Charles Lee

Hornets Notes: Smith, Lee, Offseason, Simpson

Nick Smith Jr., a first-round pick in 2023, is hoping to carve out consistent rotation minutes in 2024/25 under new Hornets head coach Charles Lee, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

The 20-year-old appeared in 51 games as a rookie last season, averaging 5.9 RPG, 1.4 RPG and 1.2 APG on .391/.432/.867 shooting in 14.3 MPG. He pointed to solid defense as his path to regular playing time.

That’s what’s going to get you on the court,” Smith said. “I’m a guard, small guard, at that for the NBA. I’m 6-3 and have a long wingspan, but I’ve got to be able to guard the best guards in the country, and the best guards in the NBA, and the best wings at times. And I want my team to count on me to get those stops, because I want that challenge.

And I’m pretty sure everybody knows I want that challenge, too. So, it’s just repping it each and every day, especially coming out here and just not taking any games lightly, it’s playing with the team. The team understands that winning comes first, defense comes first and Coach Lee has definitely preached that.”

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • First-year head coach Lee is drawing rave reviews from his players even though he’s only been around the team for a handful of weeks, according to Boone. Lee decided to lead the summer league squad after finishing out last season as an assistant for the title-winning Celtics. “No. 1, I’m so excited to be part of this Hornets organization and also love the game, love to coach,” Lee told The Observer. “And I feel like I’ve been away from the guys as I went on that playoff run. And now’s my opportunity to start building with them, start learning some terminology, learning the players and also just create an environment of, ‘We’re all going to get down to work like nobody’s above anything.’ And so I was just ready to hit the ground running.”
  • The Hornets have been very active this offseason, making changes to the back end of the roster and agreeing to re-sign Miles Bridges to a three-year, $75MM contract. Those series of moves suggest that new head of basketball operations Jeff Peterson and new co-owners Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall are focused on improving the team’s talent pool rather than going with the status quo, Boone writes for The Observer.
  • Rookie guard KJ Simpson, the 42nd overall pick of last month’s draft, signed a two-way contract that covers two seasons, a league source tells Keith Smith of Spotrac (Twitter link). A two-time All-Pac-12 honoree during his three-season stint with the Colorado Buffaloes, the 6’0″ Simpson averaged 19.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.9 APG and 1.6 SPG in ’23/24.

Kemba Walker Returns To Hornets In Coaching Role

The Hornets have officially announced Charles Lee‘s staff for the new head coach’s first season in Charlotte, and the group includes one particularly notable name. According to a press release, former Hornets star Kemba Walker has been hired as a player enhancement coach.

Walker officially announced his retirement as a player on Tuesday and wasted no time transitioning into the next stage of his career. He hinted in Tuesday’s announcement that a new job in the NBA might be coming, writing, “Basketball will forever be a part of my life so this isn’t goodbye. I’m excited for what’s next.”

The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Walker became the Hornets’ full-time starting point guard in his second NBA season and maintained that role through the 2018/19 campaign. He earned three All-Star berths and averaged 19.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in 34.1 minutes per game across 605 total regular season games during his time in Charlotte before leaving for Boston in a sign-and-trade in 2019.

Lee is a former Celtics assistant, but his time in Boston didn’t overlap with Walker’s.

Most of the rest of Lee’s staff has been previously reported. It includes assistant coaches Lamar Skeeter, Josh Longstaff, Chris Jent, Blaine Mueller, Ryan Frazier, Matt Hill, and Jermaine Bucknor, the Hornets confirmed.

Zach Peterson has been hired as an assistant coach and director of player development, while Zeke Chapman has been named head video coordinator.

Southeast Notes: Ware, Highsmith, Martin, Wizards, Lee, Ball

Kel’el Ware gained a reputation of having a low motor during his one season at Oregon. He played with much more effort during his one season with Indiana and that’s why the Heat had no qualms about selecting him with the No.  15 pick, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel writes.

“I think that’s a low-hanging-fruit description of him,” Adam Simon, the Heat’s VP of basketball operations, said. “Kel’el is not that. I think he went to Oregon, was playing behind an established player, an older player. He played in every game out there, saw a better situation for himself to go to Indiana. For him, he showed what he can do. He played with a motor. He played with intensity. And I think we’re talking about a young player that has an edge to him.”

Simon has another description of Ware in terms of what he brings to the table, according to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald.

