Zeller Thrilled to be Part of Hornets Core Group

Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout 2016-17 NBA season and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds. 

Monday, Nov. 1, 2:39 p.m. | Practice Gallery

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

Another key member of the Charlotte Hornets core is off the market as Cody Zeller officially signed a four-year extension with the team earlier this morning, which will go into effect at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season. A deal was reached shortly before last night’s 12 a.m. deadline, which insured Zeller would avoid restricted free agency next offseason and risk being signed by another organization.

In addition to Zeller, Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lamb are all under contract with the Hornets through the end of the 2018-19 NBA season. Head coach Steve Clifford, who signed a three-year extension of his own last December which officially began this year, understands the luxury of consistency in this day and age of a constantly-evolving NBA landscape.

“It speaks to continuity. I think it’s a good thing,” said Clifford following Tuesday morning’s practice. “[Cody] is a valuable player. He’s smart. We always have a chance to execute at both ends of the floor when he’s in the game. He plays in a way that helps his teammates play better. There are not a lot of guys like that,” he added.

Zeller is the third Charlotte player in the last three years to sign a post-rookie contract extension prior to reaching restricted free agency. Hornets general manager Rich Cho held an early-afternoon press conference along with Zeller and gave his thoughts on the organization’s tendency to lock up critical players early on.  

“I think a lot of the best teams in the league, one of the common threads is continuity. We want to make sure we have some continuity with our core [players] moving forward,” said Cho. “The other piece is any valuable player that goes into free agency, you got a chance that he’s going to get a big offer sheet. So if you enter into an extension you more or less control the situation a lot better, instead of having to match a crazy offer sheet,” added Cho.

What Cho described could have unfolded had Zeller not signed a deal with the Hornets. With restricted free agency, other teams would have the opportunity to sign Zeller to a contract offer sheet next summer which Charlotte would have the right to match in order to retain him. If the Hornets chose not to match or the price was too steep, Zeller would officially join that new organization.

Outside of Zeller’s obvious extension news, the theme of the day was certainly continuity and how important it is to an organization’s future. Although the NBA has entered a new era of free agency and the emergence of “super teams”, the organizations with the highest rate of sustained success are the ones with franchise cornerstones set in place for a number of years. Constant personnel and coaching changes can force a team to regularly take a step back, something that will hopefully be avoided by the Hornets with so many valuable rotation players locked in for the foreseeable future. 

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Monday, Oct. 31, 1:09 p.m. - Hornets Return to Practice, Pick up Kaminsky’s Option | Practice Gallery

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

Following their first loss of the season at home to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, the Hornets were back at practice on Monday morning hoping to fine-tune some of the areas that contributed to their defeat over the weekend. In addition to Roy Hibbert sitting out practice (knee), guard Jeremy Lamb has been added to the team’s injury report after suffering a strained hamstring in Saturday’s game and is expected to be sidelined for the next 1-2 weeks.

“[Lamb’s hamstring] is really sore. It’s gonna be a couple weeks. It’s pretty significant. He can’t even walk,” said Hornets head coach Steve Clifford. “[Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller] were both fine today. We actually did quite a bit of contact and they were both in there. Frank said he felt fine and Cody had no swelling. So far, so good,” added Clifford.

Nic Batum knows that he and the rest of the team’s wing players will need to step up the next couple of weeks with Lamb sidelined.

“Jeremy has been great in training camp and the first three games, especially in Miami. He’s been great for us. It’s definitely a huge loss. We’ll be alright but its definitely a huge loss for us,” said Batum.

The Hornets will look to improve their record to 3-1 when they take on the 76ers at home on Wednesday night. Hornets forward Christian Wood spent his entire rookie season with the Philadelphia organization last year and knows that the team’s upcoming opponent can’t be taken lightly, despite their status as a rebuilding franchise.

“[Philadelphia has] definitely gotten better with [Joel Embiid] being one of their key guys- and Jahlil [Okafor]. I think we need to adjust some things. They shouldn’t be taken lightly even though they’re coming off a loss. We’re staying focused. We should be ready going into the game with a positive mindset like they’re a number one team,” said Wood, referencing the team’s top two picks from the 2014 and 2015 NBA Drafts, respectively (note: Embiid is not expected to play against the Hornets). 

Another noteworthy event within the organization took place yesterday afternoon as the Hornets officially exercised the third-year option on forward Frank Kaminsky, which guarantees he will be under contract with the team through the duration of the 2017-18 NBA season.

“It feels good. I was hoping [the Hornets] would keep me around,” said Kaminsky with a bit of a smile. “It’s a nice affirmation and it’s nice to know I’ll be around with the team this year and next year.”

The Hornets will remain in Charlotte until Thursday afternoon before departing for their third road game of the season on Friday night in Brooklyn. Capping off their two-game homestand with a win against the 76ers on Wednesday could bring the short-handed Hornets such much-needed momentum as they get ready for a six-games-in-12-days stretch beginning this weekend against the Nets. 

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Monday, Oct. 24, 2:11 p.m. - Zeller, Kaminsky Closer to Returning

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

The Hornets received good news with the start of their season just two days away as Cody Zeller (knee) was back on the practice court for the second-straight day on Monday and Frank Kaminsky (ankle) was out of the walking boot he was wearing 24 hours ago.

“Cody did everything. He felt good from yesterday and had no swelling. He’s running normally and played with great energy,” said Head Coach Steve Clifford. “We’ll see if he comes in tomorrow and feels good, then he’ll be able to play on Wednesday.”

Zeller admits this is the best he’s felt in a while but is still remaining cautious until he can see how it reacts tomorrow after two days of solid workouts.

“I feel pretty good. The doctors have been encouraging that it’s finally going to get better,” said Zeller. “These last two days have been the best it’s felt, and it’s been good because we played a lot. We got up and down a lot, so I’m trying to get my wind back. I feel good right now. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to run pretty well. It’s more the pounding in the post and stuff like that, but I’ve felt really good the past couple days.”

Like with Zeller, Clifford’s news on Kaminsky seemed equally optimistic.

“He was a lot better today and said he felt a lot better,” Clifford said of Kaminsky. “He did a ton yesterday with (Head Athletic Trainer Stever) Strick(er) and then this morning with him and said it felt a lot better. It would be the same (as Zeller). He’s questionable, but again, he’s making progress.”

Charlotte fans are hoping both of their big men’s returns are imminent. If there’s been one constant throughout the preseason for the Hornets, it’s been injuries - be it starters looking to bounce back from offseason surgery or players dealing with new injuries suffered in camp, Charlotte really hasn’t had the chance to see how well its nine returners and six new players will gel on the court. And there isn’t anyone who wants to see exactly what he’s got more than Clifford.

“We just haven’t been healthy yet,l” said Clifford. “Do I know how good we can be? We haven’t had our team together yet, so it could take a little while. I think that early in the year our defense is going to be critical. I think we can get to be a good offensive team.”

If the Hornets want to return to the playoffs in 2017 with the intent of at least winning a first round series, health will be key, and how they bounce back from injuries could be even more crucial.

“It’s always tough when guys get injured,” said Kemba Walker. “It sort of messes up the flow sometimes because guys have to work their way back in, but we have good guys with great character and guys who really work hard, so that makes things a little easier.”

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Friday, Oct. 21, 10:45 p.m. - Hornets Reserves Come Up Short in Minnesota

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

The Hornets closed their 2016 preseason slate with a 109-74 loss on Oct. 21 in Minnesota led by 10 points from Marco Belinelli in his first start in a Hornets uniform. With veterans Nicolas Batum and Spencer Hawes resting in the final preseason game and Marvin Williams (finger), Cody Zeller (knee) and Brian Roberts (hamstring) all sidelined with injuries, Head Coach Steve Clifford opted to give some players deeper on the bench extended minutes with no starter playing more than 18 minutes and four seconds (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the loss. 

Belinelli was the lone Hornets player in double digits, but 12 Charlotte players did make an appearance on the scoresheet with at least two points. Perry Ellis was the lone Hornet to see action in the game and not record a point.

With two of Charlotte’s prospective starters (Williams and Zeller) sidelined, Coach Clifford called on a new starting lineup in the first half. Inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season, Belinelli responded with a team-high 10 points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field, including a perfect 2-of-2 from long range in the first half. Neither Belinelli, nor the rest of Charlotte’s starting five saw action in the second half as the Timberwolves pulled away from the Hornets reserves on the way to the victory. 

Jeremy Lamb led the reserves with eight points, nine rebounds and two steals, while Mike Tobey chipped in with eight points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. 

Charlotte will open the 2016-17 regular season on Oct. 26 in Milwaukee.

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Thursday, Oct. 20, 9:30 p.m. - Hornets Tally Win in Final Preseason Home Game

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

The Hornets inched closer to the start of the 2016-17 NBA campaign as they wrapped up their home preseason schedule by playing host to the Miami Heat for the first time since the two teams squared off in a tightly-contested playoff series this past April. It would be Charlotte who finished on the winning side tonight though as it held off a young, resilient Heat team to pull a 96-88 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday night for its third consecutive preseason victory.

Charlotte came out of the gates firing, connecting on 13-of-26 field-goal attempts to take a 33-19 lead over the Heat by the end of the first quarter. Miami would rally to cut the deficit down to 11 points by halftime and then to two points by the end of the third quarter. Things remained neck-and-neck until the final few minutes of the fourth when an 11-3 run helped put the Hornets up by nine points with 1:32 remaining in the game. Miami managed just one made free throw the rest of the way as Charlotte sealed the victory and evened its preseason record at 3-3.

Kemba Walker led the way for the Hornets with a team-high 17 points to go along with four rebounds, six assists and three steals. Nicolas Batum also filled up the box score, emerging with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. 

With Marvin Williams sidelined (finger), Frank Kaminsky found himself in Charlotte's starting lineup and impressed again with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and six rebounds. Kaminsky’s post game was notably on display against Miami as the second-year power forward was able to drive and finish around the rim a handful of times tonight as well.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 rebounds) and Roy Hibbert (11 rebounds) were all over the glass tonight for the Hornets, each finishing with a preseason high in boards. Kidd-Gilchrist also added 10 points for his first double-double of the preseason while Hibbert chipped in eight points, three assists and a team-high three blocks as well.

Charlotte edged out Miami on the boards, 49-48, and also had one fewer turnover than the Heat (17-16). The Hornets drained 20-of-24 attempts from the free-throw line (83.3 percent) while also knocking down 8-of-24 attempts from behind the arc (33.3 percent).

The Hornets will finish off their preseason schedule with another matchup against the Timberwolves at 8 p.m. tomorrow night in Minnesota. Watch the game on NBA TV or listen to Steve Martin’s call on the Hornets app or WFNZ.

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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 3:33 p.m - Charlotte Looks to Close Preseason Strong

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Now is the time to get focused and the Hornets won’t be taking these final two preseason games lightly. With back-to-back wins under their belt, Charlotte took the practice court today with the focus of closing the preseason strong with the regular season just a week away. 

“We did a lot of film today. We did more defense and you want to see progress,” Head Coach Steve Clifford said of Wednesday’s practice. “The regular season is the same things - the good teams play, evaluate and try to get better. Every day for the good teams is the same from when you start. Making progress is critical and the good teams keep getting better… If you want to be good. Every day is important.”

Clifford’s message hasn’t been lost on his players either as the squad starts to narrow its focus for the start of the regular season.

“This is the time where we need to prepare for the kind of season that we want to have,” said Frank Kaminsky, who leads the Hornets with 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in preseason. “If we have bad habits in these games and just treat them like regular preseason games, that could be a disaster for us going forward. I think it’s everyone’s mindset that we’re going to go out there and treat it just like a normal regular season game, play with that same kind of intensity and work on the things that we need to work on so we can be good.”

One player who has seen marked improvement as of late and appears to be fitting in nicely with his new teammates is Marco Belinelli. He came of the bench to give the Hornets a spark in Chicago and finished tied for the team scoring lead with 14 points in Charlotte’s victory.

“I’m just going to try to get better every day,” said Belinelli. “This is a new team for me, but I’m really happy to be here. I’m going to try to be ready for the beginning and have a good impact on the game - try to be aggressive and create something for my teammates.”

Belinelli and the rest of the Hornets will be without the services of Brian Roberts (hamstring), Cody Zeller (knee) and Marvin Williams (finger) against the Heat. Williams, who suffered a slight fracture of his left middle finger in Chicago has already been ruled out for Friday’s game in Minnesota. He’ll be e re-evaluated next week, but feels pretty good he should be able to go next Wednesday when the Hornets open the season in Milwaukee. 

“I feel really good,” said Williams. “I had a little setback in Chicago but saw a specialist today and am going to see another on Tuesday before the start of the regular season and kind of wait until then… It’s just a little fracture in the finger. I’ve played with a lot worse than that. I’ll take a pain med, tape it up and be ready to go.”

Clifford also express concern about the status of Zeller, who has yet to see the court in the preseason.

“I think its literally day-to-day. How’s he feel? Is there swelling? The bottom line is he hasn’t done enough (to play yet in the regular season opener),” said Clifford. “He couldn’t, with any realistic expectation, go out and play much. He’s had no preseason, so there’s no way he could be ready to play.”

Injuries have hampered the Hornets throughout Training Camp, but that hasn’t quenched Charlotte’s thirst to get better each day leading up to Oct. 26. 

“I think that we’ve had an up-and-down Training Camp,” said Clifford. “A lot of it is health related, but I think that since after the second Boston game, it’s been really good. We’re a lot better than we were at that point, so I feel good about it. Obviously health is a big part of it.”

Added Williams, “You can see the improvement from when we first started in Dallas, to Greensboro, back here and up in Chicago, you can see us getting better. I think guys are feeling more comfortable on both ends of the floor and feeling more comfortable with each other. We’re definitely improving and that’s always a good feeling to have going into the regular season.”

