30 Teams, 30 Days
New Orleans Hornets Season Preview.
We continue previewingthe Southwest Division with the New Orleans Hornets. You can read past previews here.
by Aggrey Sam and Toney Blare
I may have left the Crescent City, but the Bang Bang, GreyTone Gang is still in effect–albeit via email. Like Rae and Ghost, we work well together. Get your fix of ’09-10 Hornets insight and ’90s hip-hop references. Enjoy:
Toney Blare: From your now out-of-towner, ex-carpetbagger, former Downman Road denizen’s perspective, what’s the main challenge for this year’s Bees? Also, did you cop Cuban Linx II?
Aggrey Sam: Easy on the Downman Road thing, playboy, as Bonzi Wells used to address you. Of course I copped Cuban Linx 2. Rae is stuck in an early ’90s time warp. Not that I minded, for the album’s sake, but remembering my disappointment in Immobilarity…
Speaking of disappointment, how about last season, particularly the ending? It’s all too easy to wear rosy-colored specs in the N.O., but that ish took me completely by surprise. That’s the real reason I left.
The main question, to me at least, is did the Hornets do enough this offseason to become relevant again? I’m not sure. The Okafor-Chandler swap looks to be about even on paper, with both big men being defensive minded by nature, as well as injury-prone.
However, Emeka is more consistent, a better scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker and capable of executing a few post moves with his back to the basket and/or hitting the open 15-footer. On the other hand, he’s smaller than Tyson, not quite the athlete, probably won’t have that immediate chemistry with CP and a frontline of him and David West (who’s now at the Glenn Robinson stage of his career where he doesn’t bend at the waist or jump, but exclusively shoots fadeaways and 15-20 foot jumpers) won’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of the big men for LA, Denver, Portland, San Antonio, etc. I’d be pretty amped to go at that duo (didn’t Emeka get dunked on a lot in the East? I swear he’s a SportsCenter staple) if I’m say, Anthony Randolph and Andris Biedrins.
Regardless, after last season’s false start midseason trade with the Thunder and all his injuries, it was likely time for Tyson to vamoose. At the very least, Emeka’s also a character guy–but I’ll (or you’ll) miss seeing Tyson throw down those Crescent City Connection oops from CP.
I like the Ike Diogu signing–three years ago. Seriously, as much as I’ve preached that they need an undersized junkyard dog-type at the backup 4, I’m not mad at that, although he doesn’t really add interior D. Where’s Birdman when you need him? That’s right, in Denver.
So I guess my main concern is really the Bees’ inside game. If CP and Okafor bond fairly quickly, Emeka gives them some post scoring and have an all-defensive team type of season, West decides to rebound and attack the basket again, Diogu can give them solid minutes off the bench, Darius Songaila is healthy and/or contributes and Hilton Armstrong doesn’t play like Motel 6, they should survive down low. But that’s a lot of ifs.
I’m not discussing Sean Marks. My “if” for him is if Jeff Bower realized that Hilton is truly a third-string center and there were some viable backup options to be had this summer, what would that do to Sean Marks? A) He would play for another NBA team. B) He would play overseas. C) He would go back to New Zealand, never to be heard from again. I pick C. My man plays hard, but so does Tamika Catchings. Neither is an NBA player, to my knowledge. Same goes for Hilton if he can’t figure it out this season.
What you on (that’s Chicago for “where y’at?”)?
TB: What’s wrong with an early ‘90s time warp? If you were an angry fat dude who made a classic, you’d be powdered up and claiming to be a rap revolutionary with one tempo, too. (OK, maybe not) Also, Free Method Man! Also, Ice Water is crucial! I’m feeling positive, with one foot firmly planted in that loss to Denver. We all knew things needed to change, but, with the supposed funny money, didn’t know how they could do it. Give Jeff Bower credit–he did more than move the chairs around. Always liked Tyson as a dude (and, as a dude, I really liked his wife), but I didn’t really see him getting much better. Also, he wore loafers while out with a bad big toe. Like most people, I’ve always been ambivalent about Emeka, but I think he’s smart and will get a lot easy buckets with a great PG. Hopefully he stays healthy (off to a bad start in camp) and applies his knowledge of third-world politics when casting a vote for mayor next year. Hearing you take shots at DWest turns my specs from rose to sepia for nostalgia. Yeah, they’re a little soft down low, but a Big Dog comparison? You know the Hornets traded Mashburn and Rodney Rogers to the Sixers for Big Dog, who never suited up for the N.O.? Oh, wait, you do and that really was like a huge insult in your book, then? DWest is an All-Star! Don’t make him have to touch a face! The issues I see were actually issues in last year’s preview, but the Hornets tried to address them this year off-season: back-up PG and the bigs. Reports on #1 pick Collison are very good, i.e. giving CP3 all he can handle in practice and hopefully some rest during the season. Plus they picked up Bobby Brown, that’s the way that he wanna live. For bigs, I like Diogu. Hilton is dead to me, unless you put him at the two (Backstory: so me and Aggrey are at this bar on Napoleon Ave, and we start talking to this odd dude….uh, anyway, he wanted Hilton to be a 2. For real. You had to be there.), and Sean Marks is Sean Marks. Lovable, industrious, descended-from-convicts Sean Marks. Deal with it. At least Ely is gone. They might’ve been the worst bench last year, but this unit could be interesting: Collison, Peja, Posey, Diogu, Songalia. That’s the t-shirt I want. Y’heard Julian Wright is starting? Also, we should probably discuss in more depth the perennial MVP candidate Chris Paul.
AS: I was going to leave the Ms. Mae’s story out, but you had to take it there. Bower was indeed busy this summer, but after standing pat (in fact, going backwards) a year ago, the situation pretty much forced his hand like Cormega (now that’s a mid-90s rap dude–shout out to M.O.P.–who maintained; for some emcees, doing a bid is like a vet in the League getting traded to Phoenix on some fountain of youth ish).
I wouldn’t be shocked if Byron’s prerogative was to eventually give B. Brown (should have signed him two years ago!) the bulk of the backup point minutes over Collison. Nothing against the dude, he never dominated at UCLA the way most expected, I’ve seen way too many point guards have their way with him and I just never bought the hype.
The Julian-as-a-starter thing isn’t bad–in theory (in practice, that’s a different story, especially with the head games he’s been through his first two seasons)–but who’s the scorer on the wing? I think it’s now a fact that Mo Pete is done, Peja is almost done and Posey shouldn’t start if he’s expected to truly make an impact over the long haul (I do think second-round pick and local product Marcus Thornton could provide some instant offense off the bench). So as crazy as it seemed when the now-departed Rasual Butler (traded to the Clips for a JazzFest ticket and one of those “big ass beers” on Bourbon; look it up) went from not making the playoff roster to starting at the 2 in a few short months, he was a lot more legit of an option than the aforementioned cats.
Which brings me to CP. When will he get burned out? When will he shut it down early for the season because of an injury he’d normally play through? When will his play slip (in the public’s eyes, at least) because he’s tired of carrying the load? When will he demand a trade?
Probably never (although never say never for the last question), which is why he is who he is. Best point guard in the game, All-Star, perennial MVP candidate–but not (realistically) a championship contender. However, point guards, even the best of them, need a hellafied supporting cast around them, moreso than franchise players at other positions (see Olajuwon, Hakeem). How much better can he get? More importantly, how far can he take this current squad?
TB: I feel like saying “shout” and “MOP” in the same sentence is redundant. What’s a matter, man, that cold getting to you up there? You need one of those Common hats in the Chi?? We have no reason to think CP3 would ever, ever implement Operation Shutdown in ball, bowling, Bron BFF’ing, anything. I do get what you’re saying about franchise PG’s. There’s a lot of if’s when you live on soft ground, and Thorton could be a real x-factor. Looking at what Chris and extra hours did for Sual, there’s reason to hope a wing develops. (Sidenote: Losing Rasual was probably as big a chemistry hit as TC–he was DWest’s consigliere and living proof like Group Home to Byron’s motiviational technique, an all-around nice cat who enjoyed cruising the Quarter and had the most improbable, late-stage career year ever) In the bigger picture, do I worry about Chris getting frustrated? Yes and no. Yes, losing by 58 points was a sour ending to a season where Prince Paul put up historic numbers without an NBA-level back-up. I don’t think (or hope) that the #1 PG in the game is a patient man. But the teams attempts at upgrades, his profile as the brightest ambassador of New Orleans, and his generally ascendant off-court star (writing your own kid’s book is like the positive opposite of boning a Kardashian) make it hard to believe he’ll ever become B-Diddy II. He’s a top 5 player in this league with the strong personality needed for this situation. Three more fundamental issues:
1. Julian Wright. Will he benefit from the first-team surroundings, or will it still be too much for his brain grapes? As you know, I’ve campaigned in print and in blatant shouts at the bench for his chance. Now it’s here, and you have to figure it won’t come again. Does he get half a season to work it out, or does Byron pull him after 15 yacht parties in international waters? I repeat my mantra: if Ju-Ju becomes a hard-working, poor-man’s Josh Howard, the future is considerably brighter. (PS: Ryan Bowen got a raw deal. You’re my boy, Ry-Bo! You’re my boy.)
2. The glass. Right now, I don’t know how the Bees get a rebound in the playoffs vs. the Spurs, Nuggets, or Lakers. Really. Emeka is nice and all, but this team continues to feel small in the West.
3. Byron’s status. Dudes like him too much and he’s won too many games here to call him a true lame duck. But there was no extension, and the possibility remains that he’s taken this team as far as he can, i.e. without a creative offense or coaching during the game. Though not a big fan, I’d hate to see things go sideways in mid-season. There’s also the possibility that Phil Jackson rides off into the mushroom fields and the former Laker and Kobe pal gets the call. So, I see 50-32 if things break right and I have no idea what the playoffs look like. Not easy to prophesize with this squad. With all the changes, a general team character needs to develop and then we’ll know more. They should have a chip on their shoulder after that loss, and if they follow the leader every game, I think they can get some revenge. Challenge the Lakers or Spurs (the latter are my pick in the West)? Only if Darius Songalia gets “Ante UP!” tattooed on his neck. Might happen, too.
AS: I’m not saying Prince Paul would shut it down like PE (do youngsters even know what Flav did before VH1?), but the lack of quality support has to be frustrating. On another note, it’s supposed to snow here on Sunday. It snowed once when I was in New Orleans–the first time since before Katrina, I believe–and it was absolute madness. By the way, the departure of Sual, my fellow ex-Philly resident, is more disappointing because homie was the lone Hornet to come out to my program in the Ninth Ward and show love to the youth.
Back to Chris. I have no doubt he’ll go for the gusto, as always, this season. While I highly doubt the Nuggets pioneered the “Paul Rules,” the Bees’ lack of a secondary ballhandler and someone else who can create their own shot (or a teammate’s) will continue to plague them. Maybe Juju can be that dude, but with the combination Byron’s quick substitution trigger for him and his lack of experience in those scenarios thus far in his pro career, I’d put more stock in a Beatnuts comeback. CP can deal with it because that’s how he’s built, but every man his breaking point. Cats love visiting, but I don’t see top 2010 free agents coming to the N.O., even if the money was there to be spent. You wouldn’t like Chris when he’s angry.
You say Byron’s not a lame duck, I say Avery Johnson’s mad he has to wait another year for the job. With his Showtime-era teammate Rambis in Minny, Phil on his last legs (I hear Dr. Cannabis is a great chiropractor) and the Lakers’ penchant for hiring within the fam (Phil’s an exception)–not to mention his late-career mentoring of a young Kobe–I’m betting on Byron remembering the lessons of his Nets days and skipping town before the mob comes after him.
I’m going with 46-36. I think the Okafor adjustment and likely tinkering with the rotation will equal a shaky early start, but they should slip into the playoffs as a lower seed, and depending on the health of who they play (and their own) and mid-season acquisitions, they should either give an upper-echelon team a mighty scare or perhaps oust an unprepared and/or overconfident team (Portland? Dallas again?) in the first round. Avery Johnson for coach and trading up in the draft for Greg Monroe in in 2010-11! Then I’ll move back.
TB: Ha! See, I could see a 2010 guy wanting to take passes from Chris, if the money was there. None of them remember PE. I saw a post from a young local dj with the quote “False media, we don’t need ‘em do we?” attributed to Black Thought. Free Teen Wolf!
AS: “Teen Wolf” is the nickname Tone came up with for Chip Armelin, a high school senior at Sulphur HS in Louisiana. Chip came to New Orleans to battle legendary St. Augustine (alma mater of Kerry Kittles and the aforementioned “Lil’ General,” among others) in the state playoffs. Rocking an ’80s high-top fade (not to the Brandon Jennings extreme), high-top Dunks and ’90s baggy shorts (longer than short shorts, the kind your mom semi-approved of), Teen Wolf put on a ridiculous show. The 6-3 cousin of ex-Texas Tech star Martin Zeno hit numerous deep treys, hit off his Hoosiers-like teammates with no-look dimes and threw down monstrous bangs on the break. Kinda like the ’80s Michael J. Fox flick, right?
Teen Wolf dropped 30-plus on defensive-minded St. Aug (at least 20 in the first half), but ran out of gas late and his supporting cast (including a 6-8 guy who only shot jumpers…hmm?) couldn’t bail him out. Teen Wolf feels CP3′s pain. Yes, indeed.