Q&A with Jim Eichenhofer

Published: July 3, 2008

Today we've got a Q&A with the one and only Jim Eichenhofer, who is the publications and new media manager for the Hornets. If you've ever read the Hornets magazine, Hornets.com, or a game program at the Arena, you're probably familiar with Jim's work. Here's what he had to tell us…

First of all, can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to work for the Hornets?

Let me start by saying thank you for inviting me to do this. You and Ryan Schwan do a great job and I know I speak for many people who follow the Hornets in saying that the writing and sense of humor that Hornets247 consistently provides makes this website a very entertaining read.

In terms of my background, I began my career as a newspaper sportswriter near my hometown in western New York. I worked full time for two small daily papers that primarily covered high school and Division III college sports, along with Syracuse University football and basketball, but I also wrote feature articles on NBA players for basketball magazines, including SLAM, Inside Stuff and Hoop. Due to my proximity to Toronto, I would periodically squeeze in trips to Raptors home games on my off days to interview/profile guys like Chris Bosh and Matt Bonner, or opposing players who were visiting Toronto.

I remember one week where I covered a high school volleyball match on Thursday, drove to Toronto on Friday for a Raptors game, then came back to New York on Saturday to cover high school football. It was kind of surreal, because one night I might be at a volleyball match with 50 people in the stands, then the next night I'd be in Toronto's Air Canada Centre, sitting courtside with a media credential from a national publication. And I'd look around the arena and see 20,000 people in the seats.

So basically I was simultaneously doing a combination of mostly thankless assignments (for my newspaper) and "glamorous" work (for the magazines). It made me realize even more that I needed to get a full-time job in the NBA.
In October 2005, I saw online that the Hornets had a job opening for a writer and sent in my resume and copies of magazine articles I'd written. I was hired a few weeks later by the team's marketing director, who chose me primarily because I already had NBA writing experience.

Despite knowing I would have to move halfway across the country to a state I had never even visited, the decision was probably the biggest no-brainer of my life. The chance to work exclusively in the NBA had been my main focus for several years.

What's the best part of your job?

It's tough to narrow this down, but since I was already so long-winded on question one, I will attempt to be concise… I think the best part is the fact that I get paid to do something I love. I watched a million NBA games a year before I ever imagined being paid a cent to write about the league, because I truly enjoy the sport. The fact that I actually get a paycheck every two weeks now is a dream scenario for me.

This job is not what any reasonable person would deem "work." I half-jokingly tell my friends that if they ever hear me complaining about my job, they have my advance permission to immediately slap me. Hard.

What's your take on the Hornets trading their draft pick last week? Should we expect to see the team making noise in free agency?

I was a little surprised at first by the decision to trade it, but after you look at all of the different factors, including the guaranteed money you have to commit to a first-rounder now matter how late you pick, it makes sense. I'd much rather see that cash go to a proven veteran who can help in 2008-09, if that's how it plays out in free agency.

Frankly, the Hornets' rise to contender status last season was so rapid that it takes a little getting used to the fact that they are now thinking in terms of "championship," not eking out a playoff berth like in the two previous seasons. They are clearly not as concerned about three years from now as they were in, say, October 2007. At the same time, three core players are 23, 25 and 27, so it's not like there is a huge risk of completely mortgaging the future to pursue a title now. Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and David West are going to be here a long time.

In terms of free agency, I am surprised by some of the names that people are reporting to be realistic options for New Orleans. But I never thought there was a snowball's chance that the Hornets would sign Peja Stojakovic two years ago, either.

Jeff Bower seems to be a little cagey when asked about his plans. Does he remain so when off the record?

From what I've seen, Jeff doesn't go off the record very often, and when he does, I doubt he would ever delve into something as momentous as what he's planning to do in free agency. Not to put words in other people's mouths, but I think any GM would feel the same way. It's too risky to give out information to reporters that could affect negotiations or provide other teams with an indication of your intentions, even if you genuinely trust those reporters.

One of the things that stands out about Jeff is that he has a humble, down-to-earth demeanor that makes him extremely well-liked within the organization. He doesn't walk around acting like he's the general manager of an NBA team and above everyone else. But don't be fooled: He is extremely intelligent, well-prepared and thorough. Casual fans still might not know his name, but it's no accident that he's become one of the best executives in the NBA.

You got to see a lot of the pre-draft workouts in New Orleans. Can you describe what those are like?