“Kel’el is a three-and-D center,” he said. “It is not easy to find 7-footers who can play out on the perimeter offensively and also be able to defend with his ability to shot block and defend the post. For us, that was very appealing.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • Don’t expect the Heat to re-sign both Haywood Highsmith and Caleb Martin in free agency, Chiang reports in a separate story. Highsmith is set to become an unrestricted free agent and Martin holds a $7.1MM option on his contract, which he will likely decline. With the Heat’s payroll already near the second apron, the best Miami can realistically hope for is to re-sign one or the other, Chiang writes.
  • The Wizards’ moves in recent days signal that they’re attempting to build for four or five years down the road, while focusing on the crucial 2025 and 2026 draft lotteries, Josh Robbins of The Athletic opines. They made three selections in Wednesday’s first round. If that trio plays significant minutes as rookies, it’s almost a given the Wizards will be on the fast track to the bottom of the standings the next two seasons as they develop.
  • Charles Lee, the new Hornets coach, said that LaMelo Ball is focused on being durable next season after a couple of injury-riddle campaigns. “I think that he’s just doing all that he can possibly do to make sure that he’s more available this year, a little bit healthier,” Lee told Roderick Boone of the Charlotte Obersver. “Injuries are going to happen, but if you can do a lot of the work on the front end, hopefully you can create some luck where you avoid one or two of these little minor, nagging injuries. And then outside of that, I just think that offensively, he’s going to be a big component or a big part of us being able to play fast.”
  • The Hornets are coming off a 21-win season but Lee is impressed with the talent level within the roster, according to the Associated Press. “We have a very, very good team here,” Lee said. “We’ve been snakebit with some injuries. … But this group is focused on the right things. The expectations are that we are going to compete every night, whether it’s a home game, road game or whoever is playing. This is going to be a group that is together offensively and defensively, no matter who is on the floor.”

Scotto’s Latest: J. Smith, Toppin, Weaver, Hartenstein, Huerter, O’Neale, More

Early indications suggest that Pacers power forward Jalen Smith will decline his $5.4MM player option for next season and become an unrestricted free agent, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports in his latest aggregate mock draft. Sources tell Scotto that a final decision hasn’t been made, but Smith appears to be leaning toward testing the free agency waters. He has a June 29 deadline to opt in for 2024/25.

Smith, 24, appeared in 61 games this season and posted a career high in scoring at 9.9 PPG, along with 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 17.2 minutes per night. He was selected 10th overall by Phoenix in the 2020 draft and was acquired by Indiana at the 2022 trade deadline.

Scotto notes that rival teams are watching to see whether the Pacers will re-sign restricted free agent Obi Toppin. If the fourth-year power forward reaches a new deal, there’s a belief that Indiana might be willing to trade Jarace Walker, who was a lottery pick last June.

Scotto shares more inside information in his aggregate draft:

  • Washington is believed to be a potential destination for former Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who recently parted ways with the team, Scotto writes, noting that Weaver was once part of Oklahoma City’s front office along with Wizards executives Michael Winger and Will Dawkins.
  • Scotto talked with some NBA executives who believe the Magic should be considered a threat to sign Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein. Orlando could have close to $50MM in cap space to work with.
  • Executives also expect the Kings to explore deals involving Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes, Scotto adds.
  • The Raptors plan to work out an extension with Scottie Barnes this summer, sources tell Scotto. The versatile swingman made his first All-Star appearance this year.
  • Scotto echoes other reports in stating that Royce O’Neale is likely to reach a new contract with the Suns. The 31-year-old forward, who was acquired from Brooklyn at the trade deadline, is expected to receive about $10MM per year, according to Scotto.
  • Vice president of basketball operations Brent Barry isn’t expected to return to the Spurs next season, sources tell Scotto. The longtime NBA player has been an executive with San Antonio since 2018.
  • Assistant coach Jason Love will likely leave the Sixers and join Doc Rivers’ staff with the Bucks, Scotto states. Love previously worked for Rivers in Philadelphia.
  • The Hornets are assembling a staff of assistants for new head coach Charles Lee. Scotto hears it will include Lamar SkeeterJosh LongstaffChris JentRyan FrazierZach PetersonMatt Hill and Blaine Mueller.

Charles Lee Talks Hornets Roster, Job Search, Celtics

Newly minted Hornets head coach Charles Lee, still currently an assistant with the Celtics, recently reflected on his first opportunity as an NBA head coach during an extensive interview with Marc J. Spears of Andscape.

Lee told Spears that he is excited to guide a talented Charlotte club that, as stewarded by new owners Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall, looks prepared to return to relevance for the first time in eons.

“There was a lot of joy in getting the Charlotte job,” Lee said. “And I also get to do it in a city that’s great. A basketball city. I get to work for a president (Jeff Peterson) that I have a ton of respect for. And he’s really good… And then there is a new ownership that is going to invest in the team and help us get to where we need to be. And the talent on the roster.”

Lee appears confident that the Hornets will be able to rebound from their recent years logged as a lottery-bound doormat. Last year, Charlotte finished with a 21-61 record, despite fielding a roster headlined by point guard LaMelo Ball, forwards Brandon Miller and Miles Bridges, and center Mark Williams — Ball and Williams missed significant time due to injuries.

Lee has observed Ball in a pair of workouts, has already been interviewing possible assistant coaches over Zoom, and hosted Miller, Williams and new team president Peterson at Celtics playoff games.

“I’m so excited for a number of reasons,” Lee said. “Nothing is ever given to you. And you have to work for it. And that’s what I’m all about and the mentality I want to bring to Charlotte, too. It’s not going to be easy. No one is going to give us anything. But we have to work every day. You have to be obsessed with daily improvement.”

Lee spoke with Kings head coach Mike Brown about how to manage preparing for his new opportunity while still focusing on serving as an assistant coach for a Finals team, a situation Brown found himself in while with the Warriors in 2022.

“I actually reached out to Coach Brown,” Lee said. “And I remember reading that he was trying to do both during the Golden State-Sacramento time. I just wanted to hear from him. What are some nuggets of advice you can give me as I go through the same thing? But he was very helpful.”

Boston currently leads the Mavericks 3-0 in the Finals, a margin from which no team has ever rallied at any level of the NBA playoffs. But Lee insists he remains dialed-in on the task at hand. Spears reports that Lee intends to coach Charlotte’s summer league club next month.

“When my Celtics hat is on, I’m fully engaged,” Lee insisted. “That is where my mind is at. When I leave the arena, all of the sudden you have to think about your staff and connecting with your players and what does the training camp and summer league look like. I’ve been making pretty good progress.”

Southeast Notes: Fultz, Heat, Bridges, Lee

Free agency is quickly approaching for Magic guard Markelle Fultz, who is hoping to re-sign with Orlando, writes Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Fultz battled through recurring problems with his left knee that limited him to 43 games this season. He began the season as a starter, but only remained in that role for 18 games and saw his numbers drop across the board as he struggled to stay on the court.

“I had my ups and downs,” Fultz said. “I had my little bumps and bruises on my knee and arms. I’m just glad I was able to finish the season out healthy. Of course, I missed some games during the season but being able to finish the year off with my brothers, have that experience of the playoffs and make it to a Game 7 was huge for me. I’m just grateful.”

After a rocky start to his NBA career, the top pick in the 2017 draft appeared to have established himself with the Magic during the 2022/23 season. He started all 60 games he played, set career highs with 14.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game and had career-best shooting marks of 51.4% from the field and 31% from three-point range. But his future seems less certain now at age 26 and coming off an injury-riddled season.

“I understand it’s a business,” Fultz said at the team’s exit interviews. “I understand some guys are going to be gone [and] some coaches might be gone. You never know. You obviously hope for the best, but understand that you can only control what you can control, and in my eyes, I always try to do that.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Head coach Erik Spoelstra will focus on fixing the Heat‘s offense this summer, per Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Injuries made it difficult for Miami to establish any continuity as Spoelstra was forced to use 35 different starting lineups. Beyond that, Chiang points out that the Heat had difficulty with inside scoring — attempting just 28.5% of their shots around the rim, which was the third fewest in the league, and shooing 63.4% in the restricted area, which ranked seventh worst.
  • Miles Bridges‘ decision in free agency will set the tone for the rest of the Hornets‘ summer, observes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. The team would love to re-sign Bridges, but he figures to have plenty of options on the open market after posting a career season while playing on a $7.9MM qualifying offer. Boone notes that Bridges’ $15MM cap hold and the $7.5MM salary slotted for the No. 6 pick will take up most of Charlotte’s projected cap space, so the team is limited in the moves it can make until Bridges’ situation is resolved.
  • In a separate story, Boone examines the type of head coach the Hornets are getting in Boston assistant Charles Lee, who won’t be with the team full-time until after the end of the NBA Finals.

Celtics Notes: Lee, Porzingis, Tatum, Pagliuca

Celtics assistant Charles Lee is the only participant in the NBA Finals who’s working two jobs. Lee, who was hired more than a month ago as the Hornets‘ next head coach, is preparing to take over in Charlotte while fulfilling his commitment to his current team, writes Marc J. Spears of Andscape.

