How Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak’s describes rookies Vernon Carey and Nick Richards?
It’s not their fault, Kupchak said. The pandemic robbed this rookie class of a normal on-boarding process to the NBA. Instead of summer league, three months of individual coaching and pick-up games with veterans, they had two weeks between the draft and training camp to move, get physicals and sign contracts.
It’s no surprise these two second-round big men have combined for just 18 minutes in the Hornets’ first 16 games. So Kupchak is sending them to Orlando, Fla., to be part of the G-League bubble on Disney’s campus starting early next month.
“They have to play,” Kupchak said Monday in a one-on-one interview with The Observer. “They’re going to have 15 games” in Florida.
The Hornets are one of 17 NBA teams that committed financially and logistically to holding a G-League season. An 18th team, made up of elite developmental prospects, the Ignite, will complete the field.
Hornets assistant coach Jay Hernandez volunteered to coach the Swarm in this bubble setting.
It’s going to be somewhat frantic — a game, on average, every other day. Going back and forth between the Hornets and Swarm rosters will be complicated by travel and COVID-19 protocols.
But Carey and Richards, along with two-way players Grant Riller and Nate Darling, will all be with the Swarm for some or all of the G-League bubble.
No game time, little practice
Kupchak and Hornets coach James Borrego both say there is even less practice time in this NBA season than there is in a normal one, after the league putting together a 72-game schedule that started two months later than usual.
While that doesn’t much impact third overall pick LaMelo Ball, who was going to play regardless of circumstance, development of Carey and Richards has been limited.
“More than ever, there’s been a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ “ effect on rookies, Kupchak said. “With this COVID thing, all of a sudden you’re in Charlotte, and two days later it’s your first day of camp. It’s overwhelming. Much more so than in years past. That’s tough!”
The Hornets fielding a G-League team at Disney is meant to mitigate that. Carey (32nd overall pick out of Duke), Richards (42nd pick out of Kentucky) and the others will get a week of practice, a scrimmage against another team, then a 15-game season on Disney’s campus.
There was talk in the fall there might be no G-League this winter. That worried the Hornets, who used the Greensboro Swarm to develop Devonte Graham, Cody and Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels.
“It’s been very challenging for the league to put this together,” Kupchak said. “But I think everybody recognizes how important it is. Especially, for (younger, building) teams like us.”
Call-up, scouting complications
Having the G-League team 90 miles away made it easy for the Hornets to shuttle young players between Charlotte and Greensboro and for executives Kupchak, Buzz Peterson and Larry Jordan to monitor progress.
This will be far more complicated. The NBA is still finalizing protocols for players to enter and exit the G-League bubble. Call-ups back to the Hornets won’t be so simple, nor will scouting (although each NBA team can send two scouts to watch G-League games in person).
Kupchak is fine with the fuss and added cost. There was clear relief in his voice Monday that the Swarm would play.
“This is important to us,” Kupchak said. “We’ve had some success. We want that to continue.”