Uncertain times? Injuries and off-court issues limit Hornets options as they begin 2022-23 season with new “old” coach

By Richard Walker

The Charlotte Hornets begin the 2022-23 season with more questions than answers.

Steve Clifford

A season of great uncertainty comes after head coach James Borrego was fired after guiding the team to a 43-39 record last season.

It’s the first time in franchise history, a coach was fired after having a winning record but it came after Charlotte had gotten blown out in two straight NBA playoff play-in games.

To replace Borrego, Hornets owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak have turned the reins of the team over to a familiar face in Steve Clifford.

Clifford is the last Charlotte coach to lead the franchise into the playoffs, which he did twice in five seasons.

Clifford’s chore for improvement got discernibly more challenging when marquee free agent Miles Bridges, the 2021-22 leading scorer, was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in front of their two children just before the NBA free agency period started in July.

Uncertainty continues over the 24-year-old Bridges as his case has been continued seven times – most recently on Monday.

The Hornets rescinded their qualifying offer for a one-year deal with Bridges during training camp but it’s unclear if that means they’ve given up any chance of pursuing a player who had shown improvement in each of his four NBA season including last year’s career-highs of 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

With Bridges’ availability uncertain at best, the Hornets entered the season looking to lean on a projected starting lineup of guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, forwards Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington and center Mason Plumlee.

But in the preseason, all but Rozier suffered injuries and Ball (left ankle) could be out for for the first couple of weeks of the regular season after being hurt in the fourth preseason game on Oct. 10.

Hayward, who has missed 61 of the Hornets’ last 154 regular season games, missed three games with a left knee contusion. Washington missed the last two games with a right ankle injury and Mason Plumlee suffered a left foot injury in the fsourth preseason game but did start in the fifth and final preseason contest.

Clifford’s coaching history is filled with making defensive improvements for his teams, either as an assistant with the New York Knicks (2001-03), Houston Rockets (2003-07), Orlando Magic (2007-12) and Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13) or head coach with the Hornets (2013-18) and Magic (2018-21).

If the preseason is any barometer, that impact has taken yet as the Hornets yielded 112 or more points in the first four games before losing 99-94 in the final at Philadelphia to finish the preseason with an 0-5 record.

When or if the Hornets do their roster intact and/or healthy, they have a chance to have a deep, talented and youthful roster.

Backing up the projecting starters are guards Dennis Smith, Jr., James Bouknight and Kelly Oubre, forwards Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels and J.T. Thor and centers Nick Richards, Mark Williams and Kai Jones.

“I think there’s guys here that can emerge,” Clifford said. “The things we weren’t so good on defensively is going to be what we have to work on.”

After last season’s 43-39 record, oddsmakers see the Hornets projected win total in the mid 30s and an 11th-place finish in the Eastern Conference – or one spot out of the 10-team play-in tournament.

Here is the full 2021-22 regular season schedule:

19 at San Antonio, 8 p.m.
21 New Orleans, 7 p.m.
23 at Atlanta, 5:00 p.m.
26 at New York, 7:30 p.m.
28 at Orlando, 7 p.m.
29 Golden State 7 p.m.
31 Sacramento, 7 p.m.
2 at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
4 at Memphis, 8 p.m.
5 Brooklyn, 7 p.m.
7 Washington, 7 p.m.
9 Portland, 7 p.m.
10 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
12 at Miami, 8 p.m.
14 at Orlando, 7 p.m.
16 Indiana, 7 p.m.
18 at Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.
20 at Washington, 6 p.m.
23 Philadelphia, 7 p.m.
25 Minnesota, 5 p.m.
28 at Boston, 7:30 p.m.
2 Washington, 7 p.m.
3 Milwaukee, 6 p.m.
5 L.A. Clippers, 7 p.m.
7 at Brooklyn, 7:30 p.m.
9 New York, 7 p.m.
11 at Philadelphia, 6 p.m.
14 Detroit, 7 p.m.
16 Atlanta, 7 p.m.
18 at Denver, 8 p.m.
19 at Sacramento, 10 p.m.
21 at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m.
23 at L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m.
26 at Portland, 10 p.m.
27 at Golden State, 10 p.m.
29 Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.
31 Brooklyn, 7 p.m.
2 L.A. Lakers, 7 p.m.
4 Memphis, 7 p.m.
6 at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
8 at Indiana, 5 p.m.
10 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.
12 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.
14 Boston, 7 p.m.
16 Boston, 1 p.m.
18 at Houston, 8 p.m.
21 at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
23 at Utah, 9 p.m.
24 at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
26 Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
29 Miami, 1 p.m.
31 at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
2 at Chicago, 8 p.m.
3 at Detroit, 7 p.m.
5 Orlando, 1 p.m.
8 at Washington, 7 p.m.
10 at Boston, 7:30 p.m.
11 Denver, 7 p.m.
13 Atlanta, 7 p.m.
15 San Antonio, 7 p.m.
24 at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
25 Miami, 7 p.m.
27 Detroit, 7 p.m.
1 Phoenix, 7 p.m.
3 Orlando, 7 p.m.
5 at Brooklyn, 6 p.m.
7 at New York, 7:30 p.m.
9 at Detroit, 7 p.m.
11 Utah, 7 p.m.
12 Cleveland, 5 p.m.
14 Cleveland, 7 p.m.
17 Philadelphia, 7 p.m.
20 Indiana, 7 p.m.
23 at New Orleans, 8 p.m.
24 at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
26 Dallas, 1 p.m.
28 at Oklahoma City, 8 p.m.
31 Chicago, 7 p.m.
2 Toronto, 1 p.m.
4 Toronto, 7 p.m.
7 Houston, 7 p.m.
9 at Cleveland, 1 p.m.