Card games, movies and dinners. It’s how men have bonded throughout modern times.
So how the Charlotte Hornets became so close last season wasn’t distinctive. The extent to which they became close was.
Forward Marvin Williams has been around the NBA since 2005, when the Atlanta Hawks drafted him second overall. He’s seen his share of good teams and bad teams, teams with great chemistry and teams that never found a common cause.
He concluded, as many Hornets have, that Charlotte’s locker room was a great workplace last season. So he told his agent if the Hornets could make a competitive offer, he was highly predisposed to re-sign.
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“When I first came here (in the summer of 2014), I didn’t know what to expect,” said Williams, who signed a four-year, $54.5 million contract Sunday. “I knew then I wanted to be back in North Carolina (where he went to college); it’s become my home away from home.”
Williams discovered a sense of community and accountability with the Hornets that drove them to a 48-victory season. It’s what shooting guard Courtney Lee saw days after being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies in February.
Not the norm
Lee asked center Al Jefferson if his new team really was as close as it appeared. Jefferson said of course. Lee reminded Jefferson that isn’t necessarily the norm around the NBA.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Kemba (Walker) every night? MKG every night? Nic Batum every night?” Williams said at a news conference at Time Warner Cable Arena. “Not only as basketball players and teammates, but more personally. You might catch five or six guys going out together or playing a poker game or catching a movie. That’s the first time in 12 years I’ve been involved with something (on that scale.)
“I’ve played with plenty of good guys over my career, but I don’t know if, as a collective team, they all cared for each other as much as we do.”
That isn’t happy talk. I’ve covered the NBA for 28 years and that was the closest locker room I’ve seen. They were vested in each other’s success in a business where selfishness is an occupational hazard.
It was a locker room full of people tired of losing. Lee and little-used Tyler Hansbrough were the only Hornets to have advanced deep into the playoffs with other teams. The first day of training camp coach Steve Clifford told them they could be good, but only if they sacrificed because this wasn’t a team so talented it could just roll on ability.
‘I want to have fun’
For the most part, they listened. And as former Bobcats draftee Jared Dudley recently observed, word is getting around that Clifford is a guy for whom you want to play.
Williams was ahead of the game that way, and he’s rich enough that being happy in his career is as important as money.
“I’m going into the 12th (season); it’s really, really important at this stage for me to be comfortable with my coaching staff,” Williams said. “I want to have fun playing basketball and the last two years here I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Clifford said as much last week when the Hornets introduced free agent signings Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions. Clifford said he’s seen the Hornets’ reputation changing as far as a free agent destination, but only one thing can complete that process.
Winning. At least one playoff series and hopefully more. You can’t make your best pitch to quality players without a record of winning.