Competing for a job is nothing new to NBA veteran Damien Wilkins. That’s how it was when he made the Seattle SuperSonics as a rookie and how he expects it to be now with the Charlotte Hornets.
It’s a little different for undrafted rookie Aaron Harrison. Everything about the NBA is new to him and now he’s about a week away from a decision by the Hornets that will help shape his future.
Fourteen of the Hornets’ fifteen regular-season roster spots were essentially determined this summer by guaranteed contracts. Wilkins, Harrison and third-year pro Elliot Williams are the apparent candidates for that last roster spot. Three remaining exhibitions (the Hornets play the Chicago Bulls Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena) and a handful of practices will settle who makes the roster.
“I’ve been here before. The more experience you get with it … I don’t want to say it gets easier, but you learn how to deal with it mentally a little bit better,” said Wilkins, 35, who has played for five other NBA franchises over nine seasons.
“You can’t worry about what you can’t control. I can’t control what decisions they make. I can make their decision tough, but I can’t control what they want, what their intentions are, what their plans are for this team.”
Harrison caught the Hornets’ attention with a strong performance in summer league. But now he’s adapting to playing against NBA competition without the security of a fully guaranteed contract.
“It gets difficult at times, of course, just trying to be a good teammate and still be competitive, of course,” Harrison said. “But it’s kind of fun to come out here and fight for your life every day. That’s what I’m trying to do.’
The complicating factor in this is the loss of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the season. Kidd-Gilchrist had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and his projected recovery time is about six months.
Wilkins’ size (6-6) and experience would suggest he might help fill the gap left by Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence. The Hornets will have to balance that agenda with the potential of Harrison and third-year guard Williams.
“Mike’s injury is far-reaching,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Saturday. “It doesn’t just affect the starting lineup. We’re still looking for that guy who can fit with Nic (Batum). If (Kidd-Gilchrist) was still here, having a young, developmental guy – especially one with talent – would be an easier decision.
“I think it will come down to the potential of a younger player like Aaron versus an older guy who could play a small part this year.”
A look at the three candidates for the final roster spot:
Age: 22. NBA experience: None
Backstory: He went unselected in the 2015 NBA draft after two seasons at guard with Kentucky. He played mostly off the ball for the Wildcats, but played point guard for the Hornets at Orlando summer league and showed a knack for getting to the rim. He’s not known for his jump-shooting, but he made two 3-pointers Saturday in the fourth quarter to help secure a victory over the New York Knicks.
Prognosis: Like Clifford said, it would be easier to justify keeping Harrison had Kidd-Gilchrist not gotten hurt. It’s been a while since the Hornets invested a roster spot in a developmental player like Harrison. If the Hornets don’t retain him, you would hope they keep tabs on him elsewhere and possibly invite him to summer league in 2016.
Age: 35. NBA experience: Nine seasons with five franchises
Backstory: Wilkins hasn’t played a regular-season NBA game since 2013 when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers. Since then he has played in Puerto Rico and the NBA’s Development League. He also made the Team USA entry in the Pan American Games in Toronto last summer.
Prognosis: Wilkins has the best chance of the three to play this season because of his experience at small forward. The question becomes whether he has enough left to be counted on as the third option at the position behind Batum and Marvin Williams. If not, he figures to head back to Venezuela, where a team offered him a roster spot.
Age: 26. NBA experience: Three seasons with four franchises
Backstory: Williams, who played college ball at Duke before transferring to Memphis, has had stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans. He was briefly with the Hornets last season, but never played in a game. The Hornets cut him to open a roster spot for the trade that acquired Mo Williams.
Prognosis: Williams missed some preseason with a hip flexor injury. He played 15 minutes versus the Knicks, hitting three of six shots from the field and had a rebound but no assists. The Hornets are already deep at point guard with Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin and Brian Roberts. So choosing Williams over Wilkins’ experience or Harrison’s potential could be a tough call.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell