Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker’s message to teammates:
"Be like Mike."
He wasn’t referring to Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who made that phrase famous a decade ago. Walker was talking about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, expected to miss the season after electing to have surgery on the torn labrum in his right shoulder.
"It’s always hard when you lose one of your best players, but our mindset hasn’t changed. We still want to be one of the hardest-working teams in the league," Walker said at practice Tuesday.
"Mike is one of the hardest-working players on our team. Next guy has to try to be like Mike."
That won’t be easy. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the NBA’s elite defenders and one of the best rebounders among small forwards. The Hornets went 5-20 last season when he didn’t play and 28-29 when he did.
Tuesday the Hornets started re-organizing the rotation, planning for Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence. Coach Steve Clifford said he’ll experiment with different player combinations throughout the preseason, but three changes are inevitable:
Nicolas Batum will play more at small forward than originally planned, though he’ll still play shooting guard. And Jeremy Lamb and P.J. Hairston will have expanded minutes.
"It’s a hit because he so impacts winning," Clifford said of Kidd-Gilchrist. "At the same time, one of the things we were able to do in the off-season is improve our depth. This gives guys who I feel are ready to emerge more opportunity to play.
"I was telling these guys this morning (Chicago Bulls star) Jimmy Butler emerged when (Luol) Deng got traded and (Derrick) Rose went down. There’s opportunity there for people."
The Hornets leave for China Wednesday, where they will play two exhibitions against the Los Angeles Clippers in Shenzhen and Shanghai. The Hornets practiced about an hour longer than usual Tuesday as Clifford began exploring options for replacing Kidd-Gilchrist’s 29 minutes per game.
"There are so many different ways to go. P.J. will get a good chance, Jeremy Lamb will be in there. We could play Marvin (Williams) some at (small forward)."
Clifford hopes to absorb the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist without totally remaking the roles players were adjusting to in a week of training camp:
"I really like Jeremy Lamb as a first wing sub off the bench because he’s versatile; he can score, he can pass and he’s got size. If we started him, then we start the roller coaster of a whole lot of guys changing roles. If we moved somebody else into the starting lineup, then everyone else remains in their slots."
Clifford continuously preached positivity in the wake of Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury.
"Time after time in this league you see guys emerging and people ask, ‘Well how did he get so much better?’ " Clifford said. "A lot of times it’s about getting a chance. I’m hoping this can be one of those situations."
So he’s thinking glass half full?, Clifford was asked.
"Maybe a quarter full without Gilchrist."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell