodeau and Portland's Monty Williams.

Casey already has emerged as a leading candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers' opening and is likewise expected to draw interest from the Philadelphia 76ers, who interviewed Casey last year before hiring Eddie Jordan.

The Clippers, Sixers, Hornets and New Jersey Nets have the league's only four coaching openings presently.

The sale to Chouest, once completed, also has raised hopes in New Orleans that the necessary money will be spent to rebuild the team around All-Star guard Chris Paul.

Although injuries were a major factor in the Hornets' slump from 56 wins in 2007-08 to a 37-45 record this season, team depth was further affected by a series of trades swung to get the Hornets under the league's $69.9 million luxury-tax threshold. Bower managed to strike the requisite deals to move New Orleans out of tax territory, saving Shinn millions, but had to virtually give away rotation players such as Rasual Butler and Devin Brown to do so.

The Hornets went 34-39 under Bower despite Paul missing 37 of those games with ankle and finger injuries and a knee injury that required surgery. They also were without Peja Stojakovic for the final 18 games because of a strained lower abdomen.

"I have to look at what we were like when we had everybody together," Bower told local reporters last week. "The impact of Chris and Peja [was] huge. When we had everybody, we actually had a second unit that had an impact on games."

After trading away Paul's close friend Tyson Chandler in the summer, Bower fired Byron Scott -- another close Paul ally -- following a 3-6 start. The Hornets, though, rallied quickly and were a solid five games over .500 on Jan. 29, when Paul suffered the knee injury in an overtime loss to Chicago.

Bower joined the Hornets in the 1995-96 season as an advance scout. As the general manager since 2005, he is coming off a strong 2009 draft in which he landed two gems: Darren Collison and second-rounder Marcus Thornton.

Collison averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, and Thornton averaged 14.5 points, which is the highest scoring average for a second-round pick in his rookie season since Boston's Dino Radja -- who had played professionally in Europe before coming to the NBA -- averaged 15.1 points in 1993-94.

But ESPN.com reported earlier this month that Chouest is adamant about keeping Paul in spite of Collison's emergence. Several teams had been hoping that, had Shinn retained the team, they could convince him to make Paul available for potential trades, with Collison poised to replace him.

"I'm very optimistic ... looking at the rookies and seeing how well they adjusted to the NBA and seeing how well they played," Paul said on the day after the season. "I'm excited for them to see how much better they come back next year."

Now in remission after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November, Shinn is finally ready to sell after a controversial two-decade run with a franchise that moved away from its fervent followers in Charlotte in 2002, largely because of the locals' distaste for the owner.

Chouest is a Louisiana-based minority partner who has held a 25 percent stake in the Hornets since 2007 but has yet to publicly discuss his intent to buy the team from Shinn. Chouest also owns a company that builds, owns and operates marine vessels for the offshore oil and gas industries.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.