If you’re a top-10 pick, as the Charlotte Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky was, you get many chances with an NBA team.
If you’re 7 foot, as Kaminsky is, you get extra chances. If you make 38 percent of your 3-point attempts, as Kaminsky did last season, you get extra chances.
Kaminsky has gotten abundant chances in three seasons with the Hornets. Evidence this preseason says Kaminsky’s chances are dwindling.
When James Borrego took over as coach in May, he told Kaminsky he would play primarily center this season, after playing mostly power forward for former coach Steve Clifford. There’s an abundance of competition at center behind Cody Zeller, and it’s clear the new coaches were intrigued by Willy Hernangomez’s off-season improvement in strength and shooting range.
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Then Monday, in the second-to-last preseason exhibition, Kaminsky didn’t play until the fourth quarter. Never since then-Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing urged Clifford to commit to Kaminsky midway through Kaminsky’s rookie season, has he looked less in the plan.
“Practice is great. Games ... OK,” Kaminsky said Thursday, when I asked him to assess this preseason.
The pause in that sentence said a lot. Kaminsky has to know he’s at the fringe for now. The Hornets are far from great at center, but they are deep at that spot. There is no position on this team where a player is less likely to get minutes by default.
That’s a good thing: You always want extra depth at center and point guard because those are the hardest positions to fill in a pinch if you have a slew of injuries. Bismack Biyombo is the second-highest paid player on this roster, making $17 million this season, and he’s the fourth-string center.
The Biyombo situation is a roundabout outcome of getting Dwight Howard out of town. The Kaminsky situation is different, in that there was an expectation he and Hernangomez would compete throughout the preseason for minutes behind Zeller. With less than a week left until Wednesday’s season opener at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, Hernangomez appears to have won those minutes.
A view of Kaminsky
When the Hornets took Kaminsky ninth overall in the 2015 draft, there was a lot of fan scrutiny that was as much circumstantial as a reflection on Kaminsky. The Hornets passed on drafting Duke’s Justise Winslow, and then reports came out of Boston that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge had offered the Hornets multiple draft picks for No. 9.
Neither I nor Boston media ever substantiated just what Ainge actually offered, and that trade chatter has taken on an urban legend quality. Twenty years from now, Ainge will have offered 10 first-round picks, a dozen home-plate seats at Fenway Park and all the Patriots’ Super Bowl trophies for the ninth pick.
Regardless of what was actually offered, the perception the Hornets passed on a bounty added to the expectations on Kaminsky. He’s been OK as a Hornet, but he never really challenged Marvin Williams to be the starter at power forward. That was primarily about his limitations defensively.
Kaminsky can shoot and Kaminsky can pass, but he doesn’t so bowl you over at the offensive end that you disregard what he can’t do defensively.
It was inevitable that a new coach would shake some things up. Borrego changed Kamsinky’s position (though not radically, as Kaminsky played center in college at Wisconsin). Just as importantly, Borrego isn’t obligated by the Hornets once having invested a high draft pick on Kaminsky.
Kamsinky occasionally played center for Clifford, but it was a small percentage of his minutes.
“Me playing more (center) this year has kind of been an adjustment for me,” Kaminsky said. “It changes the way you play defense. It changes the way you play offense. But the way the league is trending, I feel like I fit in well to how (centers) are being asked to play these days.”
In the macro, that is certainly true: The days when a center hardly ever left the lane on offense or defense are long over. In the micro, Borrego values big men who can shoot. He wants to surround point guard Kemba Walker with as much perimeter shooting as practical to create better spacing and driving lanes.
But this is about more than job descriptions and skill sets. It seems obvious Hernangomez has left a more positive impression about his potential so far to a new coaching staff.
That doesn’t mean Kaminsky has been written off
“Frank is trying. Frank has come out, he’s competed, but it’s a very competitive spot he’s in right now,” Borrego said. “He provides us something none of the other (centers) provide us, as far as the shooting.
“I’m trying to keep him positive. I know he wasn’t in the rotation that much last game, but that can change” in Friday’s final exhibition in Dallas.
These choices are about competition and rotations, but eventually they also are about money. This is the last season on Kaminsky’s rookie-scale contract, paying him about $3.6 million. The Hornets will have to decide after this season whether to commit about $5 million to a qualifying offer that would restrict Kaminsky’s free agency.
Those qualifying offers aren’t foregone conclusions. For instance, the Hornets didn’t make one to Biyombo at the end of his first stint in Charlotte. Is that on Kaminsky’s mind?
“When you think about it that way, you tend to put added pressure on yourself,” Kaminsky said of contract implications. “I’m trying to do the opposite of that.”
Pressure is bad. But urgency is good. I can’t recall a time since Kaminsky arrived in Charlotte when his situation seemed more urgent.