Few career resurrections have been as quick, or surprising, as that of Tim Floyd, whose 49-190 record with the Bulls was the worst of any coach in major pro sports history with 200 decisions. After a mere 18 months out of the league he not only returned to a head position in the NBA, but at week's end had also guided the veteran Hornets to a 10-4 start despite the absence of All-Star forward Jamal Mashburn (right knee surgery). Behind a new up-tempo system, New Orleans has morphed from a power team into a transition team along the lines of the Nets—a similarity that's not coincidental.
After Hornets owner George Shinn let Paul Silas go last spring, he wanted a replacement who could draw fans. Floyd had been a well-liked coach at the University of New Orleans (127-58 from 1988 to '94) and had made the Big Easy his post-Bulls home. He also fit into Shinn's price range, which is to say bargain basement, accepting a three-year, $4.8 million deal. As for Floyd's .205 winning percentage in Chicago, assistant G.M. Allan Bristow says, "I think of the Bulls as his boot camp. He'd already taken all his lumps, and we get the benefit."
During his time away from the sideline, Floyd became enamored with the Nets' unselfish style, which is based on the Princeton offense. After getting the New Orleans job, he spent two weeks last summer traveling to meet with the Hornets, asking them, among other things, how receptive they'd be to playing New Jersey-style. "I wanted to do it, but I wanted their approval," says Floyd, who had to run the triangle offense in Chicago. "They were all intrigued, so we went with it."
There was one problem: Floyd didn't know the first thing about implementing the system. So he hired Jan van Breda Kolff, who'd been an assistant under Princeton coach Pete Carril from 1987 to '91. Then, to prepare himself and his staff, Floyd found some willing test subjects—in this case the players at Pearl River Junior College in Poplarville, Miss.—and, like a scientist heading into the lab, started concocting. For six days in July and six in August, the New Orleans coaches ran the juco team through two-a-days.
Pleased with the results, Floyd installed the offense with the Hornets, creating a high-scoring run-and-dish motion game. Like the Nets, New Orleans uses a two-guard front and brings three players across the foul line, relies on precision cuts and pushing the ball in transition, and depends on the leadership of a dynamic point guard- Baron Davis playing the role of Jason Kidd.
Davis, an early season MVP candidate, has taken to the offense like John Madden to a 20-pound turkey. Freed of having to run isolation plays, a staple under Silas, he can now drive, create for his teammates and generally wreak havoc. "Coach is letting me do my thing," says Davis, who was averaging 25.2 points and 8.1 assists at week's end. "I've got a lot more freedom and"—he smiles—"freedom's a good thing, man."