PF Vonley, SG Hairston give rebuilding Hornets a lift
The Charlotte Hornets are becoming a pipeline to the NBA for Hoosiers.
For the second straight year the Hornets used a lottery pick on an Indiana player, taking power forward Noah Vonleh with the ninth overall pick Thursday night in the NBA draft. Last year the team selected Indiana power forward Cody Zeller with the No. 4 pick.
The Hornets added shooting guard P.J. Hairston later in the first round after a trade with the Miami Heat.
The Hornets drafted Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier with the 24th pick and traded him to Miami. In return, general manager Rich Cho said the Hornets received the 26th pick (Hairston), the 55th pick and a second-round pick in 2019 and cash from the Heat.
Cho said he never expected Vonleh to drop to the ninth spot. Neither did the 6-foot-10 Vonleh, who never worked out for the Hornets.
“It was a little bit of a shock, but I’m glad they saw something in me,” Vonleh said.
Vonleh gives the Hornets some added height and a potential replacement in case the team is unable to re-sign Josh McRoberts, who opted out of his contract earlier this month.
“We had Noah rated a lot higher, but for whatever reason he slipped down to nine,” Cho said. “We were ecstatic when he was there. He’s a skilled big man who can play inside and out.”
Second-year coach Steve Clifford emphasized size as a big need for the Hornets this offseason and Vonleh, with his 7-foot-4 wing span and 9-foot standing reach, brings just that to the table.
The 18-year-old Vonleh averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds and was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season. He spent only one season at Indiana, but led the Big Ten in rebounds and was eighth in the conference in blocked shots.
He’s expected to compete for playing time with last year’s starter McRoberts — should he be re-signed — and Zeller.
“I think I can help with my rebounding right away,” Vonleh said. “That is something that will definitely translate. I think I’m versatile — I can be a stretch forward, make jumpers, hit the threes. I play pretty well in the pick-and-roll. I can play pretty hard and do whatever it takes to win.”
Since 2006, Charlotte has had eight lottery picks but none of them have turned into All-Stars.
They hope that changes with Vonleh, who was projected in the top five in some NBA mock drafts.
Vonleh appears to have some range. He connected on 49 percent (16 of 33) 3-point attempts last season at Indiana. He said he’s hoping for more opportunities to show off his long-range shooting at the NBA level.
Hairston is the guy the Hornets hope can help them from 3-point land. Charlotte was 23rd in the league in field goal percentage last season and was outscored by 447 points from beyond the arc.
Hairston was dismissed from North Carolina last season after a series of off-the-court transgressions. He went on to play for Texas Legends of the D-League, where he averaged 21.8 points per game and had two 40-point games in his first five games.
Hairston had 73 3-pointers in 26 games, proving that moving to the longer distance wasn’t an issue for him.
Gerald Henderson has been the team’s starting shooting guard for the past two seasons, but he’s struggled to find consistency as a 3-point shooter.
Hairston broke on the scene at North Carolina as a sophomore proving to be a dangerous outside shooter, leading the Tar Heels in scoring averaging 14.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
But his career at North Carolina officially ended last December when the school announced it would not seek Hairston’s reinstatement after he committed several rule violations. His problems stemmed from the use of cars linked to a felon and party promoter earlier in the year.
Cho said he’s not worried that Hairston’s past will be a problem moving forward with the Hornets.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Thursday night in a press release he was “ecstatic” for Hairston.
“I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Hornets,” Williams said. “I am happy that he will still play in state and for another Tar Heel, Michael Jordan. Life has given him another opportunity and he will take great advantage of that chance.”
The Hornets traded power forward Dwight Powell from Stanford, the 45th pick in the NBA draft, and veteran center Brendan Haywood, a former UNC star, to the Cavaliers for small forward Alonzo Gee, a person familiar with the situation said early Friday morning.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal has not yet been approved by the NBA.
The Cavaliers will inherit Haywood’s $2 million contract on July 1 as part of the salary cap dump.
