If there’s one thing we know definitively about James Borrego as Charlotte Hornets coach, it’s that he’ll use all the colors on his palette.
Twenty games into Borrego’s first season, each of the 14 players on guaranteed contract has played at least a couple of games in the rotation with significant minutes.
That is certainly a departure from how Borrego’s predecessor, Steve Clifford, managed his rotation. Is that good, bad or neither? That tops your Hornets questions for this weekly mailbag column:
Q. How close is Borrego to having a solid rotation night-in and night-out?
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
A. Not particularly close, I suspect, but that’s not necessarily a problem, at least for now. It’s important to differentiate causes from effects: Borrego would like for it to be hashed out who should play and who shouldn’t. But the players’ comparative performance hasn’t yet led to such a delineation, and Borrego has resisted the urge to force the order.
While the bench roles have fluctuated a lot, Borrego has fielded the same starting five every game. That says this is more fine-tuning than fickle coaching.
I buy why Clifford said it’s important not to expand your rotation beyond nine or 10 players, because that doesn’t apportion enough minutes for players to develop game rhythm. But Borrego hasn’t expanded the size of his rotation so much as he’s plugged in different bodies relative to matchups or who’s hot.
One advantage to Borrego’s approach so far: There is no excuse for a player on the active roster not being ready if he’s called to play because the evidence is there that anyone might.
Q. Why hasn’t Borrego played Willy Hernangomez, now that he’s no longer injured? I know Frank Kaminsky has played well, but surely Borrego knows Hernangomez is the better player.
A. I totally get Hernangomez’s potential and I thought his improvement in conditioning and shooting range over the summer were impressive. But I think you exaggerate when you say Hernangomez is so much better a player than Kaminsky. They are different types of big men, but their absolute value in the NBA is similar.
There just isn’t a lot of difference between the three alternatives (including Bismack Biyombo) backing up Cody Zeller at center. It’s notable that Borrego has used Marvin Williams as a small-ball center. Get used to center-by-committee the rest of this season because that’s the reality of this roster.
Q. Is Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon or Miles Bridges off the table for trades in your opinion? I see high ceilings for each one.
A. Those three are certainly the best young pieces. Devonte Graham will join them if he continues to improve. But to suggest any of those three should be “off the table” trade-wise? I don’t buy it.
If I were a general manager, I would politely but firmly tell the entire roster before each training camp that no one is too good to be traded. If every conversation Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak were to have with other teams includes “Monk, Bacon and Bridges are off the table,” then why even talk to other teams? You can’t get something without giving something.
Q. What is Nic Batum’s role on this team? Seems like the Hornets are content to play him 30-plus minutes per game and I just don’t see what he adds to the team.
A. Batum is always going to draw a lot of scrutiny because of that $120 million contract. It’s time to make peace with the reality he’s never going to be a 25-points-per-game scorer or a nightly triple-double. You never heard those expectations from the team because they weren’t there.
Batum’s strength is doing a little bit of everything. This season, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a reserve, Batum has been asked to take a bigger role defensively, starting games guarding the opposing team’s top wing player.
Q. Would the Hornets consider benching Batum to start Kidd-Gilchrist? I think Batum would benefit from playing with Tony Parker.
A. I think it would be a mistake to mess with how well Kidd-Gilchrist has settled into this sixth-man role, where he brings that ferocity in shorter minutes. That allows him not to have to budget his energy and fouls.
There is nothing about Batum starting and Parker as a reserve that keeps them from playing together. They already play together a lot.
Q. How influential is Parker in the Hornets organization?
A. Depends on what you mean by “organization.” I don’t think he’ll be knocking on owner Michael Jordan’s door with roster or marketing suggestions. But a big part of Parker’s value to the Hornets is his gravitas as a four-time NBA champion. He’s not hesitant to tell teammates when they are messing up. Also, if there’s any player Borrego would logically ask about team issues, it would be Parker.
Q. If the Hornets do trade for a starter or sixth-man type of player, what position do you see them going for?
A. “Playmaker.” “Clutch performer.” The Hornets don’t need to fill a specific position so much as they could use an experienced, confident complement to Kemba Walker, someone who complicates an opposing team’s decisions at the end of a close game.