Lee said he sought advice from Kings head coach Mike Brown, who was in the same situation two years ago as an assistant with Golden State.

“The biggest thing is focusing on the right now, which I need to,” Lee said. “When my Celtics hat is on, I’m fully engaged. That is where my mind is at. When I leave the arena, all of the sudden you have to think about your staff and connecting with your players and what does the training camp and Summer League look like. I’ve been making pretty good progress.”

Once the Finals are done, Lee will only have a few days to spend with the Hornets before the draft and the start of free agency. He has already started to familiarize himself with the team, according to Spears, meeting LaMelo Ball for lunch, watching a pair of workouts in Charlotte, and holding Zoom calls with prospective members of his coaching staff. Lee told Spears that he plans to coach the Hornets’ Summer League team in July.

“I’m so excited for a number of reasons,” Lee said. “Nothing is ever given to you. And you have to work for it. And that’s what I’m all about and the mentality I want to bring to Charlotte, too. It’s not going to be easy. No one is going to give us anything. But we have to work every day. You have to be obsessed with daily improvement.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • The leg injury that Kristaps Porzingis suffered in Game 2 has the potential to change the direction of the series, observe Jared Weiss and Jay King of The Athletic. Weiss notes that Boston hasn’t been nearly as good defensively in the playoffs with backup big men Luke Kornet and Neemias Queta on the court, while King suggests Jayson Tatum may see time at center in small-ball lineups if Porzingis is unavailable.
  • Tatum tells Khari Thompson of The Boston Globe that he’s reached a point in his career where he can help the Celtics even when his shot isn’t falling. Tatum is just 12-of-38 from the field in the past two games, but he’s contributing by rebounding, passing and playing defense. “I think being in the Finals two years ago has helped me in this moment,” he said. “I understand that I do need to be more efficient. I do need to shoot the ball better, I would not disagree with anybody on that. But I’m not letting it bother me. I’m still trying to find ways to impact the game and dominate the game in other areas.”
  • Celtics minority owner Stephen Pagliuca spoke to Brian Lewis and Josh Kosman of The New York Post about how close he came to joining Joe Tsai in his purchase of the Nets in 2017.

Hornets Notes: Miller, Williams, Draft, Lee

After a productive rookie year, Hornets swingman Brandon Miller knows how he’s going to spend his first NBA offseason. “Weight room and eating,” he told Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer, explaining that he wants to get bigger and stronger to better handle the physical nature of the NBA.

“I’m ready to start another season right now,” Miller said. “I think my main focus this summer is to just keep putting on weight. I kind of want to build muscle mass just to be prepared for next season.”

A year ago, the Hornets were debating whether to take Miller or Scoot Henderson with the second overall pick, and the decision came down to the wire as both players made a final trip to Charlotte shortly before draft night. Miller rewarded the organization’s faith in him by appearing in 74 games and averaging 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 44% from the field and 37.3% from three-point range. He became the sixth player in Hornets history to earn first-team All-Rookie honors.

Miller talked to Boone about wanting to become more of a leader now that he has a full year of NBA experience. He also plans to spend part of the summer working out with Clippers star Paul George, a player to whom Miller has often been compared.

“I think just being on the same court with him,” Miller said, “working out together, I think that’s a blessing, just being there with your favorite player, working with him, getting better, competing with him. So, it’s all going to be fun and a great summer.”

There’s more from Charlotte:

  • Appearing on the TruTV broadcast of Friday’s playoff game, Grant Williams confirmed that Dallas considered sending him to the Bucks at the trade deadline before finalizing a deal with the Hornets, relays Brian Robb of MassLive. “It’s one of those things where we kind of worked our way, figured out what team that would look the best I feel like and Charlotte was the best opportunity,” Williams said. “I think the only other team that probably would have been an option was Milwaukee but that deal kind of fell through. Things happen.” Reporting at the time suggested there were exploratory talks between Dallas and Milwaukee involving Bobby Portis, but those discussions didn’t get serious.
  • After falling to sixth in the draft lottery, the Hornets’ best option is to trade the pick to the highest bidder, Boone contends in a separate story. With an eight-year string of missing the playoffs, Boone believes there’s an urgency to turn around the team’s fortunes right away, which is more likely to happen with a veteran player than a young project. Boone also notes that the franchise is renovating its arena and raising ticket prices, so something has to be done to spark the fans’ interest.
  • The team’s top priority for the summer involves building up a support staff for new head coach Charles Lee and making sure the entire organization is in sync with his philosophies, Boone states in a mailbag column. Boone expects Lee’s coaching staff to be completed fairly quickly, saying it won’t be like when Steve Clifford was brought back and assistants were still being hired after Summer League.
  • With Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington both being moved at the trade deadline, finding another wing is the biggest positional need this offseason, Boone adds. He said the Hornets believe in positionless basketball, so whoever add sign will likely have the responsibilities of both a shooting guard and small forward.

