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Injury to Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist takes joy out of Monday

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) of the Charlotte Hornets drives against the Orlando Magic during a preseason game on Saturday at Amway Center in Orlando. Later, Kidd-Gilchrist injured his shoulder, and Monday he was diagnosed with a labrum tear that could end his season.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) of the Charlotte Hornets drives against the Orlando Magic during a preseason game on Saturday at Amway Center in Orlando. Later, Kidd-Gilchrist injured his shoulder, and Monday he was diagnosed with a labrum tear that could end his season. NBAE/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of the Carolina Panthers, you probably spent Monday enjoying their 4-0 record and their victory against Tampa Bay.

If you’re also a fan of the Charlotte Hornets, the Panther euphoria did not last long. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a small forward who is essential to the team’s success, injured his right shoulder Saturday in an exhibition game against Orlando.

News about the severity of the injury broke mid-afternoon. Kidd-Gilchrist could miss six months. If he returned in exactly six months, Charlotte would have six regular season games remaining.

But would Kidd-Gilchrist have his legs back? Would he be in game shape? His game is frantic, a testament to hustle and contact. How could he be in game shape? Rather than risk aggravating the injury, the Hornets almost certainly would tell him to wait until next season.

If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned in exactly six months, the Charlotte Hornets would have six regular season games remaining.

Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-7, averaged only 10.9 points last season, a career high. The second pick in the 2012 draft out of Kentucky, his shot came in three distinct parts when the Hornets drafted him. None of the parts seemed to get along.

But after extensive work with Mark Price, the former Hornets’ assistant coach who now leads the Charlotte 49ers, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot became presentable enough to be taken public. He’ll never be a smooth long-range shooter. He doesn’t have to be.

At the end of rookie camp practices this summer, the media were allowed onto the practice court at Time Warner Cable Arena. Kidd-Gilchrist, who turned 22 last month, would be there working with coach Bruce Kreutzer. He’d shoot from the top of the key and the corners. He’d go on a streak and hit several three-pointers. Then he’d miss one and yell, angry that they didn’t all go in.

If you were asked to describe Kidd-Gilchrist’s game in two words, they would be: He works. I’ve written this before, but it fits. I asked a friend who has long worked in the NBA to name Charlotte’s hardest worker. He looked down on the court and within 10 seconds said Kidd-Gilchrist and guard Kemba Walker.

You don’t have to make your living in the NBA to see what Kidd-Gilchrist offers. The Hornets didn’t sign him to a $52 contract because he’s a good guy.

Kidd-Gilchrist flings his body around, and you can say that’s why he gets hurt. But the Florida injury looked like a fluke.

Kidd-Gilchrist rebounds very well for his size. He plays defense very well for any size. He runs the court. He goes to the basket. And with his improved shot, the opportunities to go to the basket will be enhanced.

Kidd-Gilchrist flings his body around, and you can say that’s why he gets hurt. But the Florida injury looked like a fluke. The reason some players get hurt and others don’t often is nothing more than timing and luck. He had the ball, he went down, and thus, at least for 2015-16, the story could end.

At media day in late September, Kidd-Gilchrist was, well, Kidd-Gilchrist. Players took turns walking onto a harshly lit piece of the court to put on basketball moves for a photographer. When it was Walker’s turn, Kidd-Gilchrist yelled at his friend from the sideline, making Walker, who was trying to look stoic and cool, laugh.

When I asked Kidd-Gilchrist how his summer went, he asked me how mine went. He walked down press row and greeted members of the media he knew and others he did not.

Kidd-Gilchrist struck me that day as a young guy happy with what he has and very much looking forward to whatever came next.

If he misses the season, he’ll have to wait awhile. Then he can be that guy again.   

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