NBA: Lee will try to turn Hornets around

Published 2:10 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE — Charles Lee joked that his wife thought he was a little crazy when he decided to step away from his job as a single stock equity trader on Wall Street to become a full-time basketball coach.

Turns out it was a pretty good career move.

Since walking away from Bank of America in 2012 to coach at Bucknell, Lee has gone on to win two NBA championships as an assistant coach, including last week with the Boston Celtics following 2021 with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now, at age 39, he gets his first crack at being a head coach at any level with the Charlotte Hornets, a perennially disappointing franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason in eight years — the longest active drought in the NBA — and hasn’t won a playoff series in nearly a quarter century.

But like leaving Wall Street, Lee isn’t scared of a new challenge.

He feels with the support of his wife Lindsey and a strong family structure behind him, he can conquer just about anything.

He called the Hornets a “talent-rich group” with plenty of unrealized potential, even though they won just 21 games last season.

“We have a very, very good team here,” Lee said. “We’ve been snakebit with some injuries. … But this group is focused on the right things. The expectations are that we are going to compete every night, whether it’s a home game, road game or whoever is playing. This is going to be a group that is together offensively and defensively, no matter who is on the floor.”

Lee’s introductory news conference on Tuesday came nearly seven weeks after being hired to replace Steve Clifford, who announced late last season he was stepping away from coaching.

Lee has been busy pulling double duty since, helping Jayson Tatum and the Celtics reach the ultimate goal while also spending time developing relationships with his new players in Charlotte, as well as evaluating personnel ahead of this week’s NBA draft and the upcoming free agency signing period.

Hornets general manager Jeff Peterson said he was “blown away” by Lee during his interview and after talking with members of the Bucks and Celtics organization about him.

“He’s an excellent communicator,” Peterson said. “He’s competitive. He’s constantly trying to figure out ways to get better. I know that at night he goes to sleep thinking, ‘how can I make the Charlotte Hornets better?’ And, he’s a winner.”

Hornets forward Grant Williams was one of about a dozen players to attend the news conference, joining LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller.

Williams believes Lee’s winning pedigree has already got the attention of his teammates.

“It definitely carries some weight, some respect, because he knows what it takes to win it all,” Williams said. “He was the associate head coach on both championship teams, so he had a direct impact in the development and style of play. He’s been around a lot of greats and he will do wonders for guys like LaMelo and Brandon, who are trying to be special.”

Lee’s addition completes some dramatic changes in the Hornets organization over the past 12 months.

Since Michael Jordan sold the team to Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin last August, the Hornets have hired a new general manager, a new head coach and traded several of their veteran players, including Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington.

They drafted Miller, who has shown star potential.

There are also major renovations underway at the Spectrum Center, which forced the news conference to be moved to a rented building in Charlotte less than a mile from where they play home games.

Lee offered no guarantees on when the Hornets might return to the playoffs, but he likes the attitudes of the players he has met and senses they’re willing to “buy in” and do anything to get things turned around.

“What I can say to the fans is that when I went through the interview process, Gabe, Rick and Jeff made it clear they want this to be one of the NBA’s premier franchises,” Lee said. “… The things that we can promise from this team is that they’re going to be very competitive, they are going to be focused on what we can control with our daily progress, process and effort.”

Williams, for one, said he believes the Hornets are about to turn things around.

“The energy is shifting here. You can just feel the vibe,” Williams said. “And I think people are going to be really shocked here by how soon it is going to happen.”