Unless you’re point guard Kemba Walker, assume nothing about your playing time headed into Charlotte Hornets training camp next week.
General manager Mitch Kupchak’s words weren’t quite that blunt in a one-on-one interview with the Charlotte Observer Friday, but that was his message: With a whole new basketball operation, including coach James Borrego, what happened before has little bearing on rotations and minutes this season.
“We’ve got one All-Star, and a whole lot of players who are going to have to find their way or separate themselves in training camp,” Kupchak said, with training camp opening Tuesday in Chapel Hill.
“Obviously, there are some veterans who have been around enough that everybody knows what they can and can’t do. But I think it’s going to be a competitive camp. It’s hard for me to look at the (roster) board and think, ‘Hey, this guy, this guy and this guy are going to play 35 minutes for sure.”
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Walker, an All-Star each of the past two seasons, is the exception: Borrego said at a recent media gathering that Walker is the only lock to start. Borrego has ideas how the rotation will look, but he will experiment throughout the preseason with different combinations. Kupchak is very much of the same mind.
“I know Kemba is (a heavy-minutes player), providing he’s healthy, and I can make some assumptions about the other guys, but the camp is going to be competitive. They’re going to have to play their best,” said Kupchak, who previously oversaw the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball operation for about 20 seasons.
The Hornets will hold a three-day training camp at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, then play the Boston Celtics there Friday night in the first of five preseason exhibitions.
Kupchak said it wouldn’t surprise him if Borrego is still fine-tuning the rotation early in the regular season. As Kupchak described, there is “no clear separation” between those who should and shouldn’t be in the rotation, “so I don’t know how the minutes are going to be doled out.”
Kupchak on various roster-management topics:
Kupchak said he’s not concerned there is a hole at any one position heading into the preseason (depth at point guard was addressed when the Hornets signed veteran Tony Parker). He used the center-power forward options as an example:
“Depending on how we use Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist), we have five or six guys there. We’ve got that covered. But you still have to figure how to dole out the minutes,” Kupchak said. “There are a lot of guys who are kind of in the same bucket.”
Each NBA team is allowed up to two two-way contract slots that don’t count against the 15-man roster (intended for developmental players likely to spend most of the season in the G-League). The Hornets filled one of the those slots with former Xavier guard J.P. Macura. Since waiving Mangok Mathiang in mid-August, Kupchak has held open the other two-way slot.
“You never know what the next day is going to bring, but right now we’d like to leave it open,” Kupchak said, adding that could be something he uses after other teams cut players at the end of the preseason.
The Hornets have 14 guaranteed contracts right now for a maximum of 15 roster spots. Kupchak said he wouldn’t have been against going into camp with 15 guarantees, but he likes the idea this preseason that there’s a tangible roster spot open.
“It always makes for a better camp, in terms of it being competitive, if players know there is something they are possibly playing for,” Kupchak said. “And the flexibility is important, whether it’s an unexpected waiver or someone out there unsigned who you didn’t think you could get.”
Kupchak said it’s possible the Hornets would not have a guaranteed contract in that 15th spot heading into the regular season to maintain flexibility for a possible trade or signing.
Kupchak said he likes the players’ conditioning heading into training camp, particularly since so many players stayed in Charlotte over the summer to work with the new coaching staff.
“We’ve had a really busy gym with everybody. That’s been going on since July,” Kupchak said. “I look out my window (which overlooks the practice court) and there’s been a lot of activity.”