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Hornets' goals: Compete, develop and improve on win-loss record
Ball, Hayward biggest additions to roster
Published Tuesday, December 1, 2020 7:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Charlotte Hornets first-round draft pick LaMelo Ball.

James Borrego is bringing back his four pillars, with extra sauce.

The Charlotte Hornets third-year head coach laid out four focal points for the program last season: compete every game, player development, establish an identity and build winning habits. The COVID-19 pandemic cut their progress short, as the Hornets did not qualify for the NBA bubble in Orlando when play resumed over the summer. It has been a long time since the team has seen competitive action and with multiple new pieces, Borrego is taking the same pillared approach this season.

We’re sticking with it, we’re just running this back again,” he said. “Let’s get better at it, this is the 2.0 version of it. I expect our guys to compete more consistently, I think it’s all of those pillars just doing it at a higher level and more consistently.”

Charlotte finished the regular season 10th in the Eastern Conference at 23-42. Their final game was a 109-98 win in Miami on March 11.

“I think as we bought into that, as we grew throughout last season we became more consistent with it,” Borrego said. “I think that’s where we started to get our stride there at the end, we competed at a higher level more consistently. Our development was stronger throughout the season, our players grew in skill development, in becoming more professional. Our identity really started to be shaped and formed throughout the season as well: how we wanted to play, how I want to play, was reflected in those last couple weeks. So establishing that identity and I think now it’s about taking it to another level.”

The Hornets had 17 regular season games remaining when their season was cut short due to the pandemic. However, they were able to capitalize on their lottery fortune, selecting guard LaMelo Ball third overall in the draft. In addition, they subsequently acquired second-rounder Vernon Carey Jr. of Duke (center) and College of Charleston guard Grant Riller at 32nd and 56th overall respectively, as well as 42nd pick Nick Richards, whom they acquired from New Orleans in exchange for a 2024 second-round draft pick.

Charlotte re-signed center Bismack Biyombo and waived forward Nicolas Batum in addition to acquiring All-Star forward Gordon Hayward from Boston along with unprotected 2023 and 2024 second-round draft picks in exchange for a protected 2022 second round pick. General manager Mitch Kupchak described those moves as an improvement.

“We’ve upgraded and added talent to our team,” Kupchak said. “First and foremost, with Gordon Hayward, that’s really what the programming going forward is about. It’s about drafting correctly, hopefully making savvy trades, and player development.”

Adding Ball and Hayward allows for development of a three-position rookie with elite potential while also bringing a stable locker room presence. They also allow Charlotte to play faster.

“Those are two players that can play in the open floor that can make decisions in transition,” Borrego said. “We want to play with a more up-tempo pace, obviously we want playmaking on the floor and those two guys add to that.”

Key to Charlotte’s success this season will be their defense, something Borrego will demand of his young team.

“We want to become a more defensive-minded team, and I think we saw that we became, the last month of the season, we held the NBA to the lowest points per game,” Borrego said. “I want that to continue and I want that to be our mindset. When players step on the floor it’s a two-way opportunity here. I expect players to do that and Gordon reflects that and LaMelo reflects that.”

Following Ball’s introductory press conference in Charlotte, he went to dinner with Kupchak and Borrego. The rookie leaned over to Kupchak around 9:30 p.m. and asked if there was somewhere he could shoot following their meal. Ball stayed on the court until 12:30 a.m.

“LaMelo understands that for him to be special and for him to be great he’s got to become a two-way player,” Borrego said. “That’s on me to push him. The last pillar we’ve always talked about are winning habits and that really comes back to consistency. Being more professional on a day-to-day basis, not taking a day off, not expecting the coach to have the answer for you, you go figure it out. This is what I’m talking about, building a culture of that where guys take ownership of this team, they lead this team and I expect that to continue this season. I’m thrilled, I couldn’t be more excited. We’re running the pillars back, this is the 2.0 version but raise your bar, raise your level and do it more consistently.” 

Charlotte opens the preseason on Dec. 12 when they host Toronto. The remaining three preseason games include a second home game against Toronto on Dec. 14, followed by games at Orlando on Dec. 17 and 19. The NBA’s regular season is slated to begin on Dec. 22. Charlotte will not have fans at Spectrum Center to start the season, and have not established a timeline for when they can attend.



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