Hornets to retain Bower as GM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Although key injuries doomed Jeff Bower's only season as an NBA head coach, they indirectly strengthened his credentials as an evaluator of talent.

The New Orleans Hornets announced on Tuesday that Bower, who oversaw the acquisition and development of rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, would be stepping down as head coach but retaining his post as general manager.

"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."

Bower will now join Weber in finding a new head coach for a team that likely will have deeper pockets now that minority owner Gary Chouest is in the process of taking control of the club from team founder a longtime majority owner George Shinn.

The club did not immediately announce any new coaching candidates.

Bower took over as head coach nine games into the season, following the firing of Byron Scott. The Hornets were 34-39 during Bower's coaching tenure and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.

Three-time All-Star Chris Paul missed 37 games and Peja Stojakovic missed 20 games, the last 18 because of a lower abdomen strain. New Orleans was 14-23 without Paul and 5-15 without Stojakovic.

"Jeff stepped in to coach in a difficult situation and did a phenomenal job this season serving both roles as head coach and general manager," Weber said. "We had a lot of setbacks with injuries but still competed every night even though our players missed a total of 230 games due to injury."

Those same injuries provided opportunities for the rookie backcourt tandem of Collison and Thornton to flourish, allowing Bower and the Hornets to take credit for one of the league's best drafts in 2009.

Collison, the Hornets first-round draft choice last summer, averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists. Thornton, a popular former LSU star who grew up in Baton Rouge, was acquired in a second-round trade. He averaged 14.5 points, the most by a second-round pick since Boston's Dino Radja in the 1993-94 season.

"We were able to get some great support from our two rookies, who have shown that they are among the best rookies in this year's class," Bower said after the club announced he was going back to the front office full-time. "I look forward to the challenges ahead as GM and to build off the positives from this season and the previous seasons in the draft and free agency."

The Hornets will be in the NBA's draft lottery this season, meaning they could end up with one of the top selections.