Published December 28, 2010
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Paul Silas inherits a team with a bad record and little confidence from a coach whose frustrations had boiled over, all the while holding an interim tag.
Tough spot? Sure, but Silas has done this before — in the same city.
Things worked out pretty well in 1999 with the Charlotte Hornets. After winning his debut with the Charlotte Bobcats, Silas said Tuesday he sees plenty of similarities.
"I've been through this. I know what it's about," Silas said. "I know how to do it."
Owner Michael Jordan ended the 67-year-old Silas' five-year retirement last week when he lured him from his dream home on Lake Norman north of Charlotte. Jordan had just fired Larry Brown a night after another fourth-quarter meltdown left Brown again ripping his players.
"It was not a good atmosphere when I came," Silas said.
Out of the NBA since being fired by Cleveland in 2005, Silas had a lot of work to do. He had no staff and his new team was bogged down in a stagnant offense.
Silas snatched his son, Stephen, off Golden State's staff, then told his team to push the pace and start enjoying the game again. The immediate results were good: A 105-100 victory over Detroit in his debut Monday that snapped a four-game losing streak.
"I think it's more relaxed, more laid back," said forward Gerald Wallace who sat out his fifth straight game with an ankle injury. "Guys are more comfortable. Guys are smiling more. I don't think it's the down mode anymore. I think guys were kind of down. It just felt like things couldn't get better."
One of the players who was a constant target by the irritable Brown, point guard D.J. Augustin, scored 27 points and didn't commit a turnover.
"I was able to create more for my teammates and knock down shots," Augustin said, gushing over the increased offensive freedom. "Just having that confidence, it feels good."
While Charlotte (10-19) still committed 24 turnovers and nearly blew a 23-point lead, Tuesday's practice was filled with smiles and jokes missing much of the season. And the Bobcats sat only two games out of the final playoff spot in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
To Silas, he's partying like it's 1999.
"Anytime you have a losing record the way we had then and now, you have to build up the players' confidence level, energy level and give them some freedom," Silas said. "Now they're free to say things. I asked them questions about the game. What did they think? To me, that's the whole key because you get them thinking."
It's the same script Silas used when he was promoted to Hornets coach after the disgruntled Dave Cowens abruptly quit following a 4-11 start amid key injuries to Glen Rice and Anthony Mason.
Silas got the Hornets rolling. They later won nine straight and finished 26-24 in a lockout-shortened year, one game shy of making the postseason.
"Turned that thing around, one game out of the playoffs," Silas said. "Didn't make it, but then got Baron Davis, which was a big bonus and went on from there."
Not only did Silas get the interim tag lifted, the Hornets lucked out in the draft lottery to take a franchise point guard No. 3 overall. Silas led the Hornets to three straight playoff appearances and remained one of the few popular figures in Charlotte until the team's ugly exit to New Orleans in 2002.
Now Silas is trying to duplicate the feat with Charlotte's new NBA team, which was swept by Orlando in the first round of last season's playoffs.
"It's not easy, it's hard. Players know you're an interim coach," Silas said. "But the main thing, as I told them, respect is what it's all about. I respect them, but certainly they're going to respect me."
Silas has toned down what he called a "dictatorial" coaching style when he guided the San Diego Clippers from 1980-1983. He had to wait 16 years for his next head coaching job and now he's back after a five-year hiatus and with a head of hair that includes plenty of gray.
"I'll probably be sitting a lot more than I used to," Silas said, smiling. "You won't be seeing the sweat coming down like it was."
The Bobcats still have problems. The offense remains far from efficient and there are depth issues. Silas isn't close to establishing a rotation and the schedule gets tougher after home games Wednesday against Cleveland and Friday vs. Golden State.
But even though he's past retirement age, financially secure and living in his dream home, Silas hopes he can do enough to stick around for next season.
"If I needed that job next year I'd be shaking in my boots," Silas said. "If I don't get it, great, fine. But I believe I will if these guys do what I think they can do."
Notes: Wallace went through the entire practice. But while Silas expressed optimism he'll play against Cleveland, Wallace wasn't so certain. ... F Tyrus Thomas was held out of contact with a sore right wrist, but is expected to play against the Cavaliers.