At LaMelo’s Ball, an accidental reconstruction of The Pursuit of Happyness

Houston – The game was still a long way off – no hint against the Rockets for another eight hours – but LaMelo Ball’s competitive juices were already in high gear.

The 21-year-old doesn’t like to lose, it’s a concept that’s ingrained in his DNA – from Chino Hills, California, to Australia and now Charlotte. The Hornets point guard wants to win everything – Even a simple knockout game in the early morning shootout round.

The only problem here is that I just lost the ball – to an assistant coach. However. For someone who truly believes they shoot better than everyone else, this is a shocking development. He won’t be satisfied until he wins, even if it means being one of the last teammates to come off the Toyota Center floor.

“Aye P! P! Don’t leave yet,” Paul pleads with forward BJ Washington, who is already dressed and headed to the team bus.

“Go get your popcorn, bro,” the coach replies almost immediately.

At the baseline sits a laughing Terry Rozier – ball partner in the backcourt – who was also on his way out but showed a surprising interest in the 3-point shootout.

The game continues, first to make 10. Now the coaches and coaches are all set, exactly what the ball wants. He loves attention. And now, he’s found his groove and can’t miss it.

Deep ball threes come one after another in quick succession. Coach, who was in high spirits and trash-talking earlier, struggles to keep up as he slowly realizes what he’s signed up for.

“Don’t miss the money!” Ball screams.

The coach replied, “I won’t.” In some ways, he was already defeated even though the score was tied at eight. The ball hits another, the coach misses again. By the time the tenth attempt at the ball went up, he had already begun to walk the floor. He knows it’s good.

“He can’t mess with me!” Ball screams happily.

“Aye P! Pack the bags,” Ball cries out. “Let’s get the f—on!”

(Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

As Charlotte’s emotional compass, Paul’s passion for the game is infectious. His spirit and positive attitude as well. This is the biggest reason why the 13-35 Hornets, despite having the third-worst record in the NBA, never hung their heads or let outside frustrations rip through their locker room. It’s been a wild season so far, but Ball and the rest of the organization seem to be getting on with their feet. In other words, confidence in the process and command of the ball.

“We pretty much took each match one at a time,” said Paul. the athlete. “I try to get wins. Keep our heads right. Not letting our record destroy us.”

“Just high spirits, man,” Rosier said. “It never goes down. It never goes up, it never goes down. Being in the spotlight since you’re a kid, knowing who he is, it’s easy to be up or down. But he stays in the moment and I always respect that. He’s a great guy.”

This season hasn’t been what anyone within the organization expected, but stumbling upon an accidental rebuild is a blessing in disguise. It’s definitely better than being stuck in NBA purgatory – not good enough to compete but very good. Over the past two seasons, the Hornets have finished 10th in the Eastern Conference on both occasions and have lost out on the Play-In Championship. The four seasons leading up to that placed it tenth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh. It’s been six seasons since Charlotte has had a healthy court.

Injuries ruined this list. He has been out of the ball for more than half of the season with ankle and shoulder problems. Gordon Hayward, who earns over $30 million a year, has missed 25 games. Kelly Ober Jr. has missed 13 games and Terry Rozier has missed 10. It’s hard to win in the NBA, a task that becomes nearly impossible when you lose so much of your core. Miles Bridges, the team’s leading scorer during the 2021-22 season, has been out of the league since his arrest last June on felony domestic violence charges (Bridges has pled not to contest and was recently sentenced to three years in prison). It was a huge change for Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who recently became the winningest coach in franchise history. Even the most talented coaching staff will have a hard time adjusting.

“I think the whole thing you want to try to create, in any season, is find ways to get better every single day,” Clifford said. “You have to be able to handle frustration just as much as success too. I’m proud of the way they hung there and the attitude we had about it. We’ve been playing long distances without key players and it’s tough.”

It’s hard to compare Charlotte and other places like Houston, Detroit, Utah, or San Antonio. Two are not rebuilt from the same thing. The Hornets are in a downturn but have the ability to turn things around over time. They will just need some outside help to do so.


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For starters, finding a new home for Hayward might be the best of all parties. He’s still a good player — the Hornets have defended about six points better with him on the ground this season and have had a positive presence there — but at 32, he’s still $60 million in debt over the next two seasons and hasn’t played more than 53 games since 2019. Oubre and Mason Plumlee are set to go into free agency this summer. Rozier is in a similar boat with Hayward — a talented player who can help win teams but may not be the best long-term for a franchise that needs a reset, especially at this price point (Rozier signed a $96 million extension over the offseason).

But the good news for the Hornets is that they’re not in a dire situation like franchises desperately looking for a cornerstone to build around. As strange as it sounds, they might end up winning the Victor Wimpanyama lottery. Even if they were to get the second overall pick, Charlotte could easily pack that in and make a quality return on assets. The jury is still out with the likes of James Bucknight and Mark Williams, but the Hornets still do a solid job drafting overall. Charlotte’s lifeline doesn’t begin and end with the draft — they already have a pivot in the ball. He’s young and athletic and has gotten better every season that he’s been running the show.

“It has grown tremendously,” Rozier said. the athlete. “Just the work he puts in, his confidence. He has so much faith in himself before anyone. That’s important. I just love seeing his growth every single day.”

“I just listen and do,” Paul said of his individual development. “keep on trying.

Per glass cleaning, Charlotte is 5.6-plus offense with the ball on the floor, good for the 85th percentile. During his first two seasons, his impact was in the 60th and 65th percentiles, respectively. A career-high 8.2 average helps the game, and field vision and IQ are what the front office can build around.

“There I am,” Paul said confidently of his place among the NBA’s best playmakers. Easier said than done but the ball has real gravitational force. He makes those around him better and Clifford knows that better than anyone.

“I enjoyed it,” Clifford said. “Melo has a passion for the game. He wants to win so badly and wants so badly to make improvements in every area of ​​the game. He’s very hard on himself, he’s a good worker and a great teammate. Coaching him isn’t hard.”

“A great coach,” Paul said of his relationship with Clifford. “We watch (a lot of) movies, it helps me a lot. I just love that he’s here, I’m glad he’s here. We love having him and we just try to get better every day. Keep building.”

When you’re watching the ball – whether it’s on the field with his teammates or in the locker room – there’s something about him that makes others approach him. Sure, he can be goofy and silly at times, but he means well. It is a diamond in the rough that needs nurturing and development. But no matter what the Hornets go through, Paul will remain true to himself — and his team must follow suit.

“Same person,” Paul said with a smile. “Only here is a real hoopin’. Nothing has really changed.”

(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)


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