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Monday, Oct. 17, 11:30 p.m - Extra Work Pays Off in Extra Time in Chicago

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford knew his team had to use its time wisely during its seven-day stretch between preseason games and his players took note. After a host of long practices, extensive film sessions and work on what Clifford referred to as all the “little things,” Charlotte traveled to Charlotte on Oct. 17 and came away with a 108-104 overtime victory. Marco Belinelli and Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to lead the Hornets with 14 points apiece, while both Kemba Walker (11 points, eight rebounds) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10 rebounds, nine points) flirted with double-doubles in Charlotte’s second-straight win.

Two key stretches showcased that the extra work the Hornets put in the last week and should give Charlotte fans optimism this team is getting closer to the start of the regular season less than two weeks away.

With so much time off, the Hornets wanted to get off to a good start and didn’t disappoint. Led by nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from Walker and six points apiece from Kidd-Gilchrist and Belinelli in the first frame, Charlotte used crisp ball movement and aggressively attacked the basket to build a 32-20 lead after 12 minutes of action. The Hornets shot 55.0 percent (11-of-20) from the field and 66.7 percent (4-of-6) from beyond the arc while forcing five Bulls turnovers in the frame to take the early lead. 

Chicago refused to fold on its home court however, battling all the way back to take a 67-65 lead midway through the third. The two teams would watch the lead change hands multiple times leading up the final minutes of regulation. Trailing 95-93, Walker missed three good looks - a jumper from the right side, a three from the top of the key and a drive to the front of the rack - and with each miss, it was MKG there to grab offensive rebound. Kidd-Gilchrist was fouled after grabbing the third offensive board and hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:13 left to cut the lead to 95-94. Tenacious defense on the ensuing possession allowed Charlotte to  force a 24-second violation and give them to chance to take the lead back. Nicolas Batum was off target for the Hornets on what would have been a go-ahead bucket but Roy Hibbert was there for yet another Charlotte offensive rebound and was fouled with 37.1 ticks left. Hibbert hit both free throws to put the Hornets ahead, 96-95, then got in the action on the defensive end, recording his third block of the night, this time on Doug McDermott. Batum was then there to grab Jerian Grant’s miss with 17.1 seconds on the clock. Batum dropped both freebies but Grant made amends on Chicago’s next possession, hitting a stepback three over Kaminsky with 10.9 left to tie it, 98-98. The Hornets had a chance to win it in regulation on Walker’s drive down the left side but Paul Zipser was able to recover and get the block leading to OT. 

While the Hornets didn’t win the game in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, the showcased the potential this team can have when it plays together fueled by an immeasurable will to win. Walker didn’t hesitate to take the big shot - more than once. Kidd-Gilchrist outworked everyone on the offensive glass - more than once. Hibbert was there to grab a key rebound and follow it up with a crucial block, just as Charlotte’s front office hoped he would be when they signed him this offseason. Sure, the win was great, but it was these two stretches of play, early and late, that showed the Hornets are getting closer to being ready for Opening Night.

Charlotte’s bench locked down the win behind four points apiece from Aaron Harrison and Mike Tobey in the extra session and the Hornets leave Chicago feeling more confident about how this new-look Hornets team is coming together as the 2016-17 season draws near.

Notes: Cody Zeller (knee), Brian Roberts (hamstring). Treveon Graham (foot) and Perry Ellis (Perry Ellis) all missed the game for Charlotte… Marvin Williams sprained his left middle finger late in the first half and did not return in the second half. Frank Kaminsky started the second half in his place… Roy Hibbert (11) and Nicolas Batum (10) also scored in double digits for the Hornets.

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Monday, Oct. 17, 12:11 p.m - Hardworking Hornets Headed to Chicago

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Just because the Hornets haven’t played a game in a week’s time after opening the preseason with four games in eight days in four cities, don’t expect Charlotte to come out slow and sluggish at 8 p.m. tonight in Chicago on NBA TV. The Hornets have used this week their advantage, putting in extra time in the gym scrimmaging and working on things to not only get them ready for the final stretch of preseason contests but to make sure they’ll be ready to tip things off at 8 p.m. on Oct. 26 in Milwaukee.

“After getting the first few preseason games under our belt, we had some things to work on and this gave us an opportunity to really focus on a lot of those little things,” forward Marvin Williams said on Sunday. “We had a few good practices - a couple of longer ones where we really had to sit back and focus on the details. I think we’ll be ready (in Chicago).”

Williams enters Charlotte’s fifth preseason game averaging 9.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 23 minutes and is coming off an 11-point, seven-rebound performance in a 98-86 win over Minnesota on Oct. 10 in Charlotte. He’ll be using these next few preseason games to not only hone his own skills, but to see how many of the new parts in the Hornets locker room will continue to fit together following an intense week of practice.

“I think guys feel good. Some of the newer guys are getting their rhythm now and figuring out where they’re fitting in within the offense and defense and getting a feel for practices and shootarounds,” said Williams. “The returning guys are getting a feel for their games and the new guys’ as well. I feel like everybody is coming together and the next few games are going to be big for us leading up to the regular season.”

Following the slow start to the preseason, Head Coach Steve Clifford seemed happy to not only pick up a win last Monday, but even more so to get the week of practice he got out of his players after that victory.

“I’m really pleased. I feel like our focus has been good. We’ve had intense practices. We’ve gone up and down the court a lot and we’ve got more guys healthy. I feel like its been a really productive week,” said Clifford. “Hopefully that will translate into some good play (in Chicago).”

The Hornets will again be without the service of Cody Zeller (right knee) and Brian Roberts (left hamstring) when they tip off against the Bulls, while Treveon Graham’s (right foot) status is doubtful. Frank Kaminsky (right foot) and Jeremy Lamb (low back) - Charlotte’s two leading scorers in the preseason with 12.5 and 12.0 points, respectively - are both listed as probable. With Roberts still sidelined, expect to see Walker’s minutes continue to increase in the preseason and veteran Ramon Sessions continue to play a key role. Since leaving Charlotte in 2013, Sessions has been impressed with the leadership roles that Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller have taken on.

“When I came here, the team was struggling, but in the three years that I’ve been gone those guys have grown into winners,” said Sessions. “You can tell that out on the court. I’m a little shocked at sometimes, with MKG speaking up and Kemba being real vocal. It just shows you the commitment that they have and the commitment that the team has to how this team is growing - those guys, and Cody, are key factors.”

You can see Walker, MKG, Williams, Sessions and the rest of the Hornets try to extend their preseason winning streak to two games when they take on Chicago at 8 p.m. tonight at the United Center. Watch the game on NBA TV or listen to Steve Martin’s call on the Hornets app or WFNZ.