Hornets Notes: Skeeter, Lee, Staff, Tasks

The Hornets plan to hire Jazz assistant coach Lamar Skeeter to be their top assistant under new head coach Charles Lee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (via Twitter).

Skeeter has been with Utah for the past 10 years, starting out as a player development/video analyst before being promoted multiple times. He interviewed for the Jazz’s head coaching job — which eventually went to Will Hardy — a couple years ago, and reportedly received consideration from Charlotte this spring as well.

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • In an interview with the team’s website (YouTube link), Lee said he’s looking forward to working with Charlotte’s “talent-rich roster,” particularly the “young core” of Brandon Miller and LaMelo Ball. “It does excite me and you watch these young guys right now and they are still trying to find their way of what they are in the NBA,” Lee said. “We just have to come with the right approach, that every day we have an opportunity to get better. And so whatever that consists of for every player, we have to attack it and be obsessed with daily improvement. And I think from what I’ve seen of those guys, that have that DNA. And that’s why the Hornets decided to draft Brandon, decided to draft LaMelo. They are the types of guys you want to continue to build around.”
  • Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer lists three tasks Lee will be faced with when he begins working with the Hornets full-time — the 39-year-old is currently finishing out the season with Boston. Lee’s first order of business will be filling out his staff, which has already begun with the reported hiring of Skeeter. While it isn’t certain, there’s a strong possibility the majority of the coaching staff could be seeking employment elsewhere in the coming weeks, according to Boone, who reports that changes to the performance staff could also be in the works.
  • Was Lee the right choice for the job? Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer initially advocated for the Hornets to hire South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley. Obviously they didn’t hire Staley, but Lee seems like a solid choice due to his track record of success as an assistant, Fowler opines.

Hornets Hire Charles Lee As Head Coach

The Hornets have formally named Steve Clifford‘s successor, announcing in a press release that they’ve hired former Celtics assistant Charles Lee as their new head coach.

Lee will finish his playoff run in Boston before officially joining the Hornets, according to the announcement. Sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) that Lee will sign a four-year contract with Charlotte.

“We are excited to welcome Charles Lee as the head coach of Charlotte Hornets,” Hornets head of basketball operations Jeff Peterson said in a statement. “His high character and his ability to connect with players while also instilling a culture of accountability will serve us well as we construct a competitive team built for long-term success.

“Charles possesses a championship pedigree with a wide range of basketball knowledge and NBA experience, has a tremendous work ethic and is a great communicator. He shares our vision for this organization, and I look forward to partnering with him in building something special here in the Carolinas.”

Long viewed as the frontrunner in the Hornets’ head coaching search, Lee spent several years playing professionally in international leagues from 2006-10 before transitioning into coaching.

He was an assistant at Bucknell from 2012-14, then worked under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta from 2014-18 and in Milwaukee from 2018-23, winning a title with the Bucks in 2021. Following Budenholzer’s ouster last year, Lee was hired by the Celtics as Joe Mazzulla‘s lead assistant for the 2023/24 season.

Lee has been one of the NBA’s most popular head coaching candidates in recent years. He either interviewed with or received consideration from the Celtics, Pelicans, Magic, and Wizards in 2021; the Hornets, Lakers, Kings, and Jazz in 2022; and the Pistons, Bucks, Suns, and Raptors in 2023.

Lee has a preexisting relationship with Peterson, who worked in Atlanta’s front office when Lee was a Hawks assistant. Hornets co-owner Rick Schnall was a minority stakeholder in the Hawks at that time.

Charlotte had been in the market for a new head coach because Clifford announced in early April that he would be stepping down from his position. He’s reportedly expected to transition into a front office role following his second stint coaching the Hornets.

Lee will take over a Hornets team that is still very much in retooling mode, though there are some intriguing foundational pieces in place, led by forward Brandon Miller and guard LaMelo Ball. Miller finished third in Rookie of the Year voting this spring; Ball has battled ankle issues in recent years, but is a former Rookie of the Year who has an All-Star berth under his belt and is still just 22 years old.

The Hornets are the second team to complete a head coaching search since the regular season ended, joining the Nets (Jordi Fernandez). The Wizards and Lakers continue to seek new coaches.