Hornets turn to youth movement after Walker departure
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets center Cody Zeller got proactive when NBA free agency arrived, posting a picture of himself on social media selling lemonade for 25 cents a glass with all proceeds going to “Keep Kemba in Charlotte.”
That didn’t work out.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan had no intention of paying Kemba Walker, a three-time All-Star and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, a $221 million supermax contract. Walker wound up going to the Celtics for $140 million over four years.
With Walker’s departure, the Hornets are in a youth movement that leaves them as one of the favorites to land the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“We have been so close to getting over the hump (and making the playoffs), so it felt like if we gave it another shot or two we could get over that hump,” Zeller said. “But I think Kemba is going to be good in Boston. ... At the end of the day you want what is best for him, but it sucks for me a little bit.”
And the Hornets, too.
Walker had become the face of the franchise and replacing his 25.6 points and 5.9 assists per game won’t be an easy task.
The Hornets landed point guard Terry Rozier as part of a sign-and-trade with the Celtics, giving him $58 million over three years in hopes that he can make the transition from Kyrie Irving’s backup in Boston to a regular starter in Charlotte.
Rozier said he’s already grown tired of the natural comparisons to Walker, calling them “annoying.”
“I’m not him, and I don’t look to be him,” Rozier said. “I get it, he’s Kemba and he did a lot for this organization. Leading scorer, that’s hard to replace. But I’m coming in and being me and I’m looking to push this organization in a different way.”
Coach James Borrego said he wants to use this season to develop his young players like Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and PJ Washington in hopes of building for the future.
That has left most prognosticators thinking the Hornets could be the worst team in the league with www.betonline.ag listing Charlotte’s expected win total at 23 ½, the fewest in the NBA.
Bridges said he expects the naysayers will prompt the Hornets to play with a chip on their shoulder, adding “I feel like we can be a playoff team if we really play our best.”
Added Rozier: “We don’t care about what they are saying on TV. ... Teams still have to go through us to beat us. We’re not lying down.”
Some other things as the Hornets prepare to open training camp in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
Second-year coach James Borrego said Monday he has “no idea” who’d be in the team’s starting lineup if the regular season started this week. Part of that is true. Rozier and Zeller are essentially locks, but the other three spots likely remain up for grabs between four players — Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk and Nic Batum.
BULKED UP MONK
Monk looks like a different player after adding 23 pounds and a bunch of muscle. The third-year shooting guard has gone from 182 pounds at the end of last season to 205 heading into camp. Monk said adding weight was his No. 1 goal this season and he’s already noticed a major difference on the court.
“I feel way different,” Monk said. “In pickup (games), I’m not being bumped off my spot. I’m able to finish (through contact) at the rim better.”
Borrego told Bridges that with some work he can be a “Kawhi-like” defender because of his ability to guard all five positions on defense. Bridges, at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, has a similar frame to Leonard, although he lacks NBA experience entering his second season.
“I feel like I definitely got better as a defender,” Bridges said. “I’m stronger... (Borrego) wants me to be a pest on defense.”
Borrego said one of his major goals this season is player development — and that means using the Hornets G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, to its full extent. Rookies PJ Washington and Cody Martin are expected to bounce back and forth between Charlotte and Greensboro, similar to what Bacon and Devonte Graham did a year ago as rookies.
Bacon said that while some players view the G League designation as a “punishment,” he used it as a chance to develop his game.
“Most people look at it as ‘they don’t think I’m good enough to play in the NBA so they’re going to send me down here,’” Bacon said. “I didn’t look at it in that way. ... I knew it was just part of the process.”
Former No. 2 overall draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t do the Hornets’ any favors when he picked up the $13 million option on his contract for this season. Kidd-Gilchrist’s playing time seems rather uncertain heading into the season. When asked if he’s discussed his role with the Hornets, he simply said “no comment.”