You hear a lot at media day before the Charlotte Hornets start training camp. Here’s what caught my ear Monday before the drive to Chapel Hill:
▪ The picture Nic Batum painted of Tony Parker screaming at new teammates two minutes into his first pickup game at the practice gym was illuminating. It was also exactly what you should want to hear as a Hornets fan. Parker’s four championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs translates to instant gravitas. You don’t want him reluctant to impose that, newcomer or not. It’s even more important in this circumstance, because he can be a conduit for new coach James Borrego, a former Spurs assistant.
▪ Also on Parker: He laughed when he said this, but you could tell he wasn’t cool with the term “player-coach” when it was used in a question. Parker doesn’t view this as a farewell tour where he only plays in garbage time. If he thought his spot on a roster was honorary, he wouldn’t have uprooted from the Spurs.
▪ I thought Steve Clifford overall was a terrific coach, but I also buy that his voice was starting to get stale with this roster. The two players who implied as much were Malik Monk and Frank Kaminsky. Monk didn’t surprise me, since he felt underutilized as a rookie, but Kaminsky’s comments about feeling helpless trying to switch onto guarding a point guard in Chicago, and the reference to not adjusting strategy to particular opponents, were pointed.
▪ The Hornets offense will look ragged in the preseason exhibitions, so don’t jump to conclusions about what that means for the regular season. Borrego is testing his players’ comfort zone in the way he’s prodding them to play at a faster pace. The shot clock set to 12 seconds in the practice gym illustrates that. Also, he’ll be experimenting with numerous player combinations. Think of the next three weeks as a lab, not refinement.
▪ I was curious about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s state of mind, since he figures to be the starter from last season whose role might change the most under Borrego. I liked his answer about playing more power forward and less small forward: Paraphrasing, positions are just labels and he’s still going to be a superior defender-rebounder regardless of what you call him.
▪ None of the 19 players in Chapel Hill enters training camp with an injury that would limit participation. Of the core group, center Cody Zeller is the most recently injured; he sat out the end of last season with residual soreness in his left knee following December surgery. Zeller thought in April a month of rest would be sufficient, but the training staff was more conservative in his recovery schedule. He’s been back on the court for about a month now, and says he’s good to go.
▪ Rookie Miles Bridges is likeable in a confident-but-not-arrogant way. I liked his response when I told him Borrego and Kaminsky found him more athletic than they anticipated. Essentially, Bridges replied don’t these guys watch Big Ten games?
▪ The back-story on Dwayne Bacon joining the Team USA qualifying roster for two games of World Cup lead-up: Borrego’s mentor, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, has taken over as Team USA coach from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Popovich called Borrego about Bacon’s availability to play for Jeff Van Gundy’s qualifying squad, made up of young NBA players and G-Leaguers. Bacon said he signed on without hesitation, even with the time commitment coming just before training camp..
▪ Bismack Biyombo was in Paris when he was traded back to Charlotte (from Orlando) in July. His phone blew up with texts around 6 a.m. in France, including welcome-backs from Kemba Walker and Zeller. Walker and Biyombo arrived in Charlotte together as rookies in 2011. Walker told Biyombo he’s psyched the two are reunited. I question how much Biyombo will play here, though he’s the only center who offers real rim-protection.
▪ The players were gracious and diplomatic when asked about Dwight Howard’s one season as a Hornet. Marvin Williams, Walker and Batum all said Howard wasn’t a bad guy and shouldn’t take all the blame for last season’s disappointing record. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As Williams said, the fit with Howard here wasn’t good; Howard might have posted strong statistics, but that wasn’t translating enough to team success. The trade was the right call.