LaMelo Ball on Hornets: 'I Feel We Were Real Tight and Brothers'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVApril 15, 2022

Charlotte Hornets' LaMelo Ball, center, comes out for player introductions during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Saturday, April 2, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball said he's hopeful the bond developed by the players throughout the 2021-22 season will have a lasting impact on the organization.

Ball, speaking at a season-ending press conference Thursday after the Hornets were eliminated from the play-in tournament by the Atlanta Hawks, told reporters about the team's chemistry:

"I feel like this team is real tight. I feel like it was a brotherhood. We would chill off the court and on the court and everything. So I feel we were real tight and brothers. It's big to stay together. Especially games like [Wednesday] night and definitely if you are going to be in the playoffs or make a playoff run, you already know the atmosphere is crazy. So you've gotta stick together."

Although Charlotte fell just short of qualifying for the playoffs, its 43-39 record marked the first time since 2015-16 the team finished above .500, a sign of clear progress.

The Hornets also head into the offseason in a promising position. Their only unrestricted free agents are Montrezl Harrell and Isaiah Thomas, veterans who played limited reserve roles. Miles Bridges is a restricted free agent and a virtual lock to return, either via an extension or a matched offer sheet.

Bridges, like Ball, said he's confident about the direction of the franchise:

"I would love to play with Melo and Terry [Rozier] for the rest of my career. Those are my guys, my brothers. All of us damn near averaged 20 [points] this year, so just to have that type of relationship with such dynamic players and bring it to the basketball court every night, you don't see that too much in the NBA. And we have that relationship and that's what it is. It will always be like that. So I'm just happy to be a part of them."

That trio is joined by Gordon Hayward and Kelly Oubre Jr. as the foundation for next year's roster. They also have a pair of 2021 first-round picks, James Bouknight and Kai Jones, who could make a leap in their second season along with a deep group of role players.

So there's reason for optimism for the Hornets despite Wednesday's disappointment.

If Charlotte is going to reach that next level and become a perennial playoff team, Ball will have to lead the way after two impressive seasons to open his NBA career.

The 2020 third overall pick averaged 20.1 points, 7.6 assists, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 threes and 1.6 steals across 75 appearances this season. He was tied for 34th among all NBA players in FiveThirtyEight's WAR metric.

He could find himself in the MVP conversation in the coming years if he makes modest improvement in terms of his shooting efficiency and his defensive impact.

All told, the Hornets' front office may try to make a trade or free-agent splash for one more key player in the offseason, but the current group sounds hopeful about the future even if that type of move isn't made.