NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Hornets were involved in 12 playoff games last season. Rasual Butler, the pride of La Salle University, didn't so much as wear a uniform for any of them.

"That's never happened to me," Butler was saying yesterday, all but wincing at the memory. "I went into the offseason and worked really hard to make sure I wouldn't experience the feeling I felt as an individual again.

"We had a successful year and I was supposed to be a part of it, considered one of the core guys of the franchise. Some things, I won't speak about, but I learned from them."

Butler, speaking at yesterday's morning shootaround and final preparation for last night's game against the 76ers, wouldn't get more specific, other than to say he has become more focused, more understanding of his role.

One member of the Hornets' organization suggested that Butler, realizing how his place in the rotation had diminished, had worked diligently to "reinvent himself."

"Maybe more of a resurgence," Butler said.

The answers, he said, weren't to be found in game tape or in his offseason conditioning work.

"It didn't have anything to do with that," said Butler, who has started 32 of the previous 40 games in a backcourt with All-Star Chris Paul and has been the team's No. 5 scorer. "I'm just focused on trying to be an impact player, to be one more piece for us in the playoffs, to make us a little bit more dangerous."

Asked about Butler, Hornets coach Byron Scott said: "He was just a guy that took last year . . . I don't want to say he took it off, but he didn't come with the right frame of mind. This year, he came with a work ethic, a renewed focus. He wanted to get back in the lineup and the rotation."

Scott said he saw "a determination about himself" from Butler during the summer.

"He didn't take it for granted this year," Scott said. "He told me what he was going to do, and he did everything he said he was going to do."

Butler, though, insisted his appearance on a police blotter in Miami last summer not only "had nothing to do" with his resurgence, but that the incident "was taken totally out of context." He was charged in July with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and wrongful display of a firearm; the weapon was registered, but not in Florida. The case was settled in a pretrial agreement by which he donated $500 to "Do The Right Thing," a program for kids, 50 hours of community service and completing a weapons education program.

"I just want to help us win games, help us go further in the playoffs, win a championship, which is the ultimate goal, to be a piece of that, to have my value grow in this organization," he said.

Good to be Young

The Sixers' Thaddeus Young, born in New Orleans and raised in Memphis, requested 250 tickets from the Hornets for last night's game, using 200 for kids from the local Dryades YMCA and the New Orleans Recreation Department basketball skills program.

Turns out, Young is connected, too. He is a second cousin to Karen Carter Peterson, a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives since 1999. Peterson led the Barack Obama campaign in the state and was involved with helping to bring the Hornets to New Orleans from Charlotte.

This was Byron Scott, on Young: "He's just a young guy that's developed. You saw it in summer league [where] I thought his game took some leaps and bounds from what he was doing in the regular season last year. His confidence level is sky high. Right now, he's just playing real solid basketball." *

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