Since they were unrestricted free agents, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ish Smith had a say in where they were going to take their respective talents.
Oubre, for one, had several suitors vying for his services, including teams like Milwaukee, Los Angeles and the L.A. Clippers. Sure, the Charlotte Hornets offered him a hefty pay day. But there was something else that drew the athletic wing to his new organization.
“It was the youth, it was the energy," Oubre said Tuesday. "It was the uphill, positive growth that we all have been seeing from this organization over the past couple of years and it’s just me being young, energetic myself. I knew that it would be a perfect fit.”
Smith, who grew up just outside Charlotte in Concord, N.C., was easily sold on the prospect of joining the Hornets. And it's not simply because he's going to be playing in the shadows of the very place he knows best. Without a doubt, that had a little something, something to do with it.
It goes deeper, though.
"Honestly," Smith said, "we played against them last year on three different occasions and the way they played -- the young guys, the athletic ability, the speed they play with, the way they share the basketball and shoot the basketball and then how they defend -- it was fun. I’m telling you even playing against them, it was fun to watch them play against other teams, scouting against them ... and then now being on this side. ... You would like the speed and the pace that I play at. I think it’s a great fit. And then being home ... home is home. This is my 12th year in the league. Everybody around me I think is more excited than me. To me, it’s like, 'Let’s get to work and let’s start something special.'"
Of course, getting a shot to play with one of the league's most exciting players didn't hurt the Hornets' prospects. LaMelo Ball's unselfish nature, knack for pinpoint passes and infectious exuberance are just a few of the plusses they can expect.
To say they are anxious may be a gross understatement.
"It’s going to be fun, I’m not going to lie," Oubre said. "Big shouts to him winning Rookie of the Year last year. I think he was well-deserving, especially through all the adversity he went through towards the latter part of the year. And to still come out on top is a testament to who he is. But this is a new year. This is going to be his second year in the league and I’m blessed to play with him. So now it’s time to have some fun and really just for him to show his skill set even more and for me to do the same while playing with him. I look forward to it. It’s going to be real fun and exciting and it’s going to be pretty swaggy, too.”
Smith will be called upon to impart some of his veteran wisdom on Ball, serving as a pseudo-mentor of sorts. But he suggested it's not a one-way street. He's going to keep his ears open when Ball has a few things he may point out.
"For me, I think leadership and growth and all that stuff is strategic," Smith said. "You build those relationships. He’s going to teach me a lot, he’s going to show me a lot and vice versa. His skill, his ability to get guys open, I’m a true point guard, I love that. I love watching him play. I love watching how he pushes the tempo, kicks the ball ahead. He plays with this joy about the game that anybody who’s ever watched me, that’s how I love watching it and love playing the game. So, for me, it’s just seeing what he sees, talking to him. He’s showing me some things and I’m showing him some things and like I said, leadership is very strategic.
"Everybody thinks because you’re older you’re supposed to be coming in and telling people what to do. I think it’s the total opposite. I think honestly you have to sit and watch and kind of learn the flow and see how things are going. Know guys, know their temperament and once you start figuring that out, then you come up to guys and start talking to them and start communicating with them and vice versa. They can tell you certain things. I think the future is very, very bright for him. Like I said, he’s very fun to watch and he’s a pass-first point guard, which for me, everybody that knows me knows that's how I am."
That's why he's ecstatic to be on the Hornets' side of things now. The frenetic, uptempo scheme they like to employ does indeed play to some of Smith's strengths and he's ready to run the opposition ragged as much as possible.
Keeping up with their, at times, breakneck speed poses a challenge.
“Yeah, it’s tough," Smith said. "I don’t know if y’all remember the third game for us to get the eighth seed when I was in D.C. When we played against them, they hit us with a wave. They were just moving the ball, hitting threes, getting to the paint. I remember at one time I talked to one of my coaches like, ‘They’re playing at a pace that we can’t keep up with’ and that’s hard to guard. And what you have to do is you just have to maintain that throughout the game, and then when it comes down to the last three, four minutes, you got to defend, possession basketball, get the right shots and it’s got to be a strategic run then.
"But for the most part, when you wear teams down like that throughout the game, a lot of guys, it’s 'No mas.' They don’t want to keep going. You kind of break their will in a sense that they get tired, you get easy layups, you get wide-open shots and they’re very unselfish. Man, that’s one thing I love about this team. They were very unselfish. They moved the basketball and that says a lot about Coach (James) Borrego. That says a lot about the point guard and those guys as a team. Melo just sharing the ball, moving the ball, it was very infectious and everybody else fed off that."
In introducing each of their acquisitions, the excitement has been palpable The newcomers are salivating, ready to contribute. It appears word of the Hornets' blossoming brand of play is apparently trickling around the league, transforming their perception.
“Yeah, definitely young, up-and-coming," Oubre said. "I would say it’s a team that you definitely don’t want to play with and it’s a team that has a lot of talent. But once we piece it all together, once we jell, once we mesh, I think that we’ll be very scary. I do think that, respectively, we’re viewed as the little brothers right now. But age means nothing. We have the talent, we have the pieces to go out there and compete with the best each and every night.
"And it’s about us applying what we learn from Coach J.B. and the coaching staff from Day One of training camp to be disciplined, and pretty much bring our 'A' game each and every game and not worry about anyone else or what they think about us. We have to just keep it within our locker room, and just continue to go out and prove what we know what we can do and that’s pretty much as simple as that.”