Sometime this week, things could be slightly clearer regarding LaMelo Ball's status.
When the Charlotte Hornets announced Ball underwent surgery on March 23 to address a fracture on his right wrist, they mentioned the rookie would be re-evaluated in a month. Tuesday marks exactly four weeks and he's expected to have a scan on his wrist this week. Once that happens, the Hornets should have a better idea of the recovery timetable and Ball can take the next step in the rehabilitation process.
In Part II of an exclusive interview with SI.com's Hornets channel, coach James Borrego (Part I is here if you missed it) discussed how they are keeping Ball sharp while he's out, outside expectations being ramped up, owner Michael Jordan's drive to win and more.
You've talked a lot about the core principles you are trying to instill into the team. Can you explain what they are to those who are unfamiliar and what you want to accomplish with them?
Our core principles that define our culture are No. 1 being centered and fully present. That when you walk in our building you are here with us, you are present, ready to work. And I always say this to our guys, ‘Be where your feet are.’ No wasted time, no water energy elsewhere. No wasted energy on the past. Be fully centered and present in the moment in getting better.
The second one would be just curiosity. We want players that are curious about the game. They are perpetual students of the game. They want to get better. They want to develop. There’s a hunger, there’s an appetite. That’s a core piece of what we are trying to build here.
The third piece has probably got us through this entire season, which is being fully connected as a team. Through the highs and lows of the season staying connected, never giving in. Holding each other up, being relationship-focused. One of the things I pride myself in as a coach is being relationship-centered and focused. With my staff, there’s constant communication. Even when we disagree or at times people aren’t on the same page, the way we get through that is we communicate, we stay connected. I think this team has exceeded expectations this year because of that. They’ve stayed the course and they’ve stayed together on the floor and off the floor. I’ve seen it on both sides.
And then (lastly), we always compete. It goes back to last year. One of those core principles is we always compete. Whether we are out-manned, out-talented, we’re injured, we're down 10 with a minute to go, we stay the course and we continue to compete to the last minute. We compete 'til the last day. That's what we do here and that’s the standard. So, I’m proud of our guys for that. They’ve stayed this course and this was laid in the roots of last season. When nobody thought we could do anything last year, when everybody looked at our roster and said that's probably the least-experienced, least-experienced roster in the NBA we just did not accept that. And I’m not going to accept that. I don’t value my team based on what I hear or from the outside. I value what I see in their work and their commitment to each other. And that’s how we’ve built this thing.
How much do you embrace the increased expectations??
It brings me back to the biggest point: our drive, our goal is always about getting better. The wins, the seeds, all that will take care of itself if we do it the right way. If we bring in the right players, if we bring in the right people. If we work the right way. If we maintain our standards. If we don’t slip from day to day, game to game, that the goal is always to get better every day, I truly believe that the wins and the seed will take care of itself ultimately. But I get the expectations that gather throughout a season where maybe you are winning more than what’s expected. You can look at all the boards, the pre-rankings before the season. Nobody had us above 24, 25 wins. And that drives us, but it ultimately doesn’t drive us. We are driven. My job is to keep us driven by the day to day growth, and ultimately those other things will take care of itself.
I love the standard of pushing the bar. Ultimately that’s where we need to do. We need the bar to be raised every single year. And it gets uncomfortable for me as a leader, as a head coach. But I love being uncomfortable. I like that feeling of being uncomfortable. It pushes me to get better. It pushes me to demand more excellence in our program. All those things push us to get better. So I’m OK being uncomfortable when people raise the expectations or the level is raised. To be a championship organization you’ve got to get uncomfortable. You have to have some success, you have to have some failure. But at the end of the day, to get there you have to push yourself. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Having no expectations is comfortable. People like to live in that world of no expectations, no pressure. Ultimately I’m Ok with that. That’s what pushes me every morning to be better. It pushes me to find ways to push our group to be better and ultimately that’s where I want to be. Because at the end of the day, I will be my harshest critic and judge. When I look in the mirror I’m going to say to myself, ‘Did I do the best with what I was given? Did I get the most out of the group that I was given? Did I push these players to their max to be their best? Did I push the group to be their best?’ If I can say that I did my job and I can be satisfied with that.
How are you helping LaMelo and keeping him engaged while he's out?
Well we are helping him to continue his growth as a student of the game. Melo has been a jolt of energy for our program. I couldn’t be more excited and thrilled to have this kid in my program. He’s exceeded all my expectations as a person, as a player. I’m thrilled that I get to coach this kid and he fires me up every day to come to practice. He pushes me to get better when I watch his spirit, when I watch his joy for the game. So with him being out, there was a lot of disappointment. When he hurt the wrist, there was disappointment on his end. I was saddened, I was frustrated for him to have a special season like that come to a halt. Ultimately we don’t know if he will come back or not, but he had a major disappointment and disruption there. But my goal is to move him forward. We’ve got to get past that.
And he got through that pretty quickly. I think the disappointment hit him for the first three or four days (because) of what an injury like that (does), the setback that it brought to his season. But he quickly rebounded. And he said OK, how do I get better from here? I’m going to come back better. So the things that I can do with him is watch film with him, talk through his areas of growth and development. Have him watch different edits. He and our coaching staff are working on the floor at times, just through our defensive schemes. They are watching film together. Those are the biggest things that we can do with him right now. We’ll try to keep him in shape as best we can. We are doing that in the weight room, on the court as much as we can in a limited capacity. But we are trying to keep his body right, and keep his mind growing and developing and he’ll come back a stronger player.
What's it been like working for Michael Jordan and how driven is he as owner to have a winning product in Charlotte?
Well he’s obviously one of the greatest competitors, no matter the sport. One of the greatest players to walk the face of the earth and it’s his internal drive that makes him special. We’ve seen physical talents like Michael. There’s been a lot of physical talents, athletic talents out there. But what separates him was the drive to be great and using the failures as motivation to get better. And I think that’s one of the things that always stood out to me in that ("The Last Dance") documentary, is how motivated and driven he was by his failures, his shortcomings. That’s what really pushed him to be great. The success didn’t happen overnight. He didn’t come in this league and win from Day One. It took years of development for him. It took years to push him and drive him to be great. And once he tasted it — success — he didn’t let go of it.
He didn’t get comfortable. He stayed in that uncomfortable mode. He pushed himself to be even better and those are things that I’ve learned about him in my short time with him -- is his drive to be great. And I love that. I love being around people that want to be great, that demand greatness. And he’s one of these owners that wants to see this organization succeed. Not just in a minimal way, but at the maximum level of chasing NBA championships. That’s his goal, that’s his vision. I love the he's entrusted me to carry out the vision and to develop that. And I believe we have a great partnership. (GM) Mitch (Kupchak), Michael, (assistant GM) Buzz (Peterson), myself, we are constantly communicating. We have full alignment, full trust and he allows me to coach and grow this team as I sees fit. So he provides me the resources, he provides me an outlet. I can bounce things off of him and he gives me feed back.