Eleven seasons into his NBA career, Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson doesn’t have time to waste pursuing team success.
So he went proactive this preseason and reached into his wallet to help make that happen.
Jefferson organized a players-only dinner before the Hornets’ first exhibition against the Magic at Charley’s, an Orlando, Fla., steakhouse. Then Jefferson and fellow veteran Marvin Williams foot the bill for themselves and 16 teammates.
That gesture helped start a trend. The Hornets’ first night in China 10 players got together at Shark, a steakhouse in Shenzhen, for some similar bonding.
Sharing a meal or a drink with a teammate doesn’t necessary promise mutual success, but eight-season NBA veteran Spencer Hawes says he’s never seen anything quite like this.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that with something voluntary where every guy was there,” said Hawes, who has played for four other NBA franchises. “We took the young guys out to eat and talk about our interests. We talk enough basketball; it’s good to talk about something else.”
Hawes is one of seven Hornets players with guaranteed contracts acquired in the off-season. That’s nearly half the 15-player maximum regular-season roster. Assimilating all that won’t be easy and Hawes says the Hornets can’t afford the slow start they experienced a year ago.
“We don’t have a choice. It’s not like we have the luxury of going cruise-control into the season,” Hawes said after practice Friday.
“Obviously you prefer not to have to initiate so many guys (into a new system) and not just the young guys. Guys like me, Nic (Batum), Jeremy (Lin) and so on. But that’s the situation we’re in. I think in a lot of ways we’re making a positive out of it.”
Hawes said before training camp ever started that this nine-day trip to Asia could be a plus rather than a burden. He believes the best way to fast-track a sense of team is get out of town to promote interaction.
“It’s tough at home to become close because guys have lives and families. You don’t spend the time together,” Hawes observed. “But when you do something like this, you don’t have a choice. You travel with each other for (darn) near 24 hours a day, on a bus together, and that stuff adds up.”
Jefferson sure hopes so. He’s stated publicly that he’d like to end his career with the Hornets, playing for coach Steve Clifford. For that to happen, this team can’t keep repeating last season’s 33-49 results. They’ve already taken a hit this preseason, losing ace defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a shoulder surgery.
“Usually a team waits for things to get bad before they have team meetings,” Jefferson said. “This year I wanted to set the tone with a bunch of new guys on the team: (See that) everybody hangs out together, gets along better.”
Point guard Kemba Walker says he’s never been on a successful team at any level that lacked chemistry. That comes from a guy who won a high school state title in New York, then led Connecticut to the NCAA championship.
“When you’re cool and collected off the court, it translates,” Walker said.
“Everyone has to be on the same page, together and willing to sacrifice something for each other. Doing things together off the court definitely helps on the court.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell