NEW ORLEANS - When Chris Paul arrived for a workout before the 2005 NBA draft, Byron Scott took him to lunch and said the Hornets wanted the point guard if he was still available at the fourth pick.
Utah, which also needed a guard, picked ahead of New Orleans but went with Deron Williams. So Scott got his man, built his team around him, and Tuesday wore a wide grin as he glanced down at the Red Auerbach trophy in his hands.
Scott was voted the NBA coach of the year by a wide margin following a regular season in which the Hornets won a franchise-record 56 games and earned their first playoff berth in four years.
"This is a very humbling experience for me because this is something you never think about," said Scott, joking that the statuette of Auerbach "kind of looks like me."
"All I think about is getting great guys and trying to make them better and trying to win basketball games, so this is very special," Scott said. "I've got an unbelievable group of guys that I enjoy being around every day. They are a special group. I love them dearly. There's not a coach in this business that has a better job than I do."
Scott received 70 first-place votes, while Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers received 23 and Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman 17.
It is Scott's eighth season as an NBA coach, including four with the New Jersey Nets before joining the Hornets. Scott won three NBA titles as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers and twice coached the Nets to the NBA finals.
Scott accepted the trophy hours before the Hornets, holding a 3-1 lead in their first round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, tipped off Game 5 Tuesday night.
Owner George Shinn, general manager Jeff Bower, players and numerous front-office personnel crowded into a room in the New Orleans Arena for the presentation.
Bower called the award a reflection of a team "growing together, struggling together and improving together to get the point where we stand here today to celebrate what's generally noted as one of the premier awards in the game.
"We have a great man here who has done an incredible job with his team. We have a great team here who has bonded together and allowed him to coach them," Bower said. "That is a fact that is so undervalued. It has to be a joint effort and it only exists and only comes together when there's that spirit that everybody understands why they're being asked to do things."
Scott cited his playing days under Pat Riley in Los Angeles and Larry Brown in Indiana, and his time as an assistant under Adelman in Sacramento as key influences in his coaching career.
"I've had three guys that have taught me how to approach this game from a coaching standpoint," Scott said. "It's kind of rubbed off. I always though, if you didn't take something from those guys then you were doing yourself an injustice."
Paul said Scott "really understands players because he's a players' coach."
"Guys on our team can really respect him and understand him because he played in this league and was successful," Paul said. "He was a great player in this league and that's why we listen to him and we understand we can learn a lot. Coach has made me into the player I am today and I'm forever grateful to him."
Scott became available to coach the Hornets when the Nets fired him during the 2003-04 season. New Jersey had been to the finals the previous season, but Scott's relationship with certain players, including then-Nets guard Jason Kidd, appeared to be strained at the time.
Scott took over the Hornets in 2004-05 and went 18-64 while presiding over a roster overhaul that included the trade of star guard Baron Davis to the Golden State Warriors.
New Orleans then drafted Paul and won 38 games in his rookie season, during which the team also was displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina.
The Hornets spent a second season in Oklahoma, winning 39 games and narrowly missing the playoffs despite a rash of injuries to Paul and fellow starters Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler and David West.
This season, they returned to New Orleans full time and Scott became a front-runner for coach of the year after the Hornets went into the All-Star break with the best record in the Western Conference. That earned Scott the nod to coach the West squad in the All-Star game, which was hosted by New Orleans and included two Hornets players Paul and West.
Those factors won over fans who at first seemed hesitant to commit their money or emotions to a team widely thought to have an uncertain future in New Orleans.
Sellouts, always a certainty for the NFL's Saints, became the norm for the Hornets during the second half of the season. They remained in contention for the top seed in the West until the final week of the season.
New Orleans won what many considered the toughest division in the NBA, finishing ahead of San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, all 50-win teams.
They entered Tuesday night's game one victory away from becoming the first NBA team representing New Orleans to win a playoff series.
"It's been amazing, in a football town, that people are falling in love with the round ball," Shinn said. "It's been great."