Charlotte Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston has a gift for making NBA 3-point shots. In a league where spacing the floor is so valued, that’s a skill that could provide him a long and lucrative career.
Hairston also has a pattern of stepping out of line. Most recently he was left inactive for Wednesday’s home game against the Boston Celtics. That was in response to his missing Tuesday’s practice without an acceptable excuse for his absence.
While Hairston watched the Celtics game in street clothes behind the Hornets bench, he wasn’t in the locker room when media had access before and after the game. The Hornets didn’t practice Thursday before flying to Memphis for Friday’s game.
The Hornets declined to comment further on the matter Thursday through a team spokesman.
It isn’t a good idea for any rookie to skip practice, but in Hairston’s case it’s at least the fourth time since draft night in June that he’s brought unflattering attention to himself.
• The day before the start of summer-league practice, he had an altercation with a high school kid at a Durham YMCA that resulted in a summons for assault. The charge was eventually dropped at the request of the alleged victim, Kentrell Barkley, who had accused Hairston of twice punching him in the head.
• He had a chance meeting with Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, resulting in Gordon being arrested in Raleigh on a DWI charge while driving Hairston’s Cadillac.
• He signed with an agent who was never certified by the National Basketball Players Association, which could have caused the Hornets to be fined by the NBA had they signed him to a contract before this was corrected.
• Tuesday’s unexcused absence from practice.
Hairston has expressed contrition in the past for these missteps. In addressing what happened at the Durham YMCA and the car situation with Gordon, he said in July, “I still have a lot of growing up to do. In life you make mistakes and it’s something I will learn from again.”
After the altercation in Durham, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s time for Hairston to take stock of his professionalism going forward.
“We need to have more meetings about his defense and shot selection, and less about what he’s got to do to be a dependable player,” Clifford said in July. “The guys who do the right things off the floor give themselves the chance to do the right things on the floor. That just makes sense. It all fits together.”
Clifford continued, “I told him I’ll commit to him – I like so much about him – but the commitment comes with the trust, the understanding that he’s got to be a dependable, professional player who is accountable to himself, his teammates and our franchise every day.”
Clifford liked what he saw from Hairston at Las Vegas Summer League, saying the rookie has the talent to eventually be a starter. As the regular season progressed Clifford found him minutes, often at the expense of veteran Gerald Henderson, to tap into Hairston’s long-range shooting.
The irony in Hairston missing practice Tuesday is the Hornets are finally back to full health and have a wealth of options at the two positions Hairston plays, shooting guard and small forward.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is back from missing a dozen games with a foot injury. He joins Henderson, Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal as rotation regulars. Also small forward Jeff Taylor is eligible next Wednesday to return from a 24-game NBA suspension after Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge.
So the Hornets have plenty of choices. One or more of these players has to fall out of the playing rotation. Hairston again behaving immaturely certainly won’t help his case for minutes.