If the former Fresno State star finally fulfills the promise
that made him a 2002 draft lottery pick, he won't have to worry
about riding the bench, coach Byron Scott said.
"It's a challenge," Scott said Thursday, when the Hornets
formally announced they had signed Ely to a two-year free-agent
"But I think the thing I was impressed with was when I was
talking to Melvin, I said, 'We've got a couple of young guys, we've
got some big guys, I don't care who plays. I want to win, so if you
go out there and outwork guys, you've got a chance,' " Scott
continued. "He was more than willing to accept the challenge.
That's something that excited me and tells me a little bit about
him as a person."
The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Ely, who has bounced around during his
first five seasons from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Charlotte
Bobcats and then the San Antonio Spurs, said what New Orleans had
to offer was "perfect."
It was an odd choice of words considering that the Hornets
already have two younger lottery picks -- Hilton Armstrong and
Cedric Simmons -- battling for backup roles at center and power
forward behind starters Tyson Chandler and David West.
The Hornets played two seasons in Oklahoma City after being
displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
But Scott and Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said they had
been watching Ely for a couple of seasons. They said his ability to
play both center and forward, to score from the low post and to
play defense makes him a good fit for the up-tempo style of
basketball that Scott favors.
"Players can go to any team, but it's tough to find a team that
wants you and is willing to give you a chance," Ely said.
The Clippers clearly wanted Ely when they drafted him 12th
overall in 2002. But they traded him to Charlotte after only two
seasons in which Ely averaged fewer than 4.5 points.
Two seasons ago, Ely seemed to be getting more comfortable in
the NBA. He averaged a career-best 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds,
reaching double digits in scoring 30 times. But Charlotte wanted to
feature Emeka Okafor and Sean May in the front court last season,
and Ely's minutes plummeted before he was traded to San Antonio,
where he played sparingly and was inactive for the playoffs.
"I talked to the coaches in Charlotte and they told me it was
nothing personal. They just wanted to go in a different
direction," Ely said. "I've known for a couple years now that I
had interest here, and I'd rather go to a team that showed interest
and actually have fun and be part of a good team."