Charlotte Hornets

July 9, 2013

Bobcats’ Kemba Walker takes lead by being in Charlotte

For point guard Kemba Walker, flying to Charlotte for summer league practices was no big deal. To new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, it was huge.

For point guard Kemba Walker, flying to Charlotte this week was no big deal: A chance to get some summertime run on the basketball court and an opportunity to spend time with the coaching staff and rookie Cody Zeller.

To new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, it was huge.

“It shows a commitment, a seriousness about getting better,’’ Clifford said after morning practice Tuesday. “He’s going to practice twice today, completely on his own. From both a basketball and leadership standpoint, it speaks volumes.

“It will speed up the process for everybody.”

Walker, the Bobcats’ leading scorer last season, volunteered to work out with the summer-league team this week. As team president of basketball operations Rod Higgins sometimes says, Walker has been handed the keys to the car. This is his way of living up to that faith.

“We have an opportunity to be really good this year, so I want to be around this coaching staff, just to get a feel,’’ Walker said. “The whole coaching staff is new. I know I can learn a lot.’’

Walker won’t play with the summer-league team in Las Vegas starting Friday, but he will be there later this month for a Team USA mini-camp, as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski starts evaluating who should be in the mix for the next Olympic team.

“You’re playing against the best for a few days,’’ Walker said of the mini-camp. “I can’t wait.’’

Walker has been with the Bobcats only two seasons, but with Tyrus Thomas about to be amnestied and Gerald Henderson not under contract, he’s been on the roster as long as anyone else. He still finds it awkward thinking of himself as an NBA veteran, but he knows he needs to function as a leader.

Sometimes that means sticking up for teammates, as in when he texted Higgins on draft night to endorse the team using the fourth pick on Indiana forward Cody Zeller. One of the things that hopefully come out of this week is Walker and Zeller learning how to play off each other in the pick-and-roll.

“He can make the medium-range shot, he can roll, he can finish.’’ Walker said of Zeller. “Cody is a guy who will help us a lot. He plays so hard, he runs the floor. He’ll rebound. He’ll be a good teammate.’’

The Bobcats are expected to formally sign center Al Jefferson to a three-year, $41 million contract Wednesday. After overseeing an offense that averaged just 93 points and 42 percent shooting from the field last season, Walker sees Jefferson’s addition as a godsend.

“Was I excited? I almost shed a tear,’’ Walker said. “That’s what we need: A guy we always can go to to get a bucket.’’

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