Charles Lee's infectious style winning over Hornets: 'You can see it translate from Day 1'

Roderick Boone, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Basketball

It’s not something that necessarily had to be done, especially given the circumstances.

Yet, Charlotte Hornets coach Charles Lee insisted.

Rather than delegating the responsibility of roaming the sidelines over a two-plus week stretch during NBA summer league action to one of his assistants, which is typically the norm, Lee had other ideas in mind. He elected to take on the chore himself, refusing to use his late arrival following the Boston Celtics’ championship drive deep into June as an excuse.

“No. 1, I’m so excited to be part of this Hornets’ organization and also love the game, love to coach,” Lee told The Charlotte Observer. “And I feel like I’ve been away from the guys as I went on that playoff run.

“And now’s my opportunity to start building with them, start learning some terminology, learning the players and also just create an environment of, ‘We’re all going to get down to work like nobody’s above anything.’ And so I was just ready to hit the ground running.”

Although it’s dangerous to read too much into the summer league environment, it’s beyond obvious things are quite different around the Hornets as Lee charts his course. In just a small sample size, he’s already winning over the players through his methods, which appear to be a breath of fresh air.

High fives. Repeated clapping. Jubilation at the simplest of things.

Throw in a chest bump or two and it depicts Lee’s initial stamp on the Hornets.

“Coach Lee is younger, so he’s more energized, wants to compete on both sides, won’t let you take plays off really, which I respect,” Nick Smith Jr. said. “He wants to get a lot of shots up, offensively but just the main thing is compete. And we did that all training camp coming into Sacramento.”

From holdovers to rookies, everyone has taken notice.

Something about Lee just hits a certain way and the Hornets are downright giddy with what they have in the 39-year-old coach. During Lee’s introductory press conference, Hornets president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson joked he tried to come up with reasons why they shouldn’t hire him and Lee has done nothing so far to suggest that’s hyperbole.

The vibe Lee has created in less than a month indicates he’s establishing a solid base, which is boosted every time he gets in on a drill in practice, stepping into the action to emphasize specifics and fundamentals.

“Honestly, I think it’s special,” rookie KJ Simpson said. “Not a lot of coaches go out there and do that, so it kind of speaks to the person that he is and it makes us honestly closer. Because his energy carries over to our energy. So, that’s why you can see this team start to be really, really close during this quick amount of time that we’ve been together, just because of how Coach approaches it.

“He did that throughout the rest of the staff and they did a great job projecting their energy on us. Everything is just positive right now, so having Coach, it’s alive and it means everything. Honestly it might help us more than other teams going forward as the season starts.”

Leaky Black likened Lee to the person who guided him at North Carolina.

“Man, it’s awesome,” Black said. “He kind of reminds me of Coach (Hubert) Davis a little bit, just his energy. He’s kind of like a player’s coach. He just lightens the mood. It’s kind of like he’s been in that position, when you don’t really have it that day he knows that you need a little pick me up. That’s been his biggest thing and I feel like he’s been doing a good job with it.

“He’s a player’s coach and I love playing for him.”

Lee’s ability to also hone talent is an important attribute and factored in him landing the job. His developmental skills are already on display, too, through the early portion of the Hornets’ summer league schedule.

Mouhamadou Gueye is benefiting from Lee’s tutelage. The third-year forward had a tremendous game against San Antonio on Saturday and was off to a good start vs. the Chinese national team on Sunday before suffering a right ankle injury.


Whatever Lee is selling, Gueye is buying.

“He’s great,’‘ Gueye said. “Obviously, you want that type of energy from your coach and you can see it translate from Day one. Obviously, his message was our defense and our energy, and I think everyone’s seen that translate — guys diving on the floor, making hustle plays. So, I feel like the energy definitely affected all of us.”

It only grows with each day and every conversation. Lee’s grasp on things shines during every waking second around him, giving the player’s belief and a sense of hope thanks to his championship pedigree.

The two sides can’t get enough of each other and Lee’s challenge is to ensure that doesn’t change anytime soon.

“Yeah, no it’s exciting and I’m just passionate about the game,” Lee said. “I also just, I had this bond with all of our guys. We’ve built relationships even though it seems like a short amount of time and I have so much love and respect for everything that they do on a practice day, on an individual workout with all the assistant coaches.

And so when they have the opportunity to come to a game and compete at a high level, I want to enjoy it with them.”

Which, again, is why Lee was determined to be guiding the Hornets on this multi-week, two-state excursion that should have ramifications on things leading into training camp in September.

“Yeah, we have Hornets’ players on this summer league roster right now,” Lee said, “so it’s important that we start building really good habits. And I think that the day-to-day approach, the day-to-day mindset can’t change. It’s not just summer league.

“These are valuable opportunities in summer league games against some really good competition and some really good physicality that’s going to test us.”

Lee bullish on Josh Green

Lee is also eager to see what someone else who’s not on the Hornets’ summer league roster can do: Josh Green. The guard/forward was acquired from the Mavericks as part of the six-team deal that also landed Reggie Jackson plus a 2029 and 2030 second-round pick from Denver.

Green won’t have an opportunity to be around Lee much just yet, though since the 23-year-old is slated to suit up for his native Australia in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Still, the addition of the athletic, 6-foot-5, 200-pounder excites Lee for several reasons.

“No. 1, Josh Green is a phenomenal person,” Lee said. “So, everything that I’ve learned, everything that our front office has gathered, the human being is exactly what Hornets’ DNA is all about — having great work ethic, and just being a solid, high-integrity type guy.

“And then I think on the court, he’s going bring another level of just young talent for us. He just played in the finals, so he has playoff experience. He has championship-caliber experience, which is what we’re trying to build here, step by step year by year. We want to be able to get to that level. So, he’s a guy that’s seen it, he’s done it and I think he’s going to kind of help infuse some of that energy into the building.”

Exactly where he’ll see the most action position-wise isn’t settled.

“I look forward to watching him play a little bit more, continue to evaluate,” Lee said. “When I’ve watched him, he’s a versatile player. So, I don’t want to pigeonhole him or put him in any type of box.

“He’s going to show us what he can do and I know defensively he can guard a lot of positions. And I think offensively, he’s just starting to scratch the surface. And there’s a ton he can do on and off the ball.”


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