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October 30, 2014

TV rating for Hornets opener was second-highest ever

The overnight television rating for the Charlotte Hornets’ season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday was the second-highest in franchise history.

            The game drew a 2.83 rating in the greater Charlotte market, which translates to approximately 33,000 television households, according to SportSouth, the regional sports network that carries Hornets games.

            The only game that drew better than that was a match-up with the Miami Heat in the 2011-12 season. That game pulled a 3.29 rating.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 30, 2014 at 08:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

3 long-term takeaways from the Hornets' opener

            Three takeaways from the Hornets’ overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday:

            This glut at shooting guard isn’t going away: Gerald Henderson played nine minutes Wednesday and his only playing time in the second half was as a defensive-situation substitute. Rookie P.J. Hairston didn’t play at all.

            Coach Steve Clifford said that doesn’t reflect their value, but that’s not the point: Trying to make everyone happy at the wing positions will be counter-productive.

            Clifford believes you can play no more than four players at the shooting guard and small forward spots and ideally you’d play three. He doesn’t believe players could establish a rhythm if he shuffled five or six players through the available minutes.

            In the preseason he put it this way: “Intramural substitutions” don’t work in the NBA.

            I see his point. Right now he has to play Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gary Neal heavily. Henderson will work himself into solid minutes after missing all the exhibitions with a hamstring strain. And rookie Hairston will wait his turn.

            The Biz experiment might be a setting sun: Center Bismack Biyombo, the seventh pick in the 2011 draft, didn’t play a second in the opener. What minutes he would have gotten went to Jason Maxiell, an undersized big man on a make-good contract.

            It’s been apparent for a while that Clifford has misgivings about what Biyombo will ever be. That Maxiell would beat him out for what playing time there is behind Al Jefferson is telling.

            A year ago the Bobcats went until just before the deadline before exercising the option on Biyombo’s contract for this season. It was a much closer call than fans generally perceived.

     Unless something dramatic changes, he might end up a write-off.

            Neal is quite a bargain: Neal was absurdly under-utilized in Milwaukee before that trade last February based on how he’s performed in Charlotte.

            He made a pressure layup in overtime Wednesday after the Hornets had committed three – yes, three – shot-clock violations in overtime, to break a tie. Then he grabbed the rebound that set up Kemba Walker’s game-winning jump shot.

            He’s a pro, he’s had basketball’s best coach in San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, and the Hornets are lucky to have him.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 30, 2014 at 01:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (40)

October 29, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker on contract extension: 'Comforting to know these guys want me around'

Point guard Kemba Walker was here in the bad times, when the then-Bobcats went 28-120 over two seasons. Looks like he’ll be around for the good times to come.

            Walker and the Charlotte Hornets agreed to terms Tuesday on a four-year, $48 million contract extension. It’s expected the deal will be formally signed Thursday, beating a Friday NBA deadline for extensions off rookie-scale contracts.

            This is the first time the Bobcats/Hornets have proactively taken a player off the market before he reaches at least restricted free agency. That gesture by Hornets owner Michael Jordan is a big thing to Walker, who was drafted ninth overall in 2011.

“It says a lot. Definitely comforting to know these guys want me around,” Walker said at morning shootaround before tonight’s season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. “This is where I want to be. I’m excited. Everyone is excited.”

            Walker had said repeatedly that his wish was to remain with the team that drafted him. The new contract will tie him to the Hornets through the 2018-19 season.

“Definitely,” Walker said. “This is my fourth year and I was here when things weren’t going so well. To be one of the guys to get the ball rolling – getting better each and every year – we’re good now. It’s exciting.”

            Walker said anticipation of tonight’s opener – the first regular-season game as the Hornets – cost him so rest Tuesday night.

“I couldn’t sleep last night – I couldn’t sleep at all. And I woke up early,” Walker said.

“I’m super excited. I know this place is going to be unbelievable tonight. We had a great shootaround. We’ve come prepared to get this thing rolling.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 29, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Hornets' Lance Stephenson cleared to play in opener

            New Charlotte Hornet Lance Stephenson has been cleared to play in tonight’s season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks after being hampered recently with a groin strain.

            Stephenson asserted Tuesday that he would play, but coach Steve Clifford was more reluctant to sign off on that. The then-Bobcats went through a similar situation at the start of last season with center Al Jefferson. He played the opener with an ankle injury, aggravated the injury, and missed nine of the next 11 games.

“He’s good. He’s going to give it a shot,” Clifford said of Stephenson after morning shootaround.

“He feels like he’s in mid-season form, but we’ll see. He did everything yesterday (at practice) and he wasn’t sore or anything like that. So we’ll give it a shot.

            Will Stephenson’s minutes be limited tonight?

“We’ll see. We’ll do it kind of like we did with Al last year. Same with Gerald (Henderson, who’s recovering from a hamstring strain) – just watch and see how they’re feeling.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 29, 2014 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 28, 2014

Five quick takeaways from Michael Jordan interview

            Five quick takeaways from the Observer’s one-on-one interview Tuesday with Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan:


He is hopeful of signing point guard Kemba Walker to a contract extension by Oct. 31 that would pre-empt Walker becoming a restricted free agent in July.

            He is conscious of center Al Jefferson having the option to void the last season of his contract this summer. Jordan said Jefferson took a chance signing with the then-Bobcats and that adds to his value in Charlotte.

