Scott Fowler

Hornets do right thing by extending MKG contract

Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist smiles as he speaks to the media during a press conference announcing a contract extension at Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday, August 26, 2015.
Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist smiles as he speaks to the media during a press conference announcing a contract extension at Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday, August 26, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

OK, the money is absurd. Let’s get that out of the way first.

But in an era where NBA salaries are on the front edge of erupting into the stratosphere yet again, the Charlotte Hornets did the right thing in locking up Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a four-year, $52-million contract extension.

You can talk a lot about MKG’s flaws if you want to. But the most important statistic is winning, and it is there that Kidd-Gilchrist excels.

Coach Steve Clifford puts it succinctly on Wednesday at MKG’s press conference announcing the extension. “When he’s on the floor, we play well,” Clifford says of MKG. “And when he’s not on the floor, we don’t.”

The numbers back that up. While the Hornets are nobody’s idea of an NBA champion when MKG plays, without him they often disintegrate. When he’s not out there, it’s like the end of a trial: The defense rests.

In the past two seasons, Charlotte is 62-55 with MKG in the lineup (.530 winning percentage) and 14-33 without him (.298). If you don’t re-sign a guy like that, you’re going backward.

So the Hornets gulped and Michael Jordan spent a fraction of all that money he has. MKG has joined his soulmate, Kemba Walker, as a cornerstone of this team.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led all NBA small forwards last season with 7.6 rebounds per game.

MKG, who is still just 21, got emotional Wednesday thanking people who helped him get to this moment, with tears welling in his eyes at a press conference that included more than a dozen of his family members and friends. And it was telling that he thanked God, family and Kemba before anyone else.

Kemba was one of MKG’s idols and has since become one of his closest friends. “Those two are always talking,” says Paige Elliott, MKG’s girlfriend, rolling her eyes and laughing. “And I mean always.”

MKG met Kemba when he was a high school freshman and followed along as Walker, who is three years older, did everything in college that MKG wanted to do. When the Hornets drafted MKG No. 2 overall in 2012, he says his first thought was: “Oh snap! Now I get to play with Kemba Walker.”

So with Walker locked up with an extension a year ago, it stood to reason MKG didn’t want to go anywhere else.

Now he has to prove he’s worth the money, of course. Clifford says MKG should strive to become a first-team All-NBA defensive player, and MKG wants to become the best perimeter defender ever. And of course there’s that famously flawed jump shot that still rotates sideways like a planet but has become otherwise almost normal looking. MKG didn’t shoot a three-pointer all of last season. And because he didn’t, teams played him only to drive.

In three NBA seasons, MKG has taken a total of 18 three-point shots (none last year). He has made three.

“I promise I’m shooting a three this year,” he says. (I will vouch for one thing – he now can make a corner three. I saw him make six in a row at a practice not long ago.)

But he’s not going to change anything about his game too radically.

“I’m comfortable in my own skin,” he says.

MKG also promises he will continue to throw his body around like the middle linebacker of the defense – and that’s how MKG describes himself – should do.

That disregard for bodily harm can be problematic. MKG has missed 28.6 percent of the Hornets’ games over the past two seasons. Staying on the court is something he has to do more of for this Charlotte team to better its 33-49 record of 2014-15.

The Hornets have made all sorts of trades and acquisitions since that lousy season concluded. Taking MKG out of next summer’s free-agent market will ultimately rank as one of their best.

  Comments