Hor­nets ex-starter is hav­ing ‘so much fun’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY RICK BON­NELL rbon­nell@char­lot­teob­server.com

To be a world-class ath­lete is to be at least a lit­tle self-ab­sorbed.

That sense of “Just give me the darn ball” isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, but it can make manag­ing these guys a chal­lenge.

Ex­cept with a guy like the Char­lotte Hor­nets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He could have been a mis­er­able per­son this fall. He was asked by a new coach to no longer start and to change po­si­tions. That’s no sim­ple tran­si­tion for a for­mer No. 2 over­all pick who had started all but four of his 357 NBA games prior to this sea­son. How is MKG do­ing?

“So much fun!” he told me in a one-on-one in­ter­view af­ter the Hor­nets’ 135-106 blowout of the Chicago Bulls.

Why so?

“A new coach, a new way of play­ing, a new life­style,” Kid­dGilchrist de­scribed. “It is easy and sim­ple. It’s me run­ning in tran­si­tion.

“All my team­mates helped me from Day One about not start-

ing, say­ing, ‘It’s OK.’ ”

It has been OK. Ac­tu­ally, bet­ter than OK. Look at Kidd-Gilchrist’s line in the box score Fri­day: Fif­teen points and eight re­bounds in 19 1/2 min­utes. The plus-mi­nus statis­tic – how a team does in the min­utes a par­tic­u­lar player is in the game – can be mis­lead­ing, but not in this case. The Hor­nets were plus-18 Fri­day when Kid­dGilchrist was on the court be­cause he brought ex­actly what his new coach, James Bor­rego, begged for at prac­tice Thurs­day: phys­i­cal­ity and en­ergy.

“He just brings this com­pet­i­tive spirit ev­ery time he steps on the floor.,” Bor­rego said of Kidd-Gilchrist. “What he does is in­fec­tious: his en­ergy, his will­ing­ness to go af­ter ev­ery 50-50 ball, ev­ery re­bound.”

The 6-foot-7 Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t in­tro­duced as a starter now, is play­ing mostly power for­ward rather than small for­ward and plays fewer min­utes. Bor­rego pre­pared him for this change well be­fore train­ing camp be­gan in Chapel Hill last month. A big fac­tor in this ex­per­i­ment’s suc­cess is Kid­dGilchrist’s in­nate pos­i­tiv­ity.

‘JUST LA­BELS’

Kidd-Gilchrist shrugged at all the me­dia ques­tions the day be­fore the start of train­ing camp about how he was han­dling change. He said he still does the same things – de­fend, re­bound, run hard – re­gard­less of what po­si­tion he plays or whether he starts.

“Just la­bels,” he said. He re­ally opened up to me post-game Fri­day about what his first six sea­sons in Char­lotte were like, and why this tran­si­tion didn’t rat­tle him.

“I’ve been through a lot here in Char­lotte – from my (flawed) jump shot to the fans’ (re­ac­tions) to old coaches, stuff like that. I just want to be happy,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, who turned 25 in Septem­ber. “(Bor­rego) makes it real, real sim­ple for me and my team­mates to do our jobs ev­ery sin­gle night.

“My job is way dif­fer­ent from (rookie) Miles Bridges’ job or Kemba (Walker)’s job or J-Lamb’s (Jeremy Lamb) job or any­body else’s in this room.

“I could eas­ily sit here, hold­ing down my head as an ath­lete and as a hooper. Sure, I want to start, but it’s not a big deal to me be­cause this is all about my team and my team­mates.”

That might sound like spin. It’s not. Kidd-Gilchrist is an au­then­tic guy with a gen­er­ous ap­proach to his life and his job. Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the then-Bob­cats drafted him in 2012, he asked about find­ing a needy fam­ily in Char­lotte that he could help spon­sor. I’ve seen him at Christ­mas time pay­ing for un­der­priv­i­leged kids to shop at Dick’s Sport­ing Goods. He isn’t just writ­ing a check for a photo op; he’s in­ter­act­ing with those kids, teach­ing them life skills.

That gen­eros­ity ex­tends to the locker room. His locker is next to Bridges’, and most of the me­dia sur­rounded Bridges Fri­day. Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t re­sent all the at­ten­tion Bridges got; he was happy for Bridges’ quick suc­cess and the help it pro­vides, re­gard­less of Bridges play­ing the same po­si­tions as Kidd-Gilchrist.

“Look at Miles. He’s young, but he’s so ta­lented. Even more than me,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “That’s my guy.”

WIN­NING

His one sea­son at Ken­tucky, Kidd-Gilchrist or­ga­nized the “Break­fast Club.” The bas­ket­ball team gath­ered at dawn to lift weights or play pickup games in the early fall days be­fore prac­tices be­gan. That Ken­tucky team, fea­tur­ing An­thony Davis, won the 2012 na­tional cham­pi­onship.

That story rings true to Hor­nets team­mate Marvin Wil­liams, who says the thing he knows best about Kidd-Gilchrist is he is solely com­mit­ted to win­ning.

“There ac­tu­ally aren’t all that many guys you can to­tally say that about,” Wil­liams told me.

I asked Bor­rego what he knows about Kidd-Gilchrist now that he couldn’t have known from afar.

“A hum­ble spirit who wants to win,” Bor­rego de­scribed, “and he’ll do what­ever it takes to help his team.”

When I re­peated that to Kidd-Gilchrist Fri­day, he smiled know­ingly. He’s ma­ture, com­fort­able in his own skin, in touch with what he is and how he fits.

“I have a big, big role on this team. More than I ever had here. I guard 1s ( point guards) through 5s (cen­ters). I guarded (Zach) LaVine (of the Bulls), it doesn’t get any bet­ter than that.

“The shade (dis­re­spect) from what peo­ple think of me? What­ever. I don’t re­ally care. I just want to have fun with my team­mates.

“And win.”

DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­ter@char­lot­teob­server.com

De­spite com­ing off the bench, Hor­nets for­ward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) says ‘‘I have a big, big role on this team. More than I ever had here.’’

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