JAMES POSEY makes his biggest contributions to the Hornets when he's not even in the game. "He has changed our culture because we came into training camp talking about how our defense has to get better in order to win a championship, and no one knows that better than James," says coach Byron Scott. "And he's always the first guy off the bench to scream and yell. We needed that."
It may seem odd for a reserve forward, playing for his sixth team in 10 years, to be so influential on a club that finished with the second-best record in the West and was one win from the conference finals. But Posey isn't your average 6'8" journeyman. By winning two titles in the last three years with the Heat and the Celtics, he has gained a reputation as the final piece of the puzzle for any contending team, which is why New Orleans signed him to a four-year, $25 million free-agent deal this summer.
Scott is leaning toward using Posey as a sixth man to provide lockdown defense and three-point shooting; the Hornets' bench lacked both last season. In the meantime, Posey has already embraced his role as a team leader. "All the guys ask him questions," says Scott, "and you know they're going to listen to him because he has two rings and these guys want to win one."
"It's a mind-set, and I'm trying to get my teammates to buy into that," says Posey. "It's not going to be easy, but if they believe in what I'm saying and believe in themselves, we're going to be in a good position to win a title."
A rival scout on the HORNETS: You could argue that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. He's mastered the high-pick-and-roll set, and if the defense plays a certain way, he knows which shots are available. He just needs a better jumper; everything else he has already, such as leadership and knowing when to push buttons and when to back off.... They deserve credit for drafting David West and developing him. But I still don't see him as the No. 2 guy that a championship contender needs. It's all about making himself a focal point, a guy who can score on his man at will. That forces another defender to come down, which then allows West to be a playmaker and take pressure off Paul.... Peja Stojakovic scores off penetration and kick action; he's strictly a catch-and-shoot guy. During the year that's great, but in the playoffs teams can lock into him.... Tyson Chandler has gained confidence because the Hornets—unlike his former team, the Bulls—emphasize what he can do: be athletic, set the screen-and-roll down the middle, and finish.
Chris Paul scored at least 20 points while dishing out double-digit assists 31 times last season. That's the most since '91--92, when the Warriors' Tim Hardaway had 20 and 10 in 34 games.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F James Posey*, G-F Devin Brown, F Julian Wright, C-F Hilton Armstrong, C-F Melvin Ely, F-G Rasual Butler
Record: 56--26 (T-2nd in West)
Points scored: 100.9 (9th in NBA)
Points allowed: 95.6 (5th)
Coach: Byron Scott (fifth season with Hornets)
RINGS OF TRUTH Posey (above) has the bling to back up what he says to the Hornets—including team leader Chris Paul (opposite)—about developing a title-worthy defense.
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
[See caption above]
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES