Hornets begin training camp after shaky offseason

Charlotte’s first preseason game is Oct. 2 against the Celtics

Point guard LaMelo Ball, pictured last season, and the Hornets opened training camp on Monday in Charlotte. (Lynne Sladky / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Hornets’ 2022-23 training camp is officially underway as the team has begun working at the Novant Health Training Facility and will start its five-game preseason schedule next week.

Charlotte begins its exhibition schedule with a road trip to Boston on Oct. 2 (1 p.m) and will then play at Spectrum Center on Oct. 5 against Indiana (7 p.m.) before hosting Boston in Greensboro on Oct. 7 (7:30 p.m.). Their final pair of contests will be at home versus Washington on Oct. 10 (7 p.m.) and in Philadelphia on Oct. 12 (7 p.m.).

To say that the Hornets are facing unanswered questions with the regular season looming would be an understatement. After a 132-103 loss to Atlanta in a must-win Play-In Tournament game last April, Charlotte was in desperate need of positive news this offseason, a wish that has been beyond unfulfilled.

The Hornets are without restricted free agent Miles Bridges, the team’s leading scorer last season, after he was charged with three counts of felony domestic violence in June. It’s unclear whether the 24-year-old forward will ever wear purple and teal again.

Charlotte enters camp with 19 players, leaving one vacant roster spot for Bridges if his legal troubles are resolved.

“I was talking to him day to day to see what it is, but other than that, I haven’t heard too much of anything,” All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball said of Bridges during the team’s media day. “Definitely miss him.”

Coach Steve Clifford is back in charge as he replaces James Borrego, who was fired after four seasons in Charlotte. Clifford previously coached the Hornets from 2013 to 2018 but was let go in general manager Mitch Kupchak’s first week on the job.

Clifford wasn’t even the Hornets’ top pick to be Borrego’s replacement. Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson agreed to take the Charlotte job before backing out just days after the Warriors won the 2021-22 NBA title.

Apart from Bridges and Clifford, perhaps the biggest offseason story for Charlotte has been the lack of any big stories.

While the Hornets came up in rumors about a few of the marquee names available over the summer, the team’s moves were mostly depth signings.

In early July, Cody Martin agreed to re-sign with the Hornets on a four-year, $32 million deal. A valuable role player and one of Charlotte’s better defenders, Martin is likely to come off the bench again at shooting guard and small forward.

Fayetteville native Dennis Smith Jr. inked a one-year contract with the Hornets on Sept. 21, hoping to improve on a season in Portland in which he averaged just 5.6 points per game. Smith is poised to replace Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas as backup point guard after both left in the offseason.

As it stands, the Hornets’ starting lineup consists of Ball, shooting guard Terry Rozier, small forward Gordon Hayward, power forward PJ Washington (stepping into Bridges’ role) and center Mason Plumlee.

While Ball and Rozier are proven producers, there may not be a bigger hard-luck player than Hayward, who averages 16 points when he can play but has been riddled with injuries throughout his career. He’s played just 93 games since signing a four-year, $120 million contract in a sign-and-trade with Boston in 2020.

Washington has no easy task ahead of him as he looks to fill the gaping hole created by Bridges’ absence. The 2019 12th overall pick has shown flashes of star power in his career, and his performance this season could determine Hornets’ playoff fate.

At center, Plumlee returns as the veteran presence at a position that has plagued Charlotte since Al Jefferson left in 2016. Duke center Mark Williams was drafted by the Hornets over the summer with the 15th overall pick, and it remains to be seen how much the rookie will factor into Clifford’s plans this season.

“We need physicality … we’ve struggled with screening and rebounding,” said Clifford, who added that Plumlee would enter camp as the starter with Nick Richards as backup during the open competition. “I love our [preseason] schedule to help gauge ourselves. … It’s going to play out.”