Hornets GM: Ball could return but decision at least a month away

By Richard Walker

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday morning he hasn’t ruled out a return this season for talented injured rookie LaMelo Ball.

LaMelo Ball (left) is presented with his NBA Eastern Conference rookie of the month honors from general manager Mitch Kupchak

“We have to wait,” Kupchak said in a zoom news conference discussing the team’s acquisition of veteran guard Brad Wanamaker. “He’s casted. We’ll wait until five weeks. And we’ll evaluate where we are as a team at that time.”

Ball had surgery on Tuesday to for a fracture in his right wrist. Performed at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City by Dr. Michelle Carlson, Ball’s wrist was immobilized and later reevaluated.

Five weeks after Ball’s surgery would be April 27, at which time the Hornets would have 12 games left in its regular season.

“He’ll be reevaluated in four of five weeks,” Kupchak said. “What we’re not going to do is put his health in jeopardy.”

Kupchak confirmed the initial report that the Hornets feared Ball’s injury was season-ending.

But Kupchak said that was based on an X-ray at a NBA arena and not a more thorough Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test that revealed the full extent of Ball’s injury.

Carlson had previously performed two successful hand surgeries on center Cody Zeller.

“What it (the surgery) doesn’t do is preclude him from coming back this season,” Kupchak said.

A favorite to win the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year award, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.59 steals in 41 games this season. Since becoming a starter on Feb. 1, Ball averaged 19.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals in 21 starts.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Ball was the only rookie in the last 60 years to lead all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals at the All-Star Break.

In Wanamaker, the Hornets get a 31-year-old guard who was undrafted in 2011 out of Pittsburgh. After seven seasons largely playing overseas – he did help the Austin Toros win the 2012 National Basketball Development League title – Wanamaker got his chance to play in the NBA with the Boston Celtics in 2018.

During his rookie season, Wanamaker played alongside current Hornets Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward. He spent two years with the Celtics and signed as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors last summer. In 146 career games, Wanamaker has averaged 5.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

“One thing we’ve got going really good this season is chemistry on the team,” Kupchak said of the Hornets, who are 22-21 entering Friday night’s 8 p.m. home game against the Miami Heat. “If you’re going to add a player, you don’t want to disrupt the chemistry on the team. So the chemistry part of it was important.”

To acquire Wanamaker, the Hornets sent a protected 2022 second round pick to the Warriors.