We continue previewing the Southwest Division with the New Orleans Hornets. You can read past previews here.

by Aggrey Sam and Toney Blare

Note: This preview is modeled after the GreyTone Game Notes from last season. Obviously, there were no Hornets games to attend in the off-season, so this is a result of some back-and-forth e-mails, which were then chopped-and-screwed. Enjoy.

Aggrey Sam: The off-season was mediocre. Giving up a first-round pick (especially to Portland thew parlayers; wouldn’t CDR have been a great fit here?) for basically a bowl of crawfish etoufee and an Abita Amber didn’t sit well with me. Saving paper on that luxury tax should go out the window when you’re trying to win a chip. It’s not like they Peja Stojakovictried to argue Chris down on his deal. I did, however, agree with not bringing back Birdman. I’m all for second chances, but he’s too much of a risk on a contending team of high-character dudes. Which is why letting Bonzi leave made sense, especially after he shit the bed in the playoffs. Usually he comes up big in the playoffs (Portland) during his contract years (Sacramento), but maybe he doesn’t have it in him.

Toney Blare: C’mon man, you know you’re gonna miss Bonzi the person, if not the playa. The hornets are almost TOO likable, and you need that change of demeanor off the bench. How many elbows, slaps, and throwdowns did he break us up with in those two fateful months? This year, we’ll get Sean Marks, prodigal son Devin Brown and SLAM Radio superstar Mike James, who is aching to go crazy in extended minutes and could make up the entertainment loss. Make what you will of that mix, but I’d probably take Bonzi first if choosing. NOT that I think his poison was perfect for the team long-term, but due respect.

AS: But the Pargo thing…that was insane. You would think his last impression in Game 7 vs. San Antonio would have made him a no-brainer, but I guess not. Oh well. I hear Russia is nice this time–scratch that, Russia isn’t nice during any time of year. He will be missed. No instant O off the bench (I don’t count your boy Mike James) or backup point, and CP had no break this summer. Crazy that him and Posey have the same agent and the Hornets basically said they didn’t have enough for him because of that. Speaking of, what’s your take on the new guy?

TB: I’m cool with the Posey signing, though I don’t think it’s what the pundits call a “gamechanger,” just some fundamental seasoning, like okra. If you figure the previous two off-seasons were marked by vet signings (Peja, then Mo-Pete), and that the Bees’ arc has been upward thru those seasons, regardless of the mixed results of said signings (and I’m a Peja face-on-a-stick carrier), I guess I see the logic. Ideally, if I was looking to get another vet, it would’ve been at the 4/5, but I’m starting to trust GM Jeff Bower aka the ill Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. They have the nucleus (CP3, DWest, TC) and so you keep ordering parts. The Spurs model with CP3 as the nuclear-powered heart.

Anyway, I told you–progress for the Hornets is symbolized by two men: Ryan Bowen and Julian Wright. “I can be great at hustle” and the giraffe calf man-child. In other words, are the role players going to do the things that win close games, stay healthy, and glue the team together? And is the talent going to get even better? That’s right, I’m betting on Lethal Weapon 2, brah! Oh, one other factor: that Hornets247 opening night watch party at Handsome Willy’s (218 S. Robertson) with Ron Hitley & DJ Toney Blare. I’m tellin’ you, that will set the tone. y’heardme, y’heardme, y’heardddd… PS: Watch what you say about Russia: Putin might go rearin’ his head over Alaska and snap you up!

AS: I hear you on Posey. There weren’t hella options on the market (though I was briefly intrigued by their flirtation with Maggette; Ben Gordon?) at the wing and they needed an upgrade from Mo Pete on both ends, which Posey should bring. I’m still mystified by them not locking up Bobby Brown (yeah, I know how that reads; not intentional). He balled for their summer-league squad two years in a row and when they low-balled him with the one-year deal, the Kings snatched him up for cheap. I’m with you on the 4/5 thing, too. Why not put in a bid for a Carl Landry or, like you said the other day, Turiaf? Golden State overpaid for the latter, but Houston dragged their feet on the former and even though they matched Memphis for him, it was worth a shot. I guess that’s where losing Bonzi hurts. Other than maybe David “I’ll Touch Your Face” West (Mike James is capable of anything; Posey and CP’s alter-ego are more irritants, so they don’t count) on the team strikes me as a dude who’s stealing a youngin off the top.

I don’t see West regressing or anything, but I see him as Elton Brand-ish, where he approximates last season’s numbers for several years, with an uptick one season that gets people real excited. Firmly established as a top-seven or so power forward (Boozer, KG, Amare, Brand, Bosh, Dirk, Duncan if you call him a 4) in the League in my mind, West has a lot of weight on his shoulders now. Not that he didn’t hold his own last season, but it can’t be Chris and the Paulettes if the Bees are gonna take that next step.Same goes for Tyson. He stayed relatively healthy last season, but this year is shaping up to be a rough one already. Similar to Camby in a few ways, no? I’d like to see a little more scoring outside of catching oops from CP, too. Overall, however, I can’t complain.

Behind them, it’s thin in the post. It’s time for Hilton Armstrong (he kinda sorta earned enough respect from me to not be called “Motel 6″ anymore) to decide if he’s gonna be an NBA player (because I think Melvin Ely and Sean Marks are kinda sorta frauds). I agree that your boy Ryan Bowen is important. That’s not a good thing. Expect a mid-season deal, if the ill Jeff Bridges recognizes that the time is now. At this point, Peja is what he is. He had some big moments last season, but he’s clearly a third option and liability on D. Without Pargo, the O has to be more consistent.

