Charlotte Hornets

Nic Batum chimes in on a fluid opening-night Hornets starting lineup

Nic Batum
Nic Batum

The Charlotte Hornets’ opening-night lineup remains unresolved, except for these new details that emerged Monday:

Nic Batum told coach James Borrego he doesn’t mind coming off the bench to help the development of young players.

Borrego said he hasn’t made a final call on starters against the Chicago Bulls, but whoever starts Wednesday shouldn’t assume that won’t change quickly.

The starting five for the final preseason game was Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Cody Zeller. Batum has recovered from a sore Achilles tendon, and Borrego said at Sunday practice he might move Batum back into the starting rotation.

That would mean moving Bridges, Bacon or the rookie Washington to the second unit. Batum, the highest-paid Hornet this season at $25.5 million, said he isn’t lobbying to start.

“I told him I don’t care if I start or not. The way the young guys are playing, I told him keep the lineup like that,” Batum said after practice Monday. “Marvin (Williams) and I can be the two vets who help those guys off the bench.

“It doesn’t mean we give up on this team. It means we help those (young) guys. Marvin and I can help guys (in the second unit) like Devonte (Graham) and Malik (Monk).”

Borrego said he appreciates Batum’s flexibility, but he’s still mulling what lineup to start against the Bulls, and even then, rotations could be fluid.

“He’s willing to accept whatever role we need of him right now, and I honestly believe that’s where he’s at,” Borrego said of Batum. “I’m going to use him where I see fit; sometimes that may be off the bench, sometimes starting, sometimes closing games. He brings us play-making, size and defense.”

How to use the 6-foot-9 Batum reflects the dueling agendas of this Hornets season; leaning toward youth and development without disregarding competition from four veterans — Batum, Williams, center Bismack Biyombo and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — who combine to make nearly $70 million in guaranteed salary this season.

Borrego told the Observer in September he doesn’t view it as his job to worry about contracts or salaries. While general manager Mitch Kupchak is on the same page about development and youth, he said Monday the veterans “can’t be overlooked” entirely.

When asked about a starting lineup, Borrego emphasized whatever decision he makes might apply only to the opener.

“Just because we start opening night with one lineup doesn’t mean that will happen the entire season,” Borrego said.

“I’ve said this to the team: From game-to-game, this lineup may change. I’m hoping to find consistency in our starting lineup, but if I need to make a change game-to-game, I’ll do that.”

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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