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Chalk Talk with Jeff Bower

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Published: November 6, 2008

Jeff BowerThanks to a legendary ticket rep named Blake, I was able to join a bunch of other season ticket holders ahead of the Hornets-Hawks game yesterday for a “Chalk Talk” session with Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower. We were led into the bowels of New Orleans Arena, past a chill looking Byron Scott in the hallway, and into a room with a bunch of chairs facing a lectern.

We sat there for about five minutes before Bower came along. One of the season ticket holders, a middle-aged guy with shaggy hair and a happy face, came into the room and went straight up to the microphone. He introduced himself as the GM and kept us entertained for a few. “We just signed this guy from Cleveland named LeBron James… we also picked up a tall guy from Houston named Yao Ming, but we had to trade away Ryan Bowen to make it happen.” Funny dude.

Hornets spokesman (read: I don’t know what his real job title is) Harold Kaufman introduced Bower. He mentioned that the Hornets set an NBA record recently for largest increase in season ticket sales from one offseason to the next. I think I read somewhere that the jump was 5,600.

Anyways, Bower himself was ready to talk after that. Here’s a few notes on the words from his mouth…

  • He started off talking about the Hawks a bit, how they were a dangerous team and not unlike the Hornets in that they got their feet wet in the Playoffs last season and are now looking to take the next step. He listed some of their key players, somehow managing to suppress a chuckle when he got to Marvin Williams.
  • The Game 7 loss to the Spurs is still fresh in the mind of the organization, and what everyone has been using as motivation throughout training camp and into the season.
  • He attributed the unbeaten preseason and the 3-0 start to everyone being familiar with each other, not many new guys to work into the system. Everyone gelled quick in training camp and the team was able to hit the ground running.
  • He doesn’t really focus on the record this early in the season. Wins are nice, but he tries to look at how we’re winning, what we’re doing right and what we can do better. That’s not just his focus, but the focus of all the players and staff.
  • Our offensive spacing is better than he’s ever seen it. Guys are trusting each other, the experience and familiarity is paying off.
  • He talks about the players being “proactive defensively,” helping early if a teammate gets beat, before the D breaks down completely. That’s key to our effectiveness.
  • Even he’s been surprised at how well Posey has shot the ball from deep. Apparently he was dropping bombs all through training camp, stroking it like Peja at practices.
  • The team is purposely built around high-character guys, beginning with Chris Paul and David West. The players are “quick to take blame and deflect praise.” They’re a humble bunch with a winning attitude. Talent alone is never enough; a team concept is needed first and foremost.
  • He mentions the Spurs as the type of franchise that the Hornets model themselves after. Someday soon he thinks our organization will be as admired and as highly regarded as San An.
  • They view season ticket holders as investors. We choose to believe in the team and invest money in them, and it’s the Hornets’ job to ensure that we get a good return on our investment.

After all that, it was question time. I had about a dozen questions I wanted to ask but only managed to fire one off. It was actually Ryan’s question: Next year, with the guaranteed contracts alone, we’ll be extraordinarly close to the Luxury Tax line. In fact, to sign enough minimum contract guys to get to 14 players next year, it’s likely we would have to go over the Luxury Tax line. Are the Hornets willing to cross that line? Or should we expect to see some moves to keep under it?

As you’d expect, Bower didn’t really answer that question. He has to hold his cards close to his chest and all that. He replied that they’re always careful not to sabotage the future of the franchise with the deals they make today. “Maintain fiscal sanity” was the term he threw out there.

Other folks asked about Sean Marks’ nationality status, Julian Wright’s potential, and our interest in Ben Gordon (we don’t have any). Someone asked whether we’d look to pick up Antonio McDyess if the Nuggets cut him. Bower didn’t really answer that question either, but he did reveal that eighteen teams had contacted McDyess’ agent since the trade was announced. Competition for his services will be fierce.

Best question though came from an elderly lady sitting near the exit. Actually, I’m not even sure if she asked a question, but she raised her hand and started heaping praise on James Posey. Her opening words were “I’m so glad we have Jim Posey. I think he’s our guardian angel!”

Anyways, that was about it. I though maybe Jeff would stand by the door and give the guys a pound and the ladies a hug on the way out, but that’s not how the dude rolls. He just thanked everyone for their support and then he was gone. I figure the team we see on the floor each night is built in Bower’s own image: accept responsibility, work good and hard, reap the rewards but stay humble. There’s always more to be done.

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