NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Melvin Ely received no guarantee of playing time with the New Orleans Hornets.
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 contract.
``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.
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.''
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