The Hornets announced they traded the No. 55 pick, Xavier point guard Semaj Christon, to Okalahoma City for cash considerations.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
HAIRSTON: I’VE LEARNED FROM MY MISTAKES
BY STEVE REED, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE — Charlotte Hornets shooting guard P.J. Hairston said he’s learned from his past mistakes and believes his off-the-court problems are behind him.
Hairston, the 26th overall pick in the NBA draft, said Friday at introductory press conference that he “fully regrets everything that happened” around benefits and eligibility issues while playing at North Carolina.
Hairston said he’s matured over the past year.
“I’ve some bumps in the road that I had to overcome and I feel like I’ve done that,” Hairston said.
Hairston rose to prominence as a sophomore when he became a midseason addition to a four-guard starting lineup, becoming UNC’s leading scorer and flirting with entering the NBA draft before opting to return to school.
But he never played again for the Tar Heels. He sat out the first 10 games last season while the school worked to resolve eligibility questions for receiving improper benefits, tied largely to the use of rental cars linked to Durham felon and party promoter Haydn Patrick “Fats” Thomas.
Authorities cited Hairston in May and June 2013 while he was driving vehicles linked to Thomas, the second time leading to a later-dismissed charge for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
The school decided in December it would not seek reinstatement from the NCAA for Hairston due to several violations, ending his college career and ultimately sending him to the NBA Development League.
He said he’s put the past behind him and his focus is on helping the Hornets become “a hundred times better.”
General manager Rich Cho introduced Hairston and power forward Noah Vonleh from Indiana, the team’s other first-round draft pick, at a press conference at the team’s downtown arena.
Cho said the team did plenty of research on all of the team’s potential draft picks, including Hairston. He said after speaking with Hairston he walked away confident he wouldn’t be a distraction.
“He was pretty forthcoming with some of the mistakes he’s made,” Cho said. “I think that’s a positive. We’re giving him a fresh start and I think he will take advantage of that.”
Hairston has a chance to make a big impact for the Hornets.
Charlotte was 26th in the league last season in 3-point field goals made, which happens to be Hairston’s biggest strength.
“He’s got range, strength and physicality,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I think the quicker he gets in here and gets to work we will lock in on two or three areas of this game. I think he has a chance to be a very good player.”
But Hairston is out to dispel the notion he’s just a jump shooter.
“I want to prove I can be a versatile scorer and not just a shooter,” Hairston said. “I want to show I can score in different ways.”
Hairston averaged 21.8 points for the Legends in 26 games and twice scored more than 40 points while shooting 35.8 percent from the NBA-length 3-point arc.
He said playing in the NBA Developmental League helped him mature as a person and got him used to the professional basketball.
“I had a chance to start over in the D-League and that put me months ahead of everyone else” coming into the league, Hairston said.
Hairston joins the Hornets and is expected to back up Gerald Henderson.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams had previously called Hairston’s departure one of the toughest things he’s been through during his career.
Williams said in a press release Thursday night he was “ecstatic” for Hairston.
“I am happy that he will still play in state and for another Tar Heel, Michael Jordan,” Williams said. “Life has given him another opportunity and he will take great advantage of that chance.”
Cho said the Hornets were thrilled to get Vonleh with the No. 9 pick after many had him projected in the top five mock drafts.
However, it’s clear Vonleh will have plenty of competition when it comes to playing time.
Cho said the decision to draft Vonleh doesn’t preclude the team from attempting to re-sign starting power forward Josh McRoberts, who opted out of his contract earlier this month. Cody Zeller, the No. 4 overall pick in 2013, showed good progress as a rookie and is McRoberts’ primary backup.
Cho also said the team would like to add a scorer and two more point guards to back up Kemba Walker in free agency. The Hornets are expected to have some interest in bringing back free agent Ramon Sessions, who was the traded to Milwaukee last season.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina contributed to this report.