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With starting center out 4-6 weeks, Hornets coach looks to veteran and rookies as replacement options

By Richard Walker

Hornets rookie center Nick Richards going through Thursday practice drills. [Hornets.com photo]
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego has spent much of training camp raving about the team’s improved depth.

After starting center Cody Zeller suffered a broken hand that will keep him out for more than a month, that depth will be put to the test for at least a month.

“He’s going to be out for a minute but I don’t know how long,” Borrego said during a Thursday zoom news conference. “We’re going to have to play a little small with P.J. at the five and the two rookies (Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards). They’re going to have to be ready.”

The Hornets later confirmed Thursday evening that Zeller had surgery on the fourth metacarpal of his left hand in New York City. The team said Zeller will out and will be re-evaluated in four weeks. A Thursday afternoon ESPN report said Zeller would be out four to six weeks after the surgery.

Without Zeller, veteran center Bismack Biyombo will be elevated to the starting lineup; Biyombo has 271 career starts among the 637 games in his 10-year career, including 197 starts for Charlotte.

Carey and Richards didn’t play in Wednesday’s 121-114 season-opening loss at Cleveland but Borrego said both got plenty of practice reps on Thursday.

A 6-foot-10, 230-pounder who was ACC freshman of the year last season at Duke before being selected No. 32 overall in the second round of last month’s NBA draft, Carey averaged 1.5 points, 0.5 rebounds and 3.0 minutes in two preseason games.

Richards, a 6-foot-11, 245-pounder out of Kentucky, was selected No. 42 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans last month but acquired by Charlotte in a draft night trade. He averaged 2.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 6.0 minutes in three preseason games.

“The cupboard is a little bare without Cody,” Borrego said. “But we have to step up, whether that’s a rookie or a veteran.”

Biyombo is disappointed that Zeller will be out but welcomes the opportunity for himself and his teammates.

“You never want to see someone go down like that,” Biyombo said of Zeller’s injury that happened early in the fourth of Wednesday’s loss. “We’re going to have to focus on whatever challenge we have to face to make up for him being out.”