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 backcourts 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
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."
Silas is willing to embrace any high hopes that these Hornets can
advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time.
But to do so he must strike a balance at power forward between
two of the league's most volatile characters: Mason, who is
likely to begin the season as Charlotte's sixth man, and Derrick
Coleman. Silas must also find a three-point bomber and convey
some of his rebounding expertise to a club that ranked 25th in
that category a year ago.
After a two-month layoff from basketball this summer due to
surgery on his shooting hand, Jones was so eager to begin the new
season that he telephoned his teammates a month before the start
of training camp and asked them to join him at the Hornets'
practice facility. A more selfish veteran might have been
grumbling about the gross injustice of the rookie Davis's making
more money than he does this season. Instead Jones recently
fulfilled yet another request from his protege for a cutting-edge
pair of sneakers. "Eddie could easily be one of those cocky stars
who scores 25 points every game, but I'm glad he'd rather keep
his teammates happy," Silas says. "Don't get me wrong, though.
When it comes down to somebody taking the big shot, nine times
out of 10 I want Eddie to take it."
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS SNEAK ATTACK Jones sees himself as a "silent assassin" on the balanced Hornets.
STARTING FIVE [4 stars]
BENCH [2 1/2 stars]
COACH [3 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [2 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 1/2 stars]
By the Numbers
1998-99 record: 26-24 (ninth in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Paul Silas (second season with Hornets)
1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG % REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (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)
Eddie Jones, second in steals last year, has finished in the
NBA's top 10 in each of his first five seasons, a feat achieved
only by future Hall of Famers Maurice Cheeks, Magic Johnson and
STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS
SF Bobby Phills 103 14.3 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.5 apg 43.3 FG%
Led Hornets in three-pointers made (68), but was tied for 25th
PF Derrick Coleman 112 13.1 ppg 8.9 rpg 2.1 apg 41.4 FG%
24.7 ppg in 13 postseason games, but last appearance was '93-94
C Elden Campbell 84 12.6 ppg 8.1 rpg 1.4 apg 47.7 FG%
Scoring more than doubled after trade from Lakers (from 7.4
ppg to 15.3)
SG Eddie Jones 20 15.6 ppg 3.9 rpg 3.7 apg 43.7 FG%
One of league's best on D, led all guards with 125 steals and 58
PG David Wesley 61 14.1 ppg 3.2 rpg 6.4 apg 44.6 FG%
NBA's leading scorer last year among players who were never
BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS
F Anthony Mason[##] 52 12.8 ppg 10.2 rpg 4.2 apg 50.9 FG%
Has averaged a double double in both of his seasons with Hornets
G Baron Davis (R)[#] 120 15.9 ppg 3.6 rpg 3.6 apg 48.1 FG%
No. 3 pick was highest UCLA draftee since David Greenwood
(No. 2 in '79)
C Brad Miller 213 6.3 ppg 3.1 rpg 0.6 apg 56.5 FG%
Set Hornets record by making 14 straight field goal tries last
G-F Ricky Davis 235 4.5 ppg 1.8 rpg 1.3 apg 40.5 FG%
32 points and seven boards in last season's finale, against Boston
F Eddie Robinson (R)[#] 309 28.0 ppg 9.5 rpg 1.5 apg 55.5 FG%
Free agent from Central Oklahoma was Division II's top scorer
[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)