By Sam Perley
Starting Monday, the Charlotte Hornets and the seven other NBA teams not included in the Orlando restart will be allotted a two-week period for in-market organized team activities, which includes group workouts and five-on-five scrimmaging.
The general structure of this operation will feature players and coaches splitting their time between Spectrum Center and a closed-off hotel in accordance with COVID-19 protocols (similarly to how the NBA Playoffs are currently being conducted). But more important than the actual basketball component will be the ability for players and coaches to reconnect with each other away from the court on a personal and more emotional level.
“[This opportunity] gave us some type of clarity that we could move forward with and build towards,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego, who has not had a chance to work with his team in full since March 11. “We’re extremely excited to be together, working, connecting, eating some meals together. Just being around each other again and building our culture.”
He added, “Being together might be more important than the basketball, to be honest. There’s nothing like being in person and having that human element. I love the basketball part and watching our guys compete in a live setting. Bonding over a meal, a movie, casual conversations, that’s what really elevates your program. It establishes your culture at a really high level, and that’s what we need.”
The Hornets should benefit greatly from having their younger core players available in these workouts, ideally providing some form of offseason continuity and familiarity after six months apart. Prior to this two-week period, the NBA had only permitted players to work out in voluntary individual settings throughout their team facilities.
“Doing the individual [workouts] is a part of what we do here, but there’s nothing like being together as a unit,” stated Borrego. “Talking the same language, connecting. We will feel like a team again. Right now, it’s been more isolated. I give our staff and players a ton of credit. They’ve stuck with it and through all of this, we’ve stayed connected somehow, someway.”
How Borrego and his staff approach this workout camp will certainly be a unique undertaking. To what extent will the goal be bringing everybody back up to speed from where things were abruptly left off in March versus incorporating new elements in preparation for next season?
“I would say less new concepts,” Borrego explained. “We’ll have time for that later when we get ready for next season. Right now, it’s really about connecting and reestablishing who we are. Having fun, competing, really sticking to those main pillars. We want to enjoy our time together. Let the guys get a feel for one another again before we start introducing new concepts.”
“It’s going to be very fluid on how we do this. Part of this is going to be an evaluation and seeing where our guys are, how they’re feeling, what they look like. We don’t want to push it too much right now. We want to make sure they’re healthy. We have to make sure we do this the right way. Hopefully by the second week, we’re moving pretty well.”
When the bubble wraps up in early October, there’s no telling exactly when the next time the Hornets will be able to convene in such a similar manner. Teams likely won’t be gathering again until training camp for the 2020-21 season, a start date for which is still undetermined.
“All I know is we have a bubble for two weeks that we can build and grow in. From there, we’ll have to adapt and adjust as we figure out the schedule moving forward,” Borrego added. “Let’s build a base for the next two weeks and build some excitement. Whatever comes over the next couple months, we’ll figure it out as we go. We can’t allow this time to disrupt what we’re trying to do.”
Away from the court, players and staff will also have the opportunity to battle in activities outside of their traditional wheelhouse. Bragging rights in golf, ping pong, pool, cards and much more are all up for grabs during down time when the teams move in to the Charlotte bubble next week.
“Well, [Cody] Zeller says he can hit the golf ball, but I’ll have to see it to believe it,” Borrego said jokingly. “There are some guys throwing around that they have ping-pong game. I’m ready to take them out. If I’m not in the Final Four of the ping pong tournament, I’ll be very disappointed. I’ll be okay at pool. I’ll work on my golf game a couple days out of the week.”
After not formally assembling for the last six months, the temptation to overcompensate and make up for lost time could understandably be in play for these eight in-market workout teams. But for Borrego, just having this opportunity alone alleviates that pressure from the start.
“Just being back together is going to be a success. We’re going to figure this out as we go. I’m just thrilled to be back together. I think this is a win for us no matter what. If we approach this the right way, everybody buys in, if I see the engagement from our players and staff which I anticipate there will be, it’s going to be a successful couple of weeks. I think it’s going to be better than I expect. That’s what I’m hoping for and believing in.”