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Thursday, Oct. 13, 2:33 p.m. - Hornets Have Solid Practice, Zeller Anxious to Hit Court

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Sometimes in professional sports, just stepping away - be it for a moment, a couple hours, a day or even longer - can be exactly what a team needs to re-group and re-energize. After playing four games in eight days to start the season, Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford gave his squad this past Tuesday with the hopes of doing just that. However, the real benefit of the off day wasn’t really felt until two days after, and you could see it in Clifford’s eyes following Thursday’s workout.

“Today was a good practice. Everybody came in ready, enthusiastic and we got a lot done, so it was a really good practice,” Clifford beamed. “Yesterday was fine. It wasn’t by any means not good and we got some things done, but it was just one of those NBA we-don’t-play-for-two-weeks kind of things. Today you could tell right from the get-go, whether they got together or whatever, it was high energy and that concentration and intensity were good. It was fun to be out here.”

Perhaps the Hornets were re-energized themselves by the continuing return of Cody Zeller, who has missed the entire preseason so far but was back on the court for a full workout for the second-straight day.

“He had a little bit of soreness today, but (Head Athletic Trainer Steve) Strick(er) let him do a lot again,” Clifford said of Zeller. “As long as he feels good tomorrow, he’ll be able to keep going. He looks a lot better… he’s moving much more normally, there’s no dragging leg or anything. I’d say a lot of it now is just day-to-day and we’ll see how he feels.”

Listening to Zeller, it’s hard not to think a return might be imminent.

“I actually felt really good today. I’m trying to get back in the flow of things and did a lot of down-back-down. I felt really good today. I actually felt better today than I did yesterday as far as getting back into the flow of the game. It’s encouraging,” said Zeller. “I was interested to see how it would react to practicing yesterday but it felt really good. Hopefully I’m past the worst of it.”

The time Zeller has had to stay away from the court this offseason, Training Camp and Preseason also seem to have found a way to energize him and he can’t wait to check into a game for the Hornets.

“I’m so anxious. I forgot how much I loved this game,” said Zeller. “I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning back out here playing. It’s kind of rejuvenating my love for the game. It’s fun to be back out here.”

Another Hornets player who appears to be having fun again is Jeremy Lamb. He’s currently second on the team in scoring (12.0 points), trailing only Frank Kaminsky (12.5) through four games this preseason, fifth in shooting percentage (56.8%) and sixth in rebounding (4.5) and assists (1.5). 

For Lamb, he found motivation from the thought that he might have to sit out for some time after spraining his ankle early in Training Camp. He was fine, but has since come to the realization that he needs to have the right mindset each and every day if he’s going to have sustained success in the league.

“You never want to practice until you can’t. I had to sit out a couple practices, and after that I realized I have to come in every day ready to get better,” he said. “I realize that words are powerful and you can definitely speak things into existence. I’m just coming in with the mindset of getting better and using every opportunity, not taking anything for granted and giving it all I got. That’s the mindset I’ve been trying to have every day, whether it’s a game or a practice.”

Zeller wasn’t the only Charlotte player back on the court today. Perry Ellis (sports hernia) made his Hornets practice debut, marking the first time he was able to run five-on-five. Brian Roberts (hamstring) was out again, but as Coach Clifford said, “we’re just being ultra careful,” not to rush Roberts back.

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Monday, Oct. 10, 9:12 p.m. - Hornets Rally to Earn First Preseason Victory

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

The Hornets made their first appearance of the year at Time Warner Cable Arena, playing host to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. Despite falling behind by double digits early, the Hornets came alive in the second half to pull out a 98-86 victory over Minnesota for their first preseason win of the year. 

A slow start by the Hornets led to a 10-point Minnesota lead at the end of the first quarter although Charlotte was able to cut the deficit down to just 54-47 by halftime. A 10-2 run to open the second half helped the Hornets pull ahead of the Timberwolves, as they eventually finished off the third quarter with a 79-72 lead over Minnesota. Charlotte’s advantage would then reach as high as 16 points in the fourth as it ended up cruising to victory in front of the hometown fans.

Leading the way for the Hornets was second-year power forward Frank Kaminsky, who notched a team-high 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting while also tallying four rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes off the bench. Kaminsky’s range was particularly on display tonight as he knocked down a game-high-tying 4-of-8 three-point attempts.

Kemba Walker racked up 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes of action. Walker’s minutes have slowly increased as the preseason has unfolded with his play looking noticeably more in rhythm the more time he gets on the court.

Other noteworthy performances included Nicolas Batum, who tallied 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with six rebounds and game-high five assists. Marvin Williams went a perfect 9-of-9 from the free-throw line as he finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while Spencer Hawes chipped in six points, a game-high 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Jeremy Lamb (16 points) and Ramon Sessions (10 points) also scored in double figures for the Hornets.

After a rough outing from behind the arc this past Saturday against Boston, the Hornets’ range was dramatically improved against Minnesota as they connected on 12-of-36 attempts from long distance (33.3 percent). Charlotte also outrebounded Minnesota, 51-50, and finished with 16 turnovers, four fewer than it had against the Celtics on Saturday.

The Hornets will be back on the road for their next preseason game as they’ll square off against the Bulls at 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17 in Chicago. 

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Monday, Oct. 10, 2:21 p.m. - Hornets Trying to Get on Winning Track

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

When the Hornets take the court at 7 p.m. against Minnesota tonight at Time Warner Cable Arena, they’ll be looking for their first preseason win after starting 0-3 in three games outside of Charlotte. While results in the preseason don’t officially count for anything, that doesn’t mean the Hornets wouldn’t want to pick up a win over the Timberwolves to boost their psyche heading into a week of practices before tipping off next Monday in Chicago.

“We’re trying to get a win,” said Nic Batum. “We know we’re still in preseason and the games don’t really count but we still need to win games. We need to keep working in order to get better, but I think we really need a win tonight… It’ll be cool to play on our home court tonight with the new big screen also. It’ll be good to be back in our office.”

Marvin Williams echoed his teammate’s sentiments saying, “Each and every night you go out, you want to win, especially in the preseason. But the biggest thing is you just want to play well. You want to make sure you’re going out there doing the right things and trying to get better. I think that’s what every team and every player uses the preseason for. As long as we’re making strides, that’s obviously most important, but winning is always the best.”

While Head Coach Steve Clifford stressed after shootaround that Charlotte still needs to focus on developing its defense with nine new players on the current 19-man roster in the preseason, he knows the team needs to start finding synergy on the offensive end. For Clifford, the key has always been about finding the right “playing groups” to establish that consistency, but injuries to key players Kemba Walker (knee), Cody Zeller (knee) and Brian Roberts (hamstring) have left him piecing lineups together without two starters and a key reserve. Both Walker and Roberts are back on the court, but the team will still be without Zeller against the Timberwolves.

“One of the reasons I feel like we haven’t been as good offensively is the injuries,” said Clifford. “Offense takes longer to develop and Kemba hasn’t practiced much at all but is now able to play more, so that’s been a problem. Cody not practicing has been a problem too, and Brian Roberts not practicing has been a problem. But those guys are getting back now so we’ve made more progress.”

