If the Charlotte Hornets entered free agency determined to add another jolt of flashiness and flare to their budding rotation for this upcoming season, they’ve certainly done so with the addition of veteran combo wing Kelly Oubre Jr.
The soon-to-be seventh-year former Kansas Jayhawk now heads to Buzz City following one season in the Bay Area with Golden State. This notably marks the second consecutive offseason that the often-overlooked Hornets have landed a prominent player in free agency following last November’s inking of fellow forward and former All-Star Gordon Hayward.
“It was the youth. It was the energy. It was the uphill, positive growth that we all have been seeing from this organization over the past couple of years,” Oubre explained when asked about what appealed to him most about the Hornets. “Just me being young and energetic myself, I knew that it would be a perfect fit.
“I think there is a little bit of a buzz in the league about the Hornets’ style of play, the way we move the ball and how everybody’s involved,” added Hornets President of Basketball Operations and GM Mitch Kupchak. “Kelly was a very coveted free agent in this period. I’m not really sure a year or two ago we could have gotten a player like this. He makes us deeper and gives us some veteran leadership. We expect him to play and contribute.”
Oubre would presumably slide into the backup three behind Hayward, with veteran Ish Smith and rookie James Bouknight likely installed as the second-unit backcourt. The New Orleans native provides a major upgrade at the wing position and is exceptional at moving without the ball, slashing to the basket, putting pressure on the rim and running in transition.
The 6-7 Oubre was taken by the Atlanta Hawks one spot ahead of new teammate Terry Rozier in the 2015 NBA Draft, and then traded immediately to the Washington Wizards. Dealt to Phoenix in December 2018, Oubre posted career highs in scoring (18.7 points), field-goal (45.2%) and three-point (35.2%) percentage during the 2019-20 season before getting traded to Oklahoma City last fall as part of the Chris Paul blockbuster transaction.
Six days later, Oubre was on the move again to the Warriors in the wake of Klay Thompson’s season-ending Achilles tear. The now 25-year-old still averaged 15.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steal in 55 outings (50 starts) with Golden State, but shot just 31.6% from three and missed 15 of the team’s final 20 regular season games with a torn ligament and avulsion fracture in his left wrist.
Playing mostly out of position at the two, Oubre’s fit with the Warriors was forced from the start, and perhaps more a panic-driven move than anything given that Golden State was coming off a dreadful 15-50 campaign in 2019-20. Maybe there were unrealistic expectations sliding into Thompson’s vacated role alongside MVP Finalist Steph Curry, but even though, Oubre still managed to learn from the challenging experience.
“I think that last year was a big step for me and just the mental aspect of everything,” he stated. “I have the physical tools, I have the skill set. Obviously, definitely have things that I need to get better at, which I am doing and I will continue to do. I just want to be the best player that I can possibly be. I know what I can do on the court and I’m a two-way player.”
He added “So, I think this year, you’ll see my game be a little more sexy, but still the same passion, the same rage. For me, it’s just about smoothing everything over because when I first came in to the league, I was going 100 miles per hour at all times and now I’ve been working on changing speeds. Me playing at my own space, controlling the tempo of the game when the ball’s in my hands – that’s what I’m most looking forward to.”
And while this will probably be the first time in a while that he’ll be penciled in as a reserve to start the season, Oubre isn’t overly concerned about his immediate role necessarily. “I don’t know about anything logistics wise,” he said. “All I know is I’m going to bring my talents and go all out 100% of the time for this team.”
Oubre, who is also known around the league by his good energy, good vibes, wavy alter ego “Tsunami Papi,” has earned a reputation for his off-the-court style and is highly regarded for his eclectic fashion ensembles and tattoo collection. He was one of the original founders of the “Valley Boyz” clothing line in Phoenix and played a significant role in helping promote the Suns’ black and pixelated City uniforms last season prior to getting traded.
For a Hornets’ offense that really struggled to score amidst widespread injuries over the final six weeks last season, adding a player of Oubre’s caliber is significant for a young team looking to make a serious jump in the standings. There are few players and even fewer personalities as unique as Oubre’s in the NBA and his fiery, emotional bravado should blend in perfectly with one of the equally captivating young cores to watch.
Said Oubre, “I would say [we’re] a team that you definitely don’t want to play [against]. It’s a team that has a lot of talent, but once we piece it all together, once we gel, once we mesh, I think that we’ll be very scary. It’s just been fun to compete against these guys and now, to be on the same team as them, it’s going to be super electric. I think Spectrum Center’s going to be rocking and we’re going to make some noise.”