NEW ORLEANS — Jason Smith ducked as he entered through the front door of the P.J.’s Coffee Shop at The Saulet Apartments, appearing to be just another person in for their morning ritual.
Walking through small doorways in old, historic New Orleans is the only time you’d think Smith was possibly a professional athlete.
The 7-foot, 240-pound man doesn’t exude the aura of someone making $5 million the next two seasons.
He’s just a regular guy, driving a used SUV and living in an apartment, preparing for a summer 2013 wedding and the subsequent honeymoon.
But beneath his calm, relaxed and naturally inquisitive persona lays one of the key components to the future of the New Orleans Hornets.
“To put it simply, Jason’s a guy I can trust every day,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t have to guess with Jason what I’m going to get. A lot of the guys in the league, they don’t mean to be inconsistent, but at times, they just are. I know Jason’s going to be all in for the team every day and he’s never going to be at a level where he stops getting better.”
Make no mistake about it, Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon will be the players who carry the team on the floor night in and night out. They’ll score and they’ll block shots and they’ll hit game-winners.
Without Smith, though, there is no veteran leadership. There’s no one Williams can point to and tell some of the youngest players in the NBA to mirror and to mimic their off-court personas after.