Walker’s return to the court can’t be understated by his teammates, either. 

“It’s huge,” said Williams. “Hopefully we can pick up where we left off (last season). Obviously with Cody being out, it’s a little bit difficult because we all know what he brings. But getting Kemba back on the court, we all know what he brings. He’s been our floor general, so having him back out there and getting him to full strength with be great.”

Walker’s minutes were limited in his first two games, but Clifford expects to see those minutes increase against Minnesota.

“I’m feeling good. I’m still trying to get into rhythm because it’s been tough for me not being able to play much in the games,” said Walker. “I’ve been limited in practice at one point and we haven’t been doing too much playing in practice as of late, so it’s tough to get that rhythm. I’m happy to be on the court and will be able to play a little bit more tonight.

“I’m really excited. I love playing here at home. If it was up to me, we’d play all 82 games here at home. It’s our first time being here (in the preseason) and I think its going to be a really cool experience because it’s been a while since we’ve been here in this building.”

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Saturday, Oct. 8 – 5:50 p.m. - Charlotte Stumbles Against Celtics

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

The Hornets headed north looking for their first preseason victory of the year, squaring off with the Boston Celtics for the second time in three days in a matinee matchup at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. Unfortunately for Charlotte, luck was not on its side as it remained winless in the preseason, falling 104-86 to the Celtics on Saturday afternoon.

Both teams finished off the first quarter knotted at 18 but the Celtics pulled ahead soon after that, taking a 49-38 lead into halftime. Boston would go on to extend its lead to 16 points by the end of the third quarter, which was ultimately too much for the Hornets to overcome as they fell to 0-3 this preseason.

Frank Kaminsky was the man of the afternoon for the Hornets, notching a double-double with 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes of play. The second-year power forward out of Wisconsin got the start for Charlotte with Marvin Williams sitting out (rest).

Roy Hibbert racked up six points to go along with nine rebounds and a game-high three blocks in 22 minutes for the Hornets, although he registered just one field-goal attempt. The Charlotte big man continues to establish himself as a physical, aggressive post player who will hopefully start getting more comfortable on the offensive end as the preseason unfolds.

Kemba Walker continued to get back in the swing of things following offseason knee surgery as he managed six points on 2-of-5 shooting and three assists in 15 minutes while also turning the ball over five times. Now entering his sixth NBA season, the veteran point guard’s giveaways can likely be chalked up more to rust and lack of familiarity with new teammates than anything that is too overly concerning.

Other highlights included Ramon Sessions (nine points) and Christian Wood (13 points), while Spencer Hawes tacked on six points, five rebounds and a team-high five assists off the bench for Charlotte.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also scored in double figures with 11 points while also tallying five rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes.

As a team, the Hornets struggled again from behind the arc, knocking down just 1-of-19 attempts (5.3 %) although dominated Boston in the rebounding battle, 50-35. Turnovers were also an issue as the Hornets tallied 19 giveaways compared to just 12 by the Celtics. 

In addition to Marvin Williams, fellow projected opening night starter, Nicolas Batum, also sat out for the Hornets (rest) while Cody Zeller remained sidelined with a knee injury. Brian Roberts made his preseason debut following a two-game absence (hamstring), finishing with four points in eight minutes off the bench.

The Hornets will head back home for their first preseason game of the year at Time Warner Cable Arena as they play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10 in Charlotte.  

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Friday, Oct. 7, 2:23 p.m. - Hornets Looking to Find Consistency in Connecticut

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Just two games in to the 2016 preseason, the the Hornets are looking for their first win as they travel to Uncasville, Connecticut to take on Boston at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Charlotte knows it still needs work after falling to 0-2 on Thursday night, but it was nowhere close to panic mode at practice on Friday in the Queen City.

“We’ve played (well) in stretches,” said Head Coach Steve Clifford. “Yesterday we played a much better first half, and then obviously in the second half we were not good. To be honest, our defense in the second half was not good at all, but a lot of it started with poor offense. Fifteen turnovers turned into 24 points. Even a lot of the good possessions we had, they got offensive rebounds and hurt us badly with second-chance shots. Turning the ball over is going to get you beat. Giving up second-chance points is going to get you beat. We watched a lot of film today and worked on those things. Hopefully there will be carry over and we’ll do those things better tomorrow.”

A welcome addition back in the fold has been point guard Ramon Sessions. He’s taken on the majority of minutes at the point so far this preseason with Kemba Walker just returning from his knee injury in limited minutes on Thursday and Brian Roberts still nursing an injured hamstring (although Roberts has been upgraded to probable for Saturday’s contest). Against Boston, Sessions scored 11 points to go with three assists and two rebounds in 24 minutes.

“He’s a bright player with a high IQ,” said Clifford. “He’s a terrific teammate and a good practice player. He’s very professional and you have to have those guys on your team.”

Now back in Charlotte for a second time, Sessions is starting to settle back in with his Hornets teammates, with some changes.

“I’m definitely older - let’s call it more veteran,” he laughed. “I’m just trying to get my game back. It’s still early on in the preseason on a new team, but I’m familiar with the coaches and familiar with the system. Over time I think it will all come together for us. Each day we’re getting better and better, and that’s all you can ask for at this point. We still have some time before the regular season, but we have a game tomorrow and we have to do better each game. If we do that, we’ll feel like we’ve done our job.”

Another veteran finding his way with the Hornets is center Roy Hibbert, who has seen the majority of minutes in the middle with Cody Zeller (knee) still sidelined. After nearly recording a double-double in Dallas, Hibbert totaled two points to go with five rebounds (including three offensive boards) and one steal in 21 minutes against the Celtics.

“For me personally, it’s taken a little bit longer than I wanted to adjust to the offense,” said Hibbert. “I wanted to hit the ground running seamlessly, but for the most part I think that the team is coming together well. It’s the preseason but we’re doing some things right and working on the things we’re not doing well.”

The Hornets all agree that finding some consistency in their performance, both as a team and individually, will be key to ending the preseason on a strong note in the next couple weeks.

“The quicker we fix it, the better chance we’ll have to sustain our play instead of playing good for four minutes then not good for four minutes,” said Clifford. “It’s all about knowing the coverages, everybody knowing what their responsibility is and then doing it.”

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Thursday, Oct. 6 - 9:33 p.m. - Hornets Fall to Celtics in Greensboro, NC

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

A showdown with the visiting Boston Celtics on Thursday night provided the Charlotte Hornets with their first opportunity to sharpen things up and continue to build continuity following a road loss to the Dallas Mavericks earlier in the week. Playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Greensboro N.C., the site of the franchise’s new NBA Developmental-League team, the Hornets put on a show for their in-state fans but came up short of a victory, falling 107-92 to the Celtics.

Holding a one-point advantage entering the second quarter, the Hornets pulled ahead at halftime with a 51-44 lead over the Celtics. Boston would find its rhythm after the break though, outscoring the Hornets, 40-19, in the third quarter to open up a double-digit lead entering the fourth, which was ultimately too much for Charlotte to overcome. 

Charlotte’s most notable performance of the night went to Jeremy Lamb, who notched a double-double with game highs in both points (16) and rebounds (10) to go along with four assists in 23 minutes off the bench. Lamb’s explosiveness and length stuck out particularly, perhaps an encouraging sign of things to come for the fifth-year shooting guard.

The team also got its first look of the year at star point guard, Kemba Walker, who was recently cleared for contact following offseason knee surgery. Walker did not make the trip to Dallas earlier in the week but made an appearance in Greensboro, finishing with four points, two rebounds and three assists in just nine minutes of action.

Fellow point guard, Ramon Sessions, helped pave the way for the Hornets with 11 points, two rebounds and three assists. Well regarded for his ability to drive the lane and get to the free-throw line, Sessions was perfect from the charity stripe as well, knocking down all three of his attempts.

Fresh off his eight-rebound performance in Dallas, Roy Hibbert was once again a physical force in the paint for the Hornets. The former Georgetown Hoya tipped out a handful of missed shots on both ends of the floor although picked up five personal fouls in 21 minutes of play.

Other performances of note for the Hornets included Frank Kaminsky (10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and six rebounds), Spencer Hawes (six points and a game-high six assists) and Nic Batum (eight points on 3-of-11 shooting).

The Hornets did struggle a bit from three-point range, connecting on 6-of-27 attempts and were also out-rebounded, 49-41. Much like their game against the Mavericks, there are still a handful of areas that need work for the Hornets, particularly on the defensive front, although still plenty of time to straighten things out before the start of the regular season.

The Hornets will return to action for a rematch with the Celtics at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. 

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Wednesday, Oct. 5 - 3:27 p.m. - Kemba Could Return Against Celtics

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

The Hornets received good news on Wednesday at practice as Kemba Walker was back on the court going through a full practice, including contact, and could be on his way to returning as early as tomorrow.

“I feel great. I’ve been working hard to get back on the court. Now that I’m back, it felt great to get up and down with my teammates,” said Walker. “To get out there and actually play a little bit - to finally get a rhythm, it was cool.” 

After dropping their preseason opener in Dallas on Monday, Walker’s return would be a welcome addition to the Hornets as they prepare to take on the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Greensboro, NC. 

“I want to play tomorrow. We’ll see,” said Walker. “I’m not sure yet, but most likely… It’s all about getting rhythm. There’s nothing like game shape and game rhythm. You can make all the open shots you want when you’re working out, but there’s definitely more action when you get out there and play. If I can play, it will be a plus to me to get that rhythm.”

Added Frank Kaminsky, “He looks healthy and looks like he’s getting better. He’s obviously our leader, so whenever he’s ready to go, we’ll be happy to have him back with us.”

One player who has had to step up in Walker and Brian Roberts’ (hamstring) absence has been Training Camp invitee Andrew Andrews. He had 10 points, two rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes as Ramon Sessions’ backup in Dallas and will be ready to answer the call against Boston.

“It’s all about opportunity,” said Andrews. “Hopefully B(rian Roberts) comes back from his hamstring (injury) pretty soon, but it’s an opportunity for me to show that I can just be a team player. In college I was more one of the focal point guys, but now I’m able to show that I can stretch the floor and run the team when anyone goes down. That’s been my opportunity here.”

Whether Walker or Roberts returns, one thing’s for sure, Head Coach Steve Clifford will be looking for a better effort from all of his guys when things tip off against the Celtics in Greensboro.

“We need to get better,” said Clifford. “That’s all preseason is for - to come in with an attitude to make progress, to fix the things that we’re not doing well and continue to build on the things that we are doing well.”

While the availability of some players is still up in the air, Cody Zeller (knee) will not be available against the Celtics. 

“Cody is feeling better but he’s not even doing the non-contact stuff at this stage, so he still has a ways to go,” said Clifford. “Obviously the biggest thing is that he get healthy enough so he can play, and then you take it from there.”

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Tuesday, Oct. 4 - 5:23 p.m. - Sessions Makes Million Dollar Donation to Nevada

Breaking News from the University of Nevada:

Former Wolf Pack star and current Charlotte Hornets point guard Ramon Sessions has donated $1 million towards the development of a basketball practice facility on the University of Nevada campus, the Wolf Pack athletics department announced today.

“It feels great (giving back to the University of Nevada)," said Sessions. "Nevada was one of those schools that gave me a chance when a lot of schools wouldn’t and it’s something I’ve never forgotten and never will forget. 10 years later…To say that I have been out of school for 10 years now it sounds crazy, but 10 years later I am in a position, and the school is in a place where we are trying to put this thing together and I am just glad I could help out with the facility.”

The Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center will be housed at what is currently Lombardi Recreation Center, just south of Mackay Stadium on campus. With the E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center set to open early in 2017, Lombardi will be renovated and converted into this new state-of-the-art facility. Construction is expected to begin in late winter with the projected expected to be completed by August of 2017.

"Being around the community so much, it’s a second home to me so I stay in touch with a lot of the booster guys there now… alumni guys," said Sessions. "It just felt like it was the right thing for me to do and I am just excited to help out the program in this way and I just feel like it’s going to be a game changer… I am just excited to see the direction that the university goes in.”

In addition to the dedicated space for basketball featuring two courts and eight baskets, the project will service all student-athletes at Nevada, as the Wolf Pack’s strength and conditioning program will move to a much larger footprint within the building. Additionally, locker room space will be developed within the building for other Wolf Pack teams. Swimming pool and dive tank will remain in place for the Wolf Pack swimming and diving teams, coming off a Mountain West championship this year.

“This project is game-changing for the Wolf Pack and will have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students for years to come. On behalf of the athletics department and the University, I want to thank Ramon for this historic gift to his alma mater,” said athletics director Doug Knuth. “We feel that the University of Nevada provides a tremendous opportunity for achievement in all facets of life. Ramon seized his opportunity at Nevada and we’re incredibly proud of all that he’s achieved, on and off the court.” 

The Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center is the culmination of a unique collaboration between the University administration, intercollegiate athletics and the community. With the arrival of the E.L. Weigand Fitness Center, University President Marc Johnson, Vice President for Administration & Finance Ron Zurek and Knuth worked closely together on maximizing the use of existing facilities which would have a dramatic impact on our programs' competitiveness, at a fraction of the cost.  Once the Lombardi Recreation Center was identified as a basketball practice facility, athletics was then able to engage the community and share the vision. 

Said President Johnson: “We thank Ramon Sessions for this truly transformative gift. Never before in the history of the University has a former student-athlete made such a significant—and program-changing commitment.  His donation will allow Wolf Pack athletics to better serve all of our student-athletes for generations to come.  Since leaving campus in 2007 to pursue his dreams, Ramon has represented the University and the northern Nevada community with great dignity and class.   We are so proud of Ramon, and grateful for his generosity and the generosity of the other key donors in our community that have made the Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center a reality.”

The $1 million donation is the largest ever given to the Nevada athletics department by one of its alumni. It is the lead gift on a project  that will come in around $2 million, with nearly a dozen donors also supporting this important project.

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Monday, Oct. 3, 11:27 p.m. - Hornets Drop Preseason Opener in Dallas

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Let’s get right to the point - preseason basketball is rarely pretty. Current players are usually trying to figure out their new teammates, while rookies and the most recent free agent or trade acquisitions are just trying to find out where they fit in. But make no mistake about it, the NBA preseason is important because it allows teams to work out their respective kinks and hopefully be clicking by the start of the regular season. On Oct. 3 in Dallas, both the Hornets and Mavs had plenty of kinks to work out in a sloppy 95-88 Charlotte loss. 

But there were some bright points for the Hornets too, starting with the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed all but seven games last season after two shoulder surgeries. MKG did not show any slowdown in his game as he attacked the rim with ferocity on the offensive and defensive ends, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and one steal in 24 minutes.

Nic Batum gave Hornets fans a glimpse of what Kemba Walker should be working with on the wings when the regular season tips off as well, tallying nine points to go with four rebounds and one blocked shot in 23 minutes of action.

Second-year big Frank Kaminsky led the Hornets with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds and veteran Marvin Williams added eight points and five rebounds of his own. But what about the new guys? Fans have been wondering all offseason what Charlotte got in big man Roy Hibbert at sharpshooter Marco Belinelli. 

What the Hornets seem to have found in Hibbert is a big who isn’t afraid to get physical inside and it showed in his stat line in Dallas. Hibbert nearly recorded a double-double (10 points, eight rebounds - including three offensive) in 22 minutes of play. His 1-of-3 line from the field was concerning, but it was great to see the Hornets new big go to the charity stripe 10 times and knock down eight shots.

Belinelli showed he wasn’t afraid to shoot it from almost anywhere in his first chance to showcase his skills in a Charlotte uniform. He dropped seven points on eight shots and dished out one assist. 

As a team, the Hornets struggled to find their shooting stroke until late in the fourth but were still outshot 42.2 percent to 36.8 percent from the field. Overall, it wasn’t pretty, but it was what you would expect from a preseason opener as the Hornets look to fit some new pieces together with their leader, Kemba Walker (knee), and fourth-year big man Cody Zeller (knee) still working to get back into the lineup. 

Seth Curry led all scorers with 20 points off the bench for the Mavericks.

Charlotte will next take on the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Greensboro, NC.

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Thursday, Sept. 29, 4:15 p.m. - Vets Return to Help Run Point

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

When the Hornets signed veteran point guards Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts on July 7, the Hornets front office, coaching staff, players and fans were happy to see two familiar faces return to the fold. Sessions suited up for the Charlotte Bobcats from 2012-14 and Roberts for the Charlotte Hornets from 2014-16, and both played large roles off the bench in Charlotte during their respective stints. With Kemba Walker (knee) currently being held out of contact drills in Training Camp, the two vets’ presence has been invaluable.

“For camp, it’s critical because they’re both so comfortable with everything that they’re organizing and running their teams,” said Head Coach Steve Clifford. “It’s a big, big advantage. They’re just organizing and doing it with the younger guys who aren’t used to the structure and make too many mistakes. Those guys help them.”

Sessions doesn’t seem to have missed a beat despite being away from the organization for two years. He’s admittedly been keeping tabs on the Hornets from afar and has felt completely comfortable being back in Charlotte workout gear.

“It’s going good. I’m familiar with Coach Clifford from a few years back in Training Camp, so its going good,” said Sessions. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of unselfish guys, we just have to get the pieces together. Coach has always been big on having three guards. A lot of coaches aren’t big on having three point guards, but in situations like this, you need three guards. I’ve been around for a while, and we pick up the slack when Kemba is out.”

Walker (knee) isn’t the only one who has missed part of camp either. Cody Zeller (knee) and Perry Ellis (sports hernia) remain out, and Jeremy Lamb (ankle) and Roberts (hamstring) were added to the injury report today and missed time. Coach Clifford said both Lamb’s and Roberts’ respective injuries aren’t nearly as bad as they could have been, and he expects them back on the court in 3-4 days. There is still no set day for Walker or Zeller’s return.

“I’m feeling alright. My knee is a little sore so they don’t want me doing any of the contact and some of the cutting and stuff but I’m still able to do 5-on-0 and its fun to be able to see some of these guys,” said Zeller. “It’s killing me and Kemba not to be able to play because its such a tease to just do the 5-on-0 stuff but the team looks good and it’s fun to watch everyone. The ball has been moving around a lot because we have a lot of unselfish guys, so it’s going to be a lot of fun playing with this group. I’m just trying to bring guys along because I’ve been in the system for 3-4 years now. It’s crazy that I’m the one that people are asking questions to now. I’m just trying to help out however I can.”

Many of the Hornets new or younger bigs aren’t just looking to Zeller for guidance. They’ve also had the ear of Spencer Hawes too, which doesn’t surprise Clifford.

“He’s been around, but the biggest things are his basketball IQ, his size and his passing,” Clifford said of Hawes. “His passing ability and his willingness to make plays for others are great traits to have for a big guy.”

Still, Hawes doesn’t look at envision himself as too much of a veteran leader, as much as he sees multiple teammates on the Hornets who have solid leadership qualities.

“I think we have a lot of guys who can lead,” said Hawes. “We don’t really have that one real vocal leader of the team. I think we have a lot of guys who come in, know how to be professional and lead by example. I think that can be instrumental for the younger guys… This organization definitely values character and I think you can tell that with the guys we brought in. It’s not different these year and I think that makes the transition easier when you have guys like that.”

One such transition that might not be so easy is on that Hawes took note of just as Frank Kaminsky did at Media Day. Since the Hornets did not have pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, they technically do not have a rookie on the roster. Unfortunately for Kaminsky and Aaron Harrison, Hawes says they’ll have to go through their rookie season all over again in 2016-17.

“Yeah, Frank and Aaron will be rookies until a rookie comes I guess,” he laughed.

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Wednesday, Sept. 28, 5:21 p.m. - Full Court Action Highlights Day 2 of Camp

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Since becoming the Hornets Head Coach, Steve Clifford has always had a plan. Whether it has been to focus on player development, revive the careers of players seemingly on the tail end of their careers or implementing a four-out, one-in approach while becoming a Top 10 team on both offense and defense, everything has been orchestrated by the Charlotte’s maestro. It’s been no different in Hornets Training Camp. Clifford’s approach is to let the guys get up and down the court in game situations, committing most of these early practices to five-on-five work to see where his squad is at both physically and mentally, who fits best together and what everyone needs to work on.

“Everybody does it a different way,” admitted Clifford. “I always thought when I was an assistant that the best camps start with just letting them play a lot. We do a few things to get organized, but then today we played three full quarters, and I think that’s the best way to go early in camp. We may not play as well early in the preseason, but I think over the course of the whole month, it’s the best thing to do.”

