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Hornets' 'indispensable' Kidd-Gilchrist likely out for season

Lengthy rehab needed as forward opts for surgery on torn labrum

POSTED: Oct 5, 2015 7:01 PM ET
UPDATED: Oct 6, 2015 4:11 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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GameTime: Kidd-Gilchrist Extension

The Hornets in August rewarded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a 4-year deal worth $52 million.

Last season, Hornets coach Steve Clifford would stand in near-empty practice gyms after Hornets workouts and in snaking corridors of NBA arenas before games and rave about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, about his defense at small forward and winning attitude and how MKG had become indispensable. Not for the future in Charlotte, after the dents had been hammered out of that mangled jump shot. Indispensable now.

Kidd-Gilchrist was 21 years old last season, posted a lot of numbers on offense that were easy to overlook and some that weren't (a wing with zero 3-point attempts) --- and missed 27 games to injury, and it changed nothing. The Hornets fell apart when the third-year player was on the sideline, for typical breaks in games or longer stretches of the schedule, all the way to where Charlotte allowed about eight fewer points per 100 possessions with Kidd-Gilchrist on the court compared to Kidd-Gilchrist resting or recovering. The contrast was just as blatant in the standings: 28-29 with MKG, 5-20 without.

michael kidd-gilchrist wears new hornets uni
Kidd-Gilchrist had become the face of the Hornets' franchise.

So imagine the number of people in the organization needing to breath into a paper bag Monday, after Yahoo Sports reported that Kidd-Gilchrist would miss approximately six months with the dislocated right shoulder suffered in the exhibition opener Saturday in Orlando. Six months. That's April. That's essentially the season.

<< Update (10/6): Kidd-Gilchrist opts for surgery on shoulder

Even if Kidd-Gilchrist beats the timeline, he'd have to beat it by a wide margin just to make half of 2015-16. The Hornets made a big investment to get back to the playoffs after the disappointment of last season, trading the potential of Noah Vonleh for the present of Nicolas Batum, knowing it will require a large contract to keep free-agent Batum in summer 2016, and turning away from trade opportunities to draft Frank Kaminsky, knowing he would arrive as one of the most NBA-ready prospects. They matched Clifford's verbal support of Kidd-Gilchrist with the tangible support of a four-year, $52-million extension in August. And then this.

MKG is everything in Charlotte -- the present and future, a centerpiece of the defense that built the 2014 playoff push, half the projected pairing with Batum that would clamp opponents on the perimeter, the nonstop worker with a high basketball IQ who runs the break and had been one of the few Hornets who can score in transition and deliver easy baskets for a team that struggles mightily on offense. Kidd-Gilchrist had even come to embody an organization making bold changes in an attempt to push to the forefront. They changed their name, back from the Bobcats to the previous incarnation, landed the 2017 All-Star game, got the potential marketing gold mine of two exhibition games in China this preseason. He changed his shot.

It was a major change

– said Mark Price of the reworking of Kidd-Gilchrist's jump shot

"It was a pretty major change," Mark Price, the Hornets assistant who tutored Kidd-Gilchrist, before Price left in March to become head coach at North Carolina Charlotte, said in August. "We needed to change the foundation and everything for him to be successful and move forward. It was a big deal. It was a big task and I'm really proud of Mike for sticking with it. Anytime you're making changes like that, there's good days and there's bad days and having to get over the hump at different times to try to get to the next level is not always easy. But he did it, and I was really happy for him. It's always fun to see someone you work with have success and improve."

While Kidd-Gilchrist didn't develop 3-point range yet, the change away from the cringe-worthy mechanics showed signs of a mid-range game that, if unable to strike fear in opponents, indicated meaningful strides. There was progress. And now, after turning 22 in September, a shoulder injury means no chance to continue to develop the mechanics for many months.

Kidd-Gilchrist could opt against surgery, rehab for six to eight weeks and play again, the Charlotte Observer reported, but that would leave him more vulnerable to a future injury in the same part of the right shoulder. The likely outcome, according to Observer sources, is the operation that would cost MKG the season, with a final decision coming as soon as Tuesday after a consultation with the team orthopedist.

Either way, the lineup options for the Hornets are not encouraging. Batum can start at small forward, his primary position in Portland, but while creating a hole at shooting guard that will be left to Jeremy Lamb, P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels and maybe some Jeremy Lin. Charlotte has a big problem no matter what. Kidd-Gilchrist had become that indispensable.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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