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CENTRAL: 4 CHARLOTTE Hornets
Tim Crothers
November 01, 1999
Eddie Jones proved a perfect fit for this team; now a rookie will follow in his shoes
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November 01, 1999

Central: 4 Charlotte Hornets

Eddie Jones proved a perfect fit for this team; now a rookie will follow in his shoes

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By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 26-24 (ninth in Eastern Conference) Coach: Paul Silas (second season with Hornets)

1998-99 PER GAME AVERAGE

POINT (rank)

FG% (rank)

REBOUNDS (rank)

TURNOVERS (rank)

HORNETS

92.9 (12)

44.9 (7)

39.5 (25)

15.9 (T-19)

OPPONENTS

93.0 (18)

43.4 (12)

42.9 (T-22)

15.2 (18)

When two of the best guards in Los Angeles first met at a pickup game at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in the summer of '95, the Lakers' Eddie Jones noticed that Crossroads High's Baron Davis was sporting sneakers so worn that the fraying soles slapped against the floor. The next day Davis showed up for a game back in his neighborhood in South Central, and one of his buddies asked him where he got his sweet shoes.

"They're Eddie Jones's shoes," Davis said.

"You mean they're Eddie Jones model?"

"No," Davis said. "I mean Eddie Jones was wearing them yesterday."

Thus began the kinship of Davis and Jones, who, against very long odds, have been reunited in Charlotte this fall and should form one of the most potent back-courts in the NBA by season's end. "Sometimes at practice I'll think back to that day in Pauley when he gave me the shoes off his feet," says Davis, amused at the memory. "What a wonderful guy, looking out for the needy. I'll try to remember that this season if he's calling for the ball."

Notice that Davis uses the word if. Jones's selflessness is so renowned that it's hard to imagine his ever demanding the ball. In fact, Hornets general manager Bob Bass credits Jones's "old school" attitude with the franchise's 180-degree turnaround a year ago. Just five weeks into the '98-99 season, Charlotte found itself traumatized by injuries to its two best players, Glen Rice and Anthony Mason, as well as coach Dave Cowens's sudden resignation and an unsightly 5-11 record. That's when Bass masterminded what Heat coach Pat Riley called "the greatest trade" of the year. Charlotte acquired Jones and Elden Campbell from the Lakers for the disgruntled Rice, along with J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong. "We were really down in the dumps," says Hornets coach Paul Silas, who replaced Cowens. "When those two guys showed up we felt like our saviors had come."

It was as if the Hornets had cracked a bank safe and found even more inside than they had expected. The 28-year-old Jones single-handedly transformed the fractious Hornets into a united front. "I'm the ultimate team guy," says Jones, a 6'6" two-time All-Star with the Lakers. "When I got here and people said the Hornets didn't have any stars, I thought, That's good because five weapons are harder to stop than one. I like to think of myself as a silent assassin."

Campbell, meanwhile, stepped out of Shaquille O'Neal's shadow to provide Charlotte with a reliable center. In 32 games with the Hornets he averaged 15-3 points and 9.4 rebounds, and shot 48.9% from the field. Charlotte went 22-13 under Silas and won 14 of its last 18 games, only to miss the playoffs by a single victory. Even that turned out to be a blessing when, despite 136-to-1 odds, the Hornets drew the third pick in the draft lottery and grabbed Davis.

During his two seasons at UCLA, Davis played dozens of pickup games with Jones, who likes to claim that Davis would never have made it to the NBA without him, which is accurate only in that Jones drove the rookie to his first Hornets practice. Initially the 20-year-old Davis will apprentice under veteran point guard David Wesley, but the organization hopes the gifted rookie will quickly emerge as the long-term solution for a team that has tried 24 point guards in its 11-year history. Silas believes that Jones and Davis will be a dangerous defensive tandem from the start. On offense, the pass happy Davis has been shooting extra jumpers to become a more consistent perimeter threat. "Baron is showing me he can find the open man better than any guard I've ever seen," Silas says. "He has a flair, a swagger and a smile that will make him a fan favorite."

While Charlotte could break the franchise record of 54 wins this season, the Hornets' most critical assignment may be trying to win back those fans, who have grown grumpy with the departure of stars like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Vlade Divac. After leading the league in attendance in eight of its first 10 seasons, including a string of 364 straight sellouts, Charlotte didn't sell out a home game last season, prompting the club to begin an ad campaign featuring the less-than-exciting slogan, GET EXCITED. It's challenging to market a team that didn't have a player among the league's top 30 scorers last season, and the Hornets generated remarkably little buzz this preseason, despite the ardent promotional efforts of Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who called Charlotte "the most talented team in the East."

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