Last season Spencer Hawes wasn’t upset with the Los Angeles Clippers.
He was upset with himself, he said.
For the first time in a nine-season NBA career, he truly got to pick where to play via unrestricted free agency. And he picked wrong.
For all the attraction of the Clippers – a team with championship talent, with a great coach in Doc Rivers and beautiful Southern California weather – this was the wrong choice for him.
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That was apparent almost immediately. He drifted to the fringe of the Clippers’ rotation and had his least productive NBA season, averaging 5.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and shooting just 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range.
So when the trade came down in June, sending him to the Charlotte Hornets in a package for Lance Stephenson, Hawes felt really fortunate.
"When you feel like you made the wrong decision, it adds a lot of pressure and it builds and builds. Good as it looked on paper, it just wasn’t the right fit for whatever reason. That’s what ate at me the most, that I felt like I kind of failed myself," Hawes said.
"Then when you get a clean cut, it allows you to start over and build a new foundation and get your career back on track. I feel like going out there, individually it took a turn and not for the better."
Hawes isn’t an orthodox center. He’s 7-foot-1, but he does his best work offensively along the perimeter. The Hornets took on his contract – three seasons and about $17 million in guaranteed money – in part to move on from the failed Stephenson experiment. But they also needed another center, with Bismack Biyombo leaving for Toronto, and Hawes has offensive skills coach Steve Clifford desires.
"He was really, really good," Clifford said of Hawes’ 13-point, 5-of-6 shooting night in Tuesday’s blowout of the Chicago Bulls. "He’s a professional offensive player. He really knows how to play basketball."
That’s not incidental to the decision to acquire him. Some of the reserves he’s playing with – forward Cody Zeller and guard Jeremy Lamb specifically – are relatively inexperienced at the NBA level. Hawes’ moxie is useful in keeping that second five organized.
"We have a lot of young guys here: talented, but who might not necessarily understand the intricacies yet," Hawes said. "You want to help them along, to allow their talents to let them play more efficiently."
One of the things Hawes greatly enjoys is playing with point guard Jeremy Lin. Lin’s ability to attack off the dribble is a good complement to Hawes’ pick-and-pop jump-shooting ability.
"The way he can attack the hoop – the pressure he puts on the defense, collapsing everybody – I can set the screen and take my place (along the perimeter), and if he draws three (defenders) you’re playing downhill from there," Hawes said.
This is Hawes’ fifth NBA franchise, his fourth since the start of the 2013-14 season. Somewhat like when Josh McRoberts arrived from the Orlando Magic, Hawes is hopeful what the Hornets want from him can lead to a more stable career.
"For me it’s been a long last year and a half: from Philly to Cleveland and then free agency is always stressful. For the first time in my career I got to really choose where I wanted to play," Hawes said.
"This being my ninth year you see a lot of different situations. Being 27, you get to that point where you hope you have more and more impact on winning. I know that’s what excited Nic (Batum) about coming here. Myself as well."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell