As ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series rolls on, we’re thrilled to next feature Mr. Ron Hitley, one of the brainchilds behind the most accomplished New Orleans Hornets blog out there today. Ron can be found dishing on anything and everything Hornets at Hornets 24/7… and this isn’t the first time he’s lent his expert Hornets analysis to Empty the Bench. Back in January he also shouldered part of the load in breaking down then-rookie Julian Wright for Untapped Potential: Ten NBA Players We Want to See on the Court More Often.
Clearly, we’re fast becoming in debt to this gentleman.
Ron’s bio of sorts pretty much confirms that he lives and breathes his Hornets: “The three essentials of happiness: Something to love, something to do, and something to hope for. I love the Hornets, I blog the Hornets, and I hope to hell they at least get past the second round of the playoffs before I die.”
Something tells us there’s a good chance of that happening, Ron–and soon. Without further ado, we give you 10 questions with Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7.
ETB: What’s the timetable for New Orleans? Are they ready to legitimately compete for a title next season?
Ron Hitley: Absolutely. I think all the pieces are there for the Hornets, especially since they signed James Posey last week. The fact that the Hornets overpaid a little for Posey and sold their draft pick last month–Byron didn’t want to spend time nursing young talent–shows that the team is focused on making a serious run sooner rather than later.
Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler are the young nucleus that should keep the Hornets competitive for a long time, but with guys like Posey, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic all in their 30’s, there’s no better time than the present for the Hornets to win it all.
ETB: You only got 13 games out of Peja Stojakovic in 2006-07, and then last year he disappeared in the decisive series with the Spurs. Does this guy need to go or can he be part of the winning formula?
Hitley: I think he’s a vital piece of the puzzle. He did indeed pull a Houdini against the Spurs, but that’s just how it goes sometimes when you’re facing a lockdown defender in Bruce Bowen and the opposing coach is a diabolical mastermind. We all saw Kobe Bryant struggle against the Celtics in the Finals, but nobody is questioning his value to the Lakers.
My biggest concern with Peja is definitely his durability, but he bounced back from that back injury to play 77 games last season (plus all 12 in the playoffs), so my faith in his health has been restored somewhat. As long as he isn’t counted on to carry the offense every single night, he should be fine for another few years.
Chris Paul Photo Credit: Icon SMI
And here’s the thing about Peja: He can go 2-of-14 through the first 47 minutes of a ballgame, but if you’re in it to win it in that final minute, you want him pulling the trigger. He won numerous close games for us last season with dagger threes and clutch free throws, and there’s only a handful of guys in the NBA as deadly as he is down the stretch.
ETB: James Posey was one of the most in-demand unrestricted free agents available until signing a somewhat lucrative four-year deal with the Hornets. He could open the season as the team’s starting shooting guard. What are your thoughts on both his contract and his possible starting status?
Hitley: His contract is a bit heavy, but that’s the price you have to pay if you want to challenge for that ‘ship. The general consensus among Hornets fans seems to be this: If Posey contributes well these next two seasons, the deal will have been worth it. Beyond that his game may be worthless but his expiring contract should be useful.
As regards to his place in the rotation, I don’t think he should start and I don’t think he will start. Morris Peterson was the weak link in the Hornets starting unit last season, but that probably says more about the quality of the other four starters than it does about Mo Pete. He usually guarded the best opposing swingman and held his own, while also managing to keep the floor nicely spaced on the other end and drop in the odd corner three.
Posey can do pretty much the same thing, but he has the ability to guard bigger guys and he’s more reliable in the clutch. I can see Byron Scott starting Peterson but limiting him to the same 20 minutes a night he was getting last season. Posey will probably get the bulk of his PT in the second half, and he’ll be expected to give the Hornets defensive-minded reserves a much needed scoring punch.
More on the Hornets from Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7 after the jump…
ETB: Do you feel like Posey’s arrival will stunt the growth of Julian Wright, who ETB thinks could be in line for a breakout season either this year or next? What excites you most about Wright heading into 2008-09?
Hitley: I’m not quite sure how this will play out. Having paid close attention to JuJu in his rookie season, I’m convinced the kid has an All-Star future. He has no fundemental weaknesses in his game, only lacking experience and confidence. He seems to have his head on straight, he works hard and he’s got great teammates to show him the ropes.
So I’m really hoping that Wright gets the court time he needs next season to continue his development. But once again, the Hornets are very much in “win now” mode, and Byron Scott likely won’t tolerate many sophomore mistakes. Hopefully Wright will keep his head up and stay ready for whatever opportunity comes his way.
And what excites me most about Wright heading into next season? I just want to see more of everything he showed as a rookie: That boundless energy, the unexpected shooting touch and the defensive intelligence of a pro ten years deep. Give me that and some unshakeable confidence for the young fella, and I’m all good.
ETB: The Hornets acquired PG Mike James near the trade deadline last season, who’s just two seasons removed from averaging 20 points, 5.8 assists, and 2 three-pointers per as a starter for the Toronto Raptors. He’s still owed about $12.5 million (player option in ’09 he’ll definitely pick up) over the next 2 years. Can he be a capable backup to Chris Paul, or is he done like dinner?
Hitley: I’d feel much better if the Hornets got a new deal done with Jannero Pargo and didn’t have to rely on James as the primary backup for CP. James never really got a chance to show his stuff with the Hornets last season, but I don’t see any solid reason to believe he can help this team.
Sure, he put up those big numbers with Toronto, but didn’t they win -17 games that season? Dan Dickau put up big numbers with the Hornets a few years back and he’s probably scored twelve points since. I’d like to believe that James can make a significant contribution and I really hope he does next season, but I’m not counting on it.
ETB: The Hornets struggled to draw big crowds for most of the year last season, but once the playoffs rolled around the fans came out in numbers and proved that homecourt advantage can be real in New Orleans. Do you anticipate that goodwill carrying over into the regular season this year?
The Hornets actually turned the corner with attendance at the end of January. Every game from then until the end of the season I didn’t think it could get any better, but the people of New Orleans continued to prove me wrong. Not only have the Hornets put a remarakable product on the basketball floor, but the franchise has done a great job of getting involved with the community, and I think those type of bonds that they continue to form will ensure that the Hornets remain beloved in New Orleans for a long, long time.
ETB: Who is the most underrated player on this roster?
Hitley: Melvin Ely. He can beat you in so many ways.
ETB: How crucial is it for the Hornets to resign unrestricted free agent Jannero Pargo, who had some really nice games last season?
Hitley: Now that Posey is on board, re-signing Pargo has to be priority number one for the Hornets. He was pretty much the entire offense off the bench last season, and while Posey was brought in to help in that regard, he can’t create his own shot or push the tempo quite like Pargo.
Some Hornets’ fans question JP’s shot selection and consider him somewhat of a ball hog, but I can’t help but love the guy for the massive cajones he drags out on the floor each night. When every other Hornet was busy getting stage fright in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Spurs, there was Pargo shrugging off the gravity of the situation and getting us back in the ball game with cold-blooded jumpers.
Pargo has been known to have plenty of bad stretches, too — you feel like strangling him when he clangs his fifth pull-up in three minutes — but I’ll happily absorb those knowing that when dude is feeling it, not even an attempted decapitation can slow his roll.
Oh, and Chris Paul loves JP, too. So, you know, bring back Jannero and keep the superstar happy.
ETB: Multiple Choice: You’re starting a franchise, who is your first pick and why?
a) Chris Paul
b) LeBron James
c) Kobe Bryant
d) Dwight Howard
Hitley: You can’t really go wrong with any of those guys, but I’ll show my bias and go with CP. After all, he did save basketball in New Orleans. That’s kind of a big deal, you know.
ETB: Harry Connick, Jr.: take him or leave him?
Hitley: Let’s take him to Melvin Ely’s house and leave him there.
Recommended Reading at Hornets 24/7:
More ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series:
– J.E. Skeets of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie
– David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout
– Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7
– Ryne “Odenized” Nelson of SLAMonline
– Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and FanHouse
– Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops
– Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge
– Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold
– Brian Powell of Awful Announcing
– Lee Grammier of The Dream Shake
– Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead
– Scott Carefoot of Raptor Blog
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 1
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 2
– Matt Watson of AOL FanHouse and Detroit Bad Boys
– Natalie Sitto of Need4Sheed.com