Hornets enter training camp; Miles Bridges' future uncertain
By STEVE REED
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Miles Bridges' future with the Charlotte Hornets remains uncertain as the team prepares to open training camp on Tuesday.
Bridges, the team's leading scorer last season, was charged with three counts of felony domestic violence in June. According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, Bridges allegedly assaulted the mother of his two young children in front of them. Bridges has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has a court date Thursday.
The uncertainty over Bridges' legal issues has left the Hornets in wait-and-see mode when it comes to their star forward. Because he's a restricted free agent, Bridges is not listed on the team's roster - and he did not attend media day on Monday.
The NBA is also monitoring the situation.
Coach Steve Clifford, who is back for a second stint with the Hornets, said he's been advised not to discuss Bridges' legal situation while the case is ongoing. However, he talked about the need for a contingency plan.
"When you play 82 games you are going to have guys injured, guys who are out, you have COVID. ... so you have to be adaptable in your thinking and make sure you have a plan B and plan C when it comes to your playing groups," Clifford said. "And this is a similar situation."
P.J. Washington would likely take Bridges' spot in the starting lineup.
Charlotte tendered Bridges a qualifying offer of $7.9 million before his arrest, a move that allowed them to match any offer sheet he signs with another team. The team had a chance to rescind that offer on July 13 but chose not to - a strong indication they still want him back.
However, because Bridges was arrested just days before the start of free agency, potential suitors shied away. The Hornets could have rescinded the qualifying offer to Bridges before July 13 but chose not to - a strong indication the four-year NBA veteran is still part of their plans.
Even if the legal situation is resolved and Bridges doesn't go to jail, there is still some uncertainty over his status. He essentially has four options: Sign an offer sheet with another team if one comes and see if the Hornets match; sign a long-term deal with the Hornets; agree to play under the Hornets' one-year qualifying offer; or sit out the entire season and become an unrestricted free agent next July.
Several Hornets players said they've reached out to Bridges and some have spoken to him, although none was willing to share details of those private conversations.
Gordon Hayward said not having Bridges back this season would alter the makeup of the Hornets, adding that "you can't replace Miles Bridges."
Bridges averaged a career-high 20.2 points, 7 rebounds and 3.8 assists last season.
"He does a lot of really good things for our team, on both sides of the ball," Hayward said. "He's a really good defender, and offensively he took a big leap last year. So it's on all of us to step up if he's not here."
Added LaMelo Ball: "I'm hoping we get him (back). I'm not really trying to throw in any negative energy and just trying to keep it positive."
Washington received some negative criticism last season for not being in shape. He took that to heart and hired a dietician during the offseason to help make sure he's eating the right foods. He said he's dropped about 12 pounds to get to 232, joking that is because "I'm eating a lot of vegetables."
Clifford said no player made more improvement during the summer than third-year center Nick Richards. Clifford said the former second-round draft pick has taken giant steps forward and foresees him as the primary backup to Mason Plumlee. Of course, Richards could get competition from 7-foot-2 center Mark Williams, the team's first-round draft pick this year from Duke.
For the second straight season some of the talk at media day focused around managing Hayward's workload.
The Hornets' small forward has only played in 93 games over the past two seasons due to various injuries. Clifford said the Hornets are planning to closely monitor how much Hayward does in practice and games in an effort to maximize his productivity.
"I feel great right now," Hayward said.
The Hornets' season ended the past two years with blowout losses in play-in games at Indiana and Atlanta. Given that the team didn't make any huge upgrades in free agency, few prognosticators are giving them a chance to be a playoff team, which is fine by guard Terry Rozier.
"We pray that we are slept on, and that teams come in here every night and play the Hornets and think it's a night off," Rozier said.
Plumlee was struggling so much with free throws last season he changed to shooting with his left hand late in the year. The veteran center said he plans to continue doing so this year, saying "it just feels better."
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Updated September 26, 2022