Kreider: Howard, Monk and more buzz in Charlotte

Dwight Howard is aiming for new basketball life with the Hornets.

We’re closing in fast on Oct. 18, the date the Charlotte Hornets tip off their regular season at the Detroit Pistons’ brand new Little Caesars Arena. The new digs won’t be the only exciting storyline about this game, however.

Head coach Steve Clifford has a revamped roster, one that he’s hoping to lead to the postseason for the third time in five years. New faces, new jerseys and, hopefully, new results will be in store for the Hornets in 2017-18. Here’s the latest buzz swarming out of Buzz City as we count the days until tip-off.

1. GM Rich Cho announced the team’s training camp roster this week, which includes former North Carolina standouts Marcus Paige and Isaiah Hicks. There’s no denying owner Michael Jordan likes his fellow Tar Heels. Also notable is the addition of former Columbia University swingman Luke Petrasek, whose 6’10” length paired with his all-around scoring aptitude have garnered comparisons to former Chicago Bull Toni Kukoc. See the full roster here.

2. According to a recent article by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, Michael Jordan reached out to Dwight Howard this past summer with plans to revitalize the big man’s career.

“On June 20, Howard was walking out of L.A. Fitness in Atlanta, swaddled in Hawks sweats, when Michael Jordan called. […] ‘Why play pissed when you can play determined?’ Jordan, the Hornets’ owner, explained that he was bringing Howard to Charlotte to learn the difference.”

3. At this point, our ears are way more familiar with rookie Malik Monk than our eyes are. We’ve heard an awful lot about the guy who owns the title “All-time leading freshman scorer” at the University of Kentucky, but have seen much less. The 11th overall draft pick has yet to do much of anything on the court due to a high ankle sprain suffered during pre-draft workouts. Monk recently sat down with Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer in an exclusive interview, which shed some light on Monk the player and the person.

The rookie scoring guard knows his limitations: “Monk is a couple of inches shorter than ideal for an NBA shooting guard. Like most rookies, he needs to get stronger, but by all reports, he’s applied himself in the Hornets weight room.”

Monk doesn’t lack confidence: “He describes himself as an alpha male, possessing a dominating personality. He says that’s as essential to his new profession as shooting and dribbling.”

He’s also excited to be playing for MJ: “I’m playing for the greatest player who ever played basketball,” Monk said Tuesday of Hornets owner and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. “I can call and ask him questions, and I have (new teammates) Kemba (Walker) and Dwight (Howard), too.”

Read Bonnell’s full article here.

4. As I’m sure you’re aware, ESPN recently released its annual #NBArank, which ranks the NBA’s top players for the upcoming season. Or, as ESPN more explicitly describes it, “Who will be the best player this season?” In the seven-year history of #NBArank LeBron James has swept the competition like an Eastern Conference playoff opponent, ranking No. 1 each and every time. That’s the unsurprising part. What’s more unexpected was ESPN’s bearish outlook on the Hornets’ starting point guard.

Kemba Walker improved virtually every offensive statistic this past season, propelling himself into the conversation of top point guards in the league. Despite this sixth-year surge, his #NBArank only improved by a mere four spots (from 38 to 34). Though Walker ranked 23rd in the league in Hollinger’s Value Added (VA) and Estimated Wins Added (EWA) in 2017, his preseason #NBArank remains lower than those of Paul Millsap, Mike Conley and CJ McCollum, while sitting just one spot ahead of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. This projection seems low for a player who’s undoubtedly on the rise and such an integral piece of Charlotte’s success.

In related news, ESPN’s own Stephen A. Smith recently bashed the annual ranking, calling it “garbage”.

5. Regardless of how Kemba Walker and the Hornets perform this season, we can all rest assured that they’ll rank near the top when it comes to appearance. The team unveiled new retro edition uniforms this week that rekindle the designs used in the early 1990s. Please use caution and wear appropriate eyewear before clicking the link, as the fire from these unis may burn your retinas!

Christopher Kreider | @krydr1