FD Guest Lecture: Where Tchoupitoulas Meets Poydras
The All-Star Game is nearly upon us. We've brought in one Avery Lemacorn to reflect on what this big gala means for New Orleans, its team, and its people.
The Hornets comeuppance and the lack of support from fans, isn't due to some Midwest Dustbowl hangover or even an eerie Lake Pontchartrain effect. It's the efficiency, stupid.
New Orleans has never been rocked by such a sleek machine as the Hornets —in a cluttered town with only one Fortune 500 company, banker's row is non-existent in NOLA and it's an anomaly that such a small town could have two professional teams. New Orleans residents are used to having their housing torn down, in the dearth of any affordable housing, their D.A.'s office going broke, and their second-highest ranking state official losing a city election. The Hornets have always been a sideshow to the great hope that are the Saints, which broke the city's heart this year after being last year's NFL darlings. No one knows what to think of a Hornets team that wins consistently. Like a dog returning to its vomit, the city is more comfortable with its vices than its potential successes.
That this winning team is a carpetbagger is not lost on the local consciousness. First, they were George Shinn's recluse from a scorned and once promising lover in Charlotte, and then not surprised by the wooing of OKC. In a Storyville tale come true, New Orleans is used to being the whore; the other lover. It's only success was when the native Pistol made his home with the Jazz, but that team ended up an ill-suited location, like Satchmo to Chicago--it just never felt right.
The OKC chapter is one of the most unusual relocations since the Braves became the Clippers. OKC team welcomed the team like cities all over did to New Orleans' evacuees (these just happened to be millionaires). The Okies displayed open arms, only to chagrin at the team's true intentions. It wasn't that this team couldn't read or had too many Creole cultures for them to adapt to OKC, it was the uneasiness of being too readily accepted by people that weren't yours. People that didn't understand the culture of disruption. To say that a New Orleans team belonged in Oklahoma City is like believing Romney could win Alabama. There are just too many differences.
And from the overpass that disrupts neighborhoods all down Claiborne and into the ruins of the Ninth Ward, the New Orleans Arena is shadowed by its longstanding cousin, the Superdome. That figurative and literal hell occurred in these walls is no understatement, but inside the next door Arena, joie di vivre and hope springs eternal. There is no lingering history of consistent failure, only snatches of success and rumors of a superhuman named Zo and a rocking chair bound Grandmamma. Now there is a new cast suited to the divided demo of NOLA.
Chris Paul, of NPR fame and private school background, may appeal to the Garden District aristocracy and provide entertaining basketball all the same with his rapid fire dribbling and bulls-eye passes. He has taken a city upon himself, not rebuilding with any appeals of failed brute strength (Deuce, Bush and the Saints), but with quick zips of efficiency. He is a man that any aspiring middle manager could pin his wishes on. But TY C provides the muscles and the tats and the affinity to Lil Wayne to win over the rough Holly Tree neighborhood crowd, with smartly timed blocks and scowls proving that the Bulls picked the wrong defensive stopper (But I can't make the love of Cecil DeMille, fit into this schema).
Peja, once viewed as the lynchpin, has fulfilled his destiny as the solid contributor he always was, no matter the tantalizing potential of a 6'10" shooting guard. He has never been the instigator, nor the creator, but just a freewheeling astronaut needing space. David West on the other side has developed a mid range shot that draws the defense further, to create the room for Paul to Peja.Though West may lack recognition, he makes up for it in salary. His 10 mill is more than fellow (and more accomplished) All-Stars Rip and Billups, not to mention three times more than CP3's rookie contract. But one Krewe member that shouldn't be discounted is the oft-forgotten Byron Scott. Two straight trips to the Finals, and unceremoniously dumped for an egghead. Still with three rings and two trips to the Finals as a coach, Scott has something brewing here.
One casualty of all this change was Milwaukee's Desmond Mason. He came to New Orleans right before Katrina did, flourished in OKC where he played college ball, and then instead of taking a challenge at a rebuilding city, scooted back to Milwaukee to find a glut of small forwards that can't shoot. The former highflying dunk champion would've provided a different feel off the bench to Peja's accurate shooting. Just with Jannero and Bobby and only the potential of Julian Wright, the bench is a confederacy of dunces, thinner than a Bush promise in front of Jackson Square. Bench issues, however are Scott's own fault—he lacked the patience for J.R. Smith to emerge, and is now watching Brandon Bass become a key sub for the Mavericks.
But for the Hornets to continue this streak seems as rare as catching a Zulu coconut. The NBA will exalt in the fortune of having its pity-picked host also being a winning team--only to have the Hornets realize again that they are from New Orleans, and that this couldn't possibly be happening, and to have Spurs in their side or the Suns rising again. How Chandler handles Tim Duncan's craftiness or Shaq's wheezing Diesel engine, much less a rejuvenated Amare--no one knows. Peja is the only one with significant playoff or big-game experience and for the Hornets to survive in the West, he may have to summon his inner Serbian dictator for any success.
Perhaps the greatest nemesis of the Hornets, of all improbabilities, may be the one team they sent packing from Creole country to Mormon mountainsides. With strengths at all positions except for the SG, the Jazz replicate the Hornets on almost every level--in a sort of bizarro world. Much has been made of Deron vs. CP3, where formidable scowls meets efficient ecstasy. That these two are becoming viewed as opposites, but with similar value. Though it is not Magic vs. Bird, it at least qualifies for Thomas vs. Price. It may come down to the foreingn imports--where AK47's flexibility is a greater advantage to the Jazz than Peja's dead eye from outside. While NOLA is built for ephemeral pleasures, SLC has a foundation for considerations that are not passing, but everlasting.Where does that leave the Hornets? With not much more than hope--the only guarantee this city has.