            He said the Hornets have closely monitored rookie P.J. Hairston, particularly after Hairston’s legal trouble in Durham just before the start of summer-league practice.

            He said he’s disappointed Josh McRoberts chose to leave for the Miami Heat, but that McRoberts’ departure wasn’t because the Hornets weren’t willing to pay him as much as the Heat did.

            He said that after years of losing money, the franchise is now reaching a point where profitability is viable.


Check back later for much more detail.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 28, 2014 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

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Posted by Observer staff on October 28, 2014 at 03:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 23, 2014

Two ESPN rankings suggest Charlotte Hornets on the upswing

            The Charlotte Hornets made out pretty well – both individually and collectively – in two of ESPN’s recent rankings.

            First off, the franchise was ranked the 29th-best overall among the 122 franchises in the four major sports in ESPN, the Magazine. That’s a big jump from a year earlier when the magazine ranked the then-Bobcats 104th.

            Coaching apparently played a big part in the improved perception. Bobcats coaching was ranked last of all the franchises in 2013. Based on Steve Clifford’s first season, the now-Hornets’ coaching rank jumped to 41st.

            Secondly, espn.com has been ranking the top 500 players in the NBA. That ranking placed three Hornets in the top 100: Al Jefferson 22nd, Lance Stephenson 51st and Kemba Walker 61st.

            The rest of the Hornets by that ranking: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (131), Gerald Henderson (172), Cody Zeller (203), Marvin Williams (212), Noah Vonleh (250), Gary Neal (267), Bismack Biyombo (298), P.J. Hairston (320), Jeff Taylor (325), Brian Roberts (332) and Jannero Pargo (400).

            The only ranking I’d quibble with is Neal’s, but I base that in part by how well he’s performed this preseason, which wouldn’t have factored into ESPN’s methodology.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 23, 2014 at 06:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Add Kemba Walker to Charlotte Hornets' injury issues

            Add point guard Kemba Walker to the Charlotte Hornets’ ever-growing injury list.

            Walker left shootaround Thursday morning after complaining of foot soreness. So his availability is questionable tonight when the Hornets play the Indiana Pacers in the last of eight preseason exhibitions.

             The Hornets have been plagued with injury this preseason. Lance Stephenson (groin strain), Gerald Henderson (hamstring strain) and Noah Vonleh (ankle sprain) won’t play tonight. Cody Zeller (bruised wrist) and Marvin Williams (elbow contusion) both will try to play according to coach Steve Clifford, but there’s little benefit to pushing the issue in a preseason exhibition.

            “I don’t want them getting bumped up again,” Clifford said. “As long as they don’t get hit, I think they’ll be OK.”

            Clifford said Walker started shootaround, then told staff “My foot is killing me,” and went to the trainer’s room.

            The Hornets will have five days after tonight’s exhibition to get players well and back on their games before Wednesday’s season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

            “This time of year is tough because they’re trying to get their individual rhythm. They need practice and they need to be on the floor to play well. But obviously it doesn’t matter if your body is not right,” Clifford said.

            “We’ll have a couple of key guys who won’t be where we’d like to have them to start the season. That’s how it’s worked out and we’ll just have to do the best we can.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 23, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

October 10, 2014

Charlotte Hornets' Lance Stephenson out tonight with a toe injury

GREENVILLE, S.C. – What was once a glut at shooting guard for the Charlotte Hornets is suddenly a lack of options.

            Lance Stephenson will miss Friday’s exhibition against the Washington Wizards after suffering a deep cut to one of his small toes. Gerald Henderson is already out a week or more with a right hamstring strain.

            That meant Hornets coach Steve Clifford planned to start Gary Neal and expand minutes for rookie P.J. Hairston versus the Wizards. Clifford said he might use third point guard Jannero Pargo some at shooting guard.

            Clifford hopes to have Stephenson back before Monday’s home exhibition against the Orlando Magic.

“Hopefully (Stephenson is) ready to practice Sunday,” Clifford said. “They’re concerned that it’s deep enough that it could get infected. And he’s sore – I don’t think he could run on it anyway.”

Posted by Observer Sports on October 10, 2014 at 06:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (105)

October 07, 2014

Hornets shooting guard Gerald Henderson out 1-2 weeks with hamstring strain

Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Gerald Henderson is expected to miss one to two weeks of the preseason after a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Tuesday confirmed a right hamstring strain.

            Henderson missed practice Tuesday and Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Henderson “tweaked” the hamstring and was sent for an MRI. Based on Clifford’s comments last week, Henderson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are competing for the last of five starting spots, with newcomer Lance Stephenson starting at  either shooting guard or small forward.

            Henderson is the first Hornets injury of the preseason. Rookie Noah Vonleh had surgery before the preseason for a sports hernia and is still limited in his participation at practice. Henderson played in 77 of 82 regular-season games last season, missing five in March with a right calf strain.

            Henderson spoke about the importance of the preseason Monday in reference to center Al Jefferson missing six preseason exhibitions a year ago.

            “When you’re healthy and everything is going like it usually does, you don’t think about the steps you’re taking,” Henderson said. “You work out, you have the preseason and then you have games. It’s a process. You can’t skip steps.”

            A two-week absence could cause Henderson to miss five or six of the eight exhibitions this preseason. The Hornets begin their exhibition schedule Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia against the 76ers.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 7, 2014 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)