The baby giraffe has to become an adolescent. Is no more inexplicable turnovers, continued improvement on that J, evolvement as a defensive stopper and further development as the athletic wing slasher the Hornets desperately need too much to ask for? I hope not.

And I’m mad you didn’t mention my main man Rasual “Packin’ Heat on South Beach” Butler as a key role player. I’m surprised he’s back, to be honest. If Mo Pete or Posey go down, he better be ready to hit some jumpers.

TB: Did I mention free BBQ and cheap beer and margaritas on the 29th at Handsome Willy’s, ha? I did, ha? A big outdoor deck and me on the decks, ha? Redundant, ha? You can’t go to Magnolia after dark, ha? They tore down the Magnolia, ha?

We oughta mention the city and the fan base. Simply put, Hornets Nation blew the F up in ’08 and we can only forecast more of the same. This summer they sold something like 10,000 season tickets, but you can still get cheap seats for individual games. Changes to their marketing strategy have incorporated more of the NOLA style (not face down in a puddle out front of the House of Blues style, but architecture and brass instruments style) and the pre-game scene is an official cruise spot. The staff deserves credit.

Which brings us to B-Scott, the reigning coach of the year, an NBA champion player, a two-time Finals coach. What does he need to do besides pray for good health and good humor? I think he has to keep DWest and TC from taking any backward steps and focus on making Wright the future sidekick. I agree that DWest carries a lot of weight, so Byron needs to be there to make sure he doesn’t pull a muscle, meta and literal. Getting the rotation solid after the loss of Pargo (which is a bigger thing than some prognosticators have let on), using Posey as a way to grow the other guys, looking out for post-Redeem CP3′s minutes in the early months, and identifying what they still need, them’s the tasks at hand. Because I’m pretty sure Bower will pull the trigger on some kind of medium sized move late in the season if it means getting this team to the WCF or beyond. And they should be in striking position, so making the right move is crucial.

Miscellanous: I think DWest is more dynamic than the Booze and would take him first; was also confused on them passing up Bobby Brown, but, y’know, that’s their prerogative (get it?); Hilton might as well make some tame YouTube videos if he doesn’t show signs in the next two months (I miss the old you–trashy, powderhead apolitical heiress!); Shout out to Yuki!; I told you, Rasual is just there cause the team likes him, he’s a nice guy, and not because he, uh, can shoot (I was probably more surprised about that charge than any other gun-related sports issue in history); did you see we’re ranked as one of the five most dangerous cities…in the WORLD?; and they could really use a Turiaf or Balkman-type energy dude with braids on this team/in this town, would be perfect for this crowd, the bench D, and all these F. Babies…

AS: Yeah, the city showed the team a lot of love. Reminded me of Philly in AI’s heyday. Even with football season going on–LSU and the Saints reign supreme here–people still rep the Hornets real heavy. Byron did a good job of not overcoaching last season, but for real–he was on cruise control; CP is the real brains behind the operation. He’s the Greek and Byron is Vondas. Whether he can be asked to do more is irrelevant (and virtually impossible); whether he can stay healthy and not be burned out after basically no vacation time is the issue. The squad has a target on its back now and it’s up to him to not let them fold under pressure. I think he can handle it.

Another key: Mo Pete. Accepting his new role and providing that vet leadership without being counted on for much actual production is crucial.

With the Lakers the anointed, the Blazers the future, the Rockets the dangerous, the Jazz the creepers and the Spurs the old faithfuls of the West powers, where do the Bees fit in? It says here 58-24 and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. At least nobody will be surprised this time around.

TB: We made the AI comparison a lot last season, due to the leader’s charisma and the romance with the city. That would make this year the Finals season, with the Spurs as the old Pacers (OK, that’s a lil shaky, but whatever–we’re all drunk down here anyway). Again, that means somebody has to play Tyrone Hill and someone has to play Aaron McKie. I won’t saddle anyone specific with the other half of those analogies, but grime and timely shooting are traits of playoff warriors.

The traits of a bangin’ opening night party: the game on a nine-foot big screen in the parking lot, a compact but bumping dance floor, glorious New Orleans fall weather, and free BBQ. Did I say that last part already?

The newly-minted cynic in me, battered by Vice-Presidential debates and Minnesota voters and the lastest Nagin administration hijinks and my $10,000 water bill, thinks a half-step backward is quite possible. Teams take jumps like this and then struggle to keep their identity/fire. HOWEVA!, I won’t allow myself to doubt Chris Paul. Ever. Maybe it was the courtside seats, but what we watched last year was like hearing Reasonable Doubt the day it dropped–you’ll look back later and think, wasn’t it obvious? This isn’t just rap music/point guard play–it’s the beginning of major, major moves. We can all debate him vs. D-Will on the court, but when you look at the total package, it’s more like CP3 vs. LeBron. CP3 is the future, the future king of N.O., and maybe of the league. The fire, the historic location, the handle, the personality, the off-court moves. We might turn around in 10 years and realize that 2007-08 was the beginning of the takeover.

So where’s that put 2008-09? I really think the 56-26 of last year is about where they’ll be this year. In the regular season, it’ll be hard to best that in the West, as they’re due to hit some rough patch of health and other teams (Portland, Houston) have improved. The point is the playoffs, and this team with Posey and a big year under their belt is primed to take the next step. WCF vs. KB24kGold. Predictions on that matchup will wait until late May. Oct. 29th, though, I predict: It’s ON!