Hornets ex-starter is having ‘so much fun’
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.’’