Charlotte Hornets

Ex-Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau sitting in on Charlotte Hornets practices

Five questions Hornets face heading into preseason

Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell answers the top five questions the Charlotte Hornets face heading into the preseason during Friday's Hornets media day.
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Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell answers the top five questions the Charlotte Hornets face heading into the preseason during Friday's Hornets media day.

It’s always good to have friends to lean on, particularly if they are NBA coaches between jobs.

Each of his three preseasons as Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford has had a former colleague sit in on practices to offer a second opinion. In the fall of 2013 it was Stan Van Gundy. Last preseason it was Mike D’Antoni. This preseason its Tom Thibodeau.

Thibodeau was fired last spring after five seasons coaching the Chicago Bulls. He and Clifford are close friends, having worked together as assistant coaches with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Clifford worked for Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic and for D’Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Clifford said their input has been invaluable; “trained eyes,” as Clifford described, to offer second opinions on how practices look, what drills were effective and -- particularly for this training camp -- what player combinations might work best.

The Hornets had their first practice of the preseason Saturday morning at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets have seven new players, roughly half the regular-season roster, and Clifford is still looking to determine who plays best with whom.

Clifford said Thibodeau would likely be in Charlotte the next several days.

Fitting right in to the South

Hornets rookie lottery pick Frank Kaminsky might be from the Midwest, but he has quickly adopted the Southern tradition of sweet iced tea. In fact, he’s sort of become addicted to it the past few months.

“Sweet tea, you might as well categorize it as a drug down here, it’s so delicious,” Kaminsky said. “They’ve got it in the meal room and I just grab a cup every time. It’s so good. I’m sure it’s not so good for you with all the sugar and everything, but it is delicious.”

Kaminsky said he’s also become a fan of Southern barbecue, something you don’t see much in Chicago or Wisconsin, where Kaminsky played his college ball.

Harrison stayed glued to Charlotte

Undrafted rookie guard Aaron Harrison said he spent most of the summer in Charlotte after the Hornets signed him to a partially-guaranteed contract based on his summer-league performance in Orlando.

Harrison thought he was best served working with Hornets assistants and strength-and-conditioning coaches. He particularly tapped in to Bruce Kruetzer, who Clifford hired specifically as a shooting instructor. Harrison shot just 41 percent from the field and 33.5 percent from the college 3-point line in two seasons at Kentucky.

A week to bond?

The Hornets will be in China Oct. 7-15, playing two exhibitions against the Los Angeles Clippers in Shenzhen and Shanghai. Center-power forward Spencer Hawes, one of the seven new players acquired over the summer, thinks that trip could bring this new group together.

“I think the China trip will help; any time you have that kind of experience where everyone is together away from all the distractions that can really behoove the team,” Hawes said.

Hawes believes that bonding process has started well so far:

“You never know until you actually start doing it, but if the workouts we’ve had are any indication I think we’re off to a good start.

Some sightseeing

Hawes, acquired in trade from the Clippers, has become quite familiar with Charlotte lately because he can’t yet be a homebody.

“All my stuff is stuck in a truck somewhere between here and California, so I can’t just hang out at home,” said Hawes, who has played for four other NBA teams. “It kind of forced me out and it’s been fun learning the area.”

Lucas was good for Hairston

Clifford said he received good reports about the two weeks second-year shooting guard P.J. Hairston spent in Houston working with former NBA player and coach John Lucas.

Hairston said he lost about 13 pounds during those workouts. Clifford said Hairston is in noticeably better shape now than he was for Orlando summer league in July.

Heavy workouts in the morning

The NBA allows each NBA team to have two-a-day practices three times in training camp. The Hornets’ schedule calls for two-a-days Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday.

Only one of those daily practices can include contact. Many NBA coaches choose to scrimmage in the evening session and install concepts in the morning session. Clifford does it the other way around -- live action in the morning, film study and teaching in the evening -- because he wants the players exerting themselves when they’re most fresh early in the day.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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