The Charlotte Hornets are leaning toward keeping the pivotal No. 2 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
General manager Mitch Kupchak said Wednesday the Hornets are considering two players, adding that he believes there’s a “significant separation” in talent among the top three players in the draft.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion the San Antonio Spurs will take France’s Victor Wembanyama, who is considered a generational player, No. 1 overall. The Hornets are expected to choose between Alabama wing Brandon Miller and guard Scoot Henderson from the NBA G League Ignite.
“I anticipate that we would draft at two,” Kupchak said. “ I’m not going to rule out the possibility that we would trade the pick. It’s a very coveted pick in our league right now. You would be surprised at some of the phone calls and some of the players that would be available. So yeah, up until the last minute we are going to listen. But at this point in time I do expect to pick at two.”
Kupchak said the Hornets haven’t decided on who to take — and likely won’t until a few hours before the draft.
He said he’ll ultimately make the selection, but added current owner Michael Jordan and the team’s prospective buyers Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall will also have a say in the draft night decisions.
Jordan agreed Friday to sell the majority stake in the franchise for a reported value of $3 billion, but the deal still needs the approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors, which could take weeks or months.
“Michael and I will completely talk to them and get their feelings and I’m sure there will be some spirited debates if it’s different,” Kupchak said. “We will not operate in a vacuum. The new owners will be in the loop.”
Miller clearly is the better positional fit for the Hornets.
Charlotte’s current starting wing is Gordon Hayward, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and has struggled with injuries. The 6-foot-2 Henderson projects as a point guard and the Hornets already have All-Star LaMelo Ball, which means he’d have to beat out backcourt mate Terry Rozier for playing time.
But Kupchak said the Hornets, who’ve not been to the postseason in the last seven seasons, are not in a position to draft for fit.
“We’re not that team that has been in the playoffs for three or four years in a row and you’re looking to tweak a roster and look for a fit,” Kupchak said. “So our decision will be looking for the player that is going to have the best overall career.”
Miller eagerly talked about meeting Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, and was thrilled to have Jordan watch him workout.
His mood changed when asked about troubles off the court in Alabama.
The Hornets would have to be comfortable with any potential fallout from selecting a player who delivered a gun used in a fatal shooting.
Miller has not been charged in the death of Jamea Harris near campus on Jan. 15 and when asked Wednesday if Tuscaloosa police have assured him that he won’t, the freshman forward said he couldn’t talk about it.
Asked if he considered the situation resolved, Miller said: “From my perspective, yeah.”
Miller went on to win SEC player of the year and tournament MVP honors, and the Hornets brought him to Charlotte to get a closer look. He said he wasn’t nervous meeting Jordan.
“I could see why though, because he’s Michael Jordan, but I kind of seen in the room as just a regular person in there just watching me work out,” Miller said. “But knowing he’s Michael Jordan, he’s not just a regular person, kind of motivated me actually.”
Miller said he wasn’t a Jordan fan — Paul George was his favorite player — but added that “just meeting him and him talking trash to me is probably the coolest thing ever.”
As for whether the Hornets or other teams should feel comfortable with Miller’s character?
“Well, NBA teams kind of did their background on me, kind of (found) out that I was a great guy, I had great character,” Miller said. “So, I don’t think they’re really worried about the character part of it now. I think it’s just basketball now.”
The NBA has invited 24 players to be in the green room at the draft Thursday night — typically a good indication that a team is showing first-round interest.
Those players, in alphabetical order: Anthony Black, Kobe Bufkin, Noah Clowney, Bilal Coulibaly, Gradey Dick, Keyonte George, Jordan Hawkins, Scoot Henderson, Taylor Hendricks, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Jett Howard, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Dereck Lively II, Brandon Miller, Brandin Podziemski, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Rayan Rupert, Nick Smith Jr., Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson, Jarace Walker, Cason Wallace, Victor Wembanyama and Cam Whitmore.
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