Clifford’s players - from the veterans down to the youngsters - could not agree more with his approach.

“I’ve been through a lot of Training Camps, and sometimes it’s very different,” said Marvin Williams. “You can come out and do drills for three hours a day, but Cliff makes it fun in the sense that he allows us to compete. He puts us in sets, we work on things defensively and come out here and scrimmage for three quarters. It definitely does make it fun. It doesn’t feel like Training Camp. It just feels like a practice.”

Added Frank Kaminsky, “It benefits us a lot. You can go through drills. You can go through 5-on-0 stuff and work on sets, but I don’t think you can fully understand how a player plays until you’re out in game-like situations. We’ve been going quarter by quarter with different teams and it’s been intense. There are some things we have to clean up, but other than that, it’s been pretty good so far.”

With Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller still held out of contact work with their respective knee injuries, Clifford has also called for other team leaders like Williams to step up and help take control of camp’s early practices, whether it’s helping out the young guys or filling in new veterans like Roy Hibbert on the nuances of Hornets basketball.

“Things have been going well. I think the new guys are fitting in well. The returning guys have done a great job of getting people started off on the right foot. It’s been a good couple of days, definitely,” said Williams. “I think guys have all stepped up. Anybody who was here last year, whether you’re a younger guy or an older guy, has done a great job of helping out. If a new guy comes up and has a question, we point them in the right direction. It’s been good because we’ve learned a lot of and got to play a lot, which is fun too in Training Camp, so I think we’ve had a good couple of days.”

Some of the younger players are also taking advantage of the extra time on the court while the two sidelined vets work to get ready for the 2016-17 season.

“It gives other people a lot of reps,” said Kaminsky. “For me, I’m trying to get more reps at the five this year. With Cody being out, it gives me an opportunity for that a little more in camp. Obviously we want those guys back and want those guys healthy. They’re recovering and getting better, and I think (the extra reps) are helping our team.”

Another familiar face the Hornets have been happy to have back on the court and is getting better each day is Michael-Kidd Gilchrist. After missing all but seven games last season, MKG has been itching to get back to work and Clifford’s Training Camp practices are providing him that opportunity.

“I love the action right now,” said MKG. “I haven’t played in a long period of time so I’m just having fun and taking my time learning the process all over again pretty much. It’s great. There’s a lot of effort and energy on the court. We’ve got a lot of new guys so we’re still learning how to play with each other, but it’s going good.”

Clifford could not be more pleased with the strides MKG has taken in his recovery.

“(He’s looked) good - really good,” he said of MKG. “The one thing about him is that he’s so high IQ that he’s comfortable with everything that’s going on. It’s been a long time for him playing five-on-five, so he’s got to get his rhythm back.

“I think overall the group intensity is good. We’re just getting more organized. We’re scrimmaging a lot these first three or four days. I think the guys are getting their offensive rhythm back and getting used to going up and down the floor. We’re getting good conditioning and the intensity is good.”

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Tuesday, Sept. 27, 3:37 p.m. - New and Old Faces Bring Intensity on Day 1

By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com

Training Camp opened on Sept. 27 at Time Warner Cable Arena and the Hornets brought the type of energy and intensity Head Coach Steve Clifford was looking for on Day 1. 

“It was good. It was enthusiastic and spirited,” said Clifford. “We do a lot of scrimmaging - we like to do that the first couple days, so it was good. There was a good attitude and good approach. It was a good first day.”

The Hornets were without two familiar faces, as Kemba Walker (knee) and Cody Zeller (knee) continue to sit out rehabbing their respective injuries. There is no timetable for when they will both be able to start participating in contact drills, but that was not concerning to Clifford, who stressed that the goal is to have them back and ready to go for the season opener. Perry Ellis (sports hernia) also is sidelined at the start of camp.

While two of their key pieces work to get back into playing form, many eyes on Day 1 were focused on shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who came over in a Draft Day trade with Sacramento but hit the court with his teammates for the first time on Tuesday.

“Marco played well,” said Clifford. “He knows how to play. He’s got a little bit of jet lag he said. He’s high IQ. He’s got natural energy. Actually, he plays in terms of knowing the game, a lot like Nic(olas Batum).”

Despite taking the court with the Hornets for the first time, Belinelli was ready to go and said there weren’t any nerves when he laced up his shoes in Charlotte’s locker room today.

“No, not really. This is my seventh team in my 10 years in the league. I’m just trying to be here and trying to be ready,” he said. “Everything is a little bit different than for me last year and a couple years before - from offensive stuff to defensive stuff. That’s the kind of thing that takes time. I’m not nervous though, really. I’m just really happy to be here and every guy who is a part of this team is a really good guy.”

One of those guys most looking forward to playing with Belinelli is Batum. Not only did the two often matchup in their days playing in the Western Conference, but Batum’s France squad often competed against Belinelli’s Italian team in international competition.

“I’m glad because we have another Euro guy on this team,” laughed Batum. “I’m not by myself anymore. I’m very happy to play with Marco. I’ve been playing against him for a while and I hate playing against that guy, especially with the national team. But I’m glad to be playing with him now. He’s going to bring a lot for us. He won a championship with the Spurs and had a great role with them. He’s been around for a while and is going to bring something different - a little craziness off the bench. That’s who he is, and that’s going to be good for us.”

The Hornets might also look to the bench for more from Jeremy Lamb this season. After starting the season strong in 2015-16, Lamb’s minutes dissipated as he struggled with the rigors of an 82-game regular season. 

“He didn’t just play well for six or eight games last year… he played well for 25 games,” Clifford said. “He’s more than capable of doing it. He took a big step in his career last year, and now hopefully he can take another step this year.”

After biding his time on the Oklahoma City bench for the first three years of his career, Lamb took full advantage of his opportunity early on with Charlotte last season. However, his efforts to maintain consistency came up short as the season rolled on. Once the season came to a close, Lamb had time to reflect and was honest with himself and knew he had to change his mindset in terms of preparation - something his teammates and coaches took notice of this summer. But Lamb knows he has to carry his new outlook into Training Camp and into the regular season.

“When you change your mindset, it’s not something that happens overnight, so I’ve been working on it all summer,” he said. “In Training Camp you just have to try and build on it, whether that’s if you’re missing shots, you have to know to keep shooting; if you didn’t get a stop, you have to get a stop next time; you have to help your teammates; you have to do those little things that keep you positive and don’t really bring your spirits down.

“Coach (Clifford) told me at the beginning of (last) season that I was going to be asked to do something that I’ve never done before. I played good early, but I just didn’t do those things that I needed to - eating right, cold tubbing every day, stretching and all the little things that really keep your body going throughout the season. Now that I have more experience and am going into my fifth year, I’m just doing my best to be as consistent as possible because I want to be on the floor to help my teammates, help myself and just win some games.”