The Charlotte Hornets’ search for a backup point guard might eventually lead to their own backyard.
Since the season ended April 11, the Hornets have been counting the days until July 1, the start of free agency – or, more specifically, the day Charlotte can officially begin its search for backcourt depth.
Ramon Sessions filled that role last season, albeit with mixed reviews, but the team declined his nearly $6.3 million option on Thursday. And with the Hornets strapped by a lower salary cap, the options are limited.
But the answer might already be on their roster.
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“In the back of my mind, I feel like they know I’m here,” said Briante Weber, who played in 13 of the Hornets’ final 23 games last season. “They know what I’m capable of. I’m here for a reason.”
That reason is his defense. At 6-foot-2, Weber is an explosive athlete with an impressive 6-foot-7 wingspan and elite instincts. Charlotte signed him to two 10-day contracts last season before extending him through the end of the year. And while the organization’s focus will largely be on the upcoming free-agent pool, Weber will try to prove his worth with the Hornets’ summer league team.
“I’m really excited because he’s gonna get a lot of playing time, and he’s been here so he knows the system,” said assistant coach Stephen Silas, who will coach the team this week in Orlando, Fla. “It should be a good little transition for him.”
Weber is used to transition. The scrappy guard was a three-time Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year at Virginia Commonwealth, where he came 12 steals short of breaking the all-time NCAA record before tearing his ACL and MCL as a senior in 2015. He went undrafted four months later and spent much of his rookie season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Developmental League.
Weber saw heavy minutes late in the year through six games with the Memphis Grizzlies and saw action in three games with Miami Heat, including two playoff contests. But when the 2016-17 season began, he was back in Sioux Falls. He started 31 games and averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 3.3 steals – adding five triple-doubles and earning all-defensive first-team honors.
The Golden State Warriors took interest and called up Weber from the Skyforce in early February. After two 10-day contracts, the eventual champions let him walk. Three weeks later, he signed with Charlotte, where he was slotted into the backup point guard spot and provided much-needed depth for an injury-riddled backcourt.
Now, the Hornets are looking to fill that role again.
“I’m gonna do what I can do to better my chances of being that backup point guard,” Weber said. “But at the end of the day, all I can do is control what I can control.”
This offseason, Weber has worked to improve what he can control: his offensive game. At 165 pounds, Weber has spent the summer setting up ball screens so he can better drive past his defender. He hit just one of his seven 3-point attempts with the Hornets last season, so he’s been in the gym with Hornets shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer to help his consistency – which he showed off with five straight makes from the left corner to end Friday’s practice.
But Weber’s defensive tenacity makes him the perfect foil to starting point guard Kemba Walker. And with defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford at the helm, Weber knows he just has to play his game to have a shot with the team.
“I don’t have to score 30 to get noticed,” Weber said. “I’m gonna get noticed from what I do.”
While the Hornets wait anxiously for July 1, Weber has his sights set on his own decision day: August 1. That’s when he says the team has the option to retain his nearly $1.5 million salary for next season. It’s a miniscule number compared to what an experienced point guard might cost on the open market, and Weber is already a familiar face in the organization.
Come August 2, he hopes that’s still the case.
“It’s gonna look like a great day for the Charlotte Hornets and me as a basketball player in the NBA,” Weber said. “I feel like they’re gonna give me a chance, and I’m gonna do all I can to take full advantage of it.”
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart