Charlotte Hornets

Wins or player development? Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego reveals job No. 1

James Borrego coaches his first preseason exhibition with the Charlotte Hornets Friday against the Boston Celtics.
James Borrego coaches his first preseason exhibition with the Charlotte Hornets Friday against the Boston Celtics.

New Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego said several interesting things Tuesday; this is the one I found most telling:

He won’t sacrifice the chance to win games this season to fast track the development of young players.

Does that mean Borrego views the development of rookies Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham as unimportant? Absolutely not. He feels what he learned in two stints as a San Antonio Spurs assistant showed him how to balance the here and now with the long view.

The Hornets open training camp in two weeks at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Borrego met with Charlotte media Tuesday to preview camp.

He said the only certainty about the rotation is two-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker is a starter. He won’t commit to anything else until he tests different player combinations in practices and preseason exhibitions. Borrego said this roster’s strength is at the offensive end. He wants to play at a faster tempo than the Hornets previously did under coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford was criticized by a segment of the fan base for not playing rookie Malik Monk, the 11th overall pick, more in the first half of last season. Borrego’s approach sounded similar to Clifford’s in that regard.

“The long term isn’t really my job. My job is to go after this thing, to maximize the season and go try to win every game possible,” Borrego said. “We’ll go full steam ahead trying to win every game at whatever cost. That’s my job No. 1.”

Borrego and general manager Mitch Kupchak have said they aspire to be a playoff team. The way the off-season has gone in the NBA, there probably won’t be a big difference in talent between the Eastern Conference’s sixth- through 10th-best teams, with the top eight qualifying for the playoffs.

Borrego believes there will be chances to put young players in situations that test and educate them.

“Along the way, through 82 games, there are plenty of opportunities to put Devonte in the lineup or to put Monk (in the rotation), to play Bridges on a night after he sat four in a row.

“And if they’re not in games, you can still develop them in practice. I’ve got to develop them using the G-League. I learned that in a system that developed players along the way. I saw on a back-to-back, Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) trusted Cory Joseph to go in. Or (Popovich) would sit Tim Duncan on a back-to-back and Matt Bonner would start.”

Look for Borrego to send young players to the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, plenty this season when the schedule accommodates, to play games when they are not in the rotation. That’s why it’s key that new Swarm coach Joe Wolf is intimate with Borrego’s systems and terminology.

Dribble-drive offense

Borrego said he doesn’t think inside-out basketball that relies heavily on post-ups is particularly efficient in the current NBA. (more evidence why center Dwight Howard was traded). He likes that the Hornets have several players with the skill set to drive to the basket (Walker, Monk, Jeremy Lamb and Bridges, for instance) and force defenses to react.

“The roster says get those guys to the rim and generate offense. And with everybody around them, create as much (3-point) shooting as you can, so when those guys go downhill, we’re open” with able shooters for kick-outs, Borrego described. “That’s the strength of our team right now.”


Borrego is pleased with what he’s seen from Monk’s summer:

“I think he would admit his first (NBA season) didn’t go the way he expected. As I told him, that’s in the past and we have to go forward. His attitude has been fantastic,” Borrego said. “I don’t have him slotted anywhere yet. We could go a number of directions with Malik.”

Roster’s strength

“I like the versatility of our group: MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), Bridges, (Jeremy) Lamb, Marvin (Williams) and (Dwayne) Bacon to an extent and Nic Batum. They can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions,” Borrego said.

“I just need to figure out through training camp who plays best together. I have an idea now, but until training camp and playing (preseason) games, I won’t have a clear picture yet.”

Bridges’ potential

“Bridges (the 12th overall pick from Michigan State) is better than I thought. I didn’t know much about him” before the draft, Borrego said.. “He fits today’s NBA: He’s versatile, he can guard multiple positions, he’s got a better shot than people give him credit for, he can put it on the (floor). So he’s much more NBA-prepared than I thought when we initially drafted him.”

Tony Parker

Borrego said veteran point guard Parker is a Spur for life, that the Hornets are just “borrowing him” at the end of his career.

Borrego said Parker reached out to the Hornets to express interest in possibly signing here, in part looking for more of an on-court role than he might have had re-signing with the Spurs. Entering his 18th NBA season, Parker will be Walker’s primary backup.

Summer participation

Borrego said he’s thrilled with how many players spent much of the summer in Charlotte, which helped his transition and hopefully gives this team a running start going into training camp.

“We’ve consistently had six to eight guys in the gym since I got the job and really the last two months, eight to 12 guys. That’s a lot of guys,” Borrego said. “Which shows me that these guys are invested in our program, want to be here and want to get better.”