They're probably not as exciting or interesting as some people believe. Basically, workouts consist of 3-on-3 halfcourt games, shooting drills and individual physical testing. In other words, it's a lot of things that give talent evaluators snippets of a player's ability, but much of it doesn't translate to what a player can do in an actual 5-on-5 fullcourt game.

Personally, I don't think the workouts should be treated as a major piece of the evaluation of a specific player. Everyone I've talked to in the Hornets front office seems to feel similarly, that it doesn't make sense to greatly factor workout results into how you view a prospect. If a guy has played 100 college basketball games against high-level Division I competition and performed a certain way, that's a much better indication of what he'll do in the pros than how he fares in a three-hour workout.

However, one of the underrated aspects of workouts is that they give the front office a chance to get to know players on a personal level and find out more about them as people. It also gives Byron Scott and his staff an up-close look at players the team is considering drafting. During the NBA season, there simply is not enough time for Scott and the assistant coaches to watch a lot of college games.

Which Hornets employee doesn't get enough public recognition for the job they do?

It's not easy to select one person, but I think the team's director of promotions and events, Cris Quintana, would be a good choice. One of the reasons I name him is because Cris is the man working behind the scenes on all of our fan-friendly events such as Buzz Fest, the Fan Up pep rallies and many of the community appearances that helped give the Hornets greater visibility in New Orleans last season. He is also responsible for executing the multitude of giveaways and freebies that fans received over the course of the season, including bobblehead dolls, the Fan Up T-shirts and so forth. He was the guy on the phone, tracking down companies that could supply us with 20,000 gold T-shirts for a home playoff game.

When I moved to New Orleans in June 2007, I noticed that there were a relatively small number of people walking around town in Hornets gear. I've seen a huge change in that over the past few months. Now when you go to the mall or walk around downtown, you see infinitely more fans sporting Hornets apparel. Obviously the team's tremendous success on the court in 2007-08 has a lot to do with that, but I also think Cris and his department's promotional efforts deserve credit for this as well. The Fan Up playoff T-shirts, to use one example, seem to be incredibly popular, because I see New Orleanians wearing them all the time now.

Which Hornet (player or coach) gives the best interview?

The 2007-08 team was the best group of athletes I've ever been around in terms of interviews. I enjoyed talking with pretty much everyone, but I would say the best interviewees were probably Tyson Chandler and Melvin Ely. Tyson has been extremely gracious with reporters in every instance I've seen over the past two years. He is unfailingly polite and friendly, and usually has interesting things to say about a lot of different subjects, which is one reason his NBA.com blog has been so popular.

Melvin is one of those guys that you could ask him something as simple as "How did you think you played today?" and he will give you a three-minute response that includes details and probably a self-deprecating joke or two. I remember interviewing him last summer on the day he signed. After talking to him for five minutes, he acted like he'd known me for 10 years. He's a very funny and good-natured guy, from my experience.

Can you explain why Chris Paul is torn between a 3 year and 5 year deal? What are the benefits of the 3 year deal?

I think it comes down to deciding between having more long-term security, or having the freedom to explore your options after a shorter period of time. If you sign a five-year extension, it's great from a financial standpoint and you know where you're going to be playing through 2013-2014. On the other hand, a three-year deal gives you the flexibility to know that in 2012 you'd have the option of becoming an unrestricted free agent. Obviously now everyone is reporting that Chris is planning to sign a four-year extension, so that means his contract in New Orleans would run through the 2012-13 season.

So Chris and now possibly Tyson will be playing for Team USA this summer. Do you think there's much risk for the Hornets with these guys playing international ball?

I haven't heard much concern or talk about Tyson, but Byron Scott has mentioned several times lately that with Chris participating for Team USA this summer, it means Scott will have to monitor Paul more during Hornets training camp and preseason. The last time Chris played for USA Basketball (in 2006), he ended up missing 18 games due to injury the following NBA season (2006-07). Byron is concerned about fatigue and wear and tear, as most NBA coaches who have players in the Olympics will be to an extent.

On the flip side, there is one thing that I think gets overstated about guys playing in international competition: People forget that many NBA players are playing in daily pickup games anyway during the offseason. It's not like they spend the entire summer staying off their feet, then step back on the court a few days before training camp starts. Sometimes people make it sound like the only players in the NBA who are going to be running and playing hoops a lot during the summer are those playing for USA Basketball, when that's definitely not the case.

Mucho thanks to Jim for taking the time to answer all the above. He's hereby added to the official Hornets247 Christmas card list. Leaving you with the links below, were you can check out more good stuff from Mr. Eichenhofer…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.