It’s been such a crazy offseason in New Orleans — new coach, new GM, new starters at two-guard and small forward, plus rumors of trade demands posed by their superstar point guard — somebody needs to step up and become a rock.
Emeka Okafor should be that somebody. Back when Okafor was drafted No. 2 overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in ’04, it was with the idea that he’d be a steadying force for a brand-new franchise. Everybody knew the book on Okafor; he wasn’t a flashy personality or an exciting player who would sell a lot of tickets. He was closer to Duncan than Shaq, closer to Russell than Wilt. While he wouldn’t be making many “Sunday Night Conversation” appearances, what Okafor could do was get you a double-double and a couple of blocks every night, stay away from bad press, and hold down the center position for a good decade or so.
It didn’t work out that way in Charlotte. Okafor put up good numbers — for his career he’s averaged 14.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks — but he also dealt with a few injuries and never could get the Bobcats to the playoffs. After being traded to the Hornets last summer he posted 10.4 points, 9.0 boards and 1.6 blocks, and again his team wound up in the Lottery.
New Hornets coach Monty Williams is making his NBA debut as the man in charge, but with All-World PG Chris Paul still a question mark as to whether he’s really committed to New Orleans, somebody like Okafor could help the organization gain some sense of stability.
Williams told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he’s stressing defensive improvements, which is where a shot-blocking and rebounding big man in the middle becomes crucial. Power forward David West is an All-Star who pulls down 8-9 boards a night, but his defense isn’t exactly lock-down style.
“My job is to blend both what David brings to the table and the style of play we want to do,” Williams said. “The reality is we can’t do any of this stuff that everybody wants if we don’t defend.
“I’ve talked to Emeka about a number of things. My thing with him is that I’m not going to judge him or anyone based on what I heard. That’s not fair. But our guys have already let it be known that they want to play defense.”
Just like the only player drafted ahead of him in ’04, Dwight Howard, Okafor isn’t going to turn into Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this lifetime. He’ll most likely never be a big-time offensive force. But if the Hornets need him to do what he did in Charlotte — and then some — he can fulfill those expectations. In this case, simple stability and consistent production may outweigh the need for Okafor to become a superstar.