NEW ORLEANS — When Hakim Warrick was sent to the Hornets in the trade that also brought them center Robin Lopez, he was optimistic he was more than just a throw-in.
Warrick, in his eighth year in the NBA, knew the Hornets had selected power forward Anthony Davis with the overall No. 1 pick in the draft. But Warrick’s days as a true power forward were over anyway.
“I just knew it was another opportunity,” he said. “I kind of felt they were taking the team in a new direction. I felt I had a shot. It was a young team, and me being an older guy, I could come in an provide some veteran leadership and whatever I could do to help the team.”
However, with the NBA’s regular season about to tip off Wednesday, Warrick has been lost in the shuffle of young, versatile Hornets frontcourt players as coach Monty Williams works on setting his starting lineup and rotation.
Warrick, 30, played in only two games before Friday night’s preseason finale at Miami, averaging 5.0 points and 4.5 rebounds — not bad considering he’s played a total of 24 minutes, 12 seconds.
Williams said he just can’t find time for Warrick, who basically has no true position.
“We just have too many bigs,” Williams said. “You’ve got 96 minutes to split up (between the small forward and power forward positions), and I can’t play everybody. I’ve tried to get him in some of the games, but you feel like you’re taking away from this guy or that guy.”
A big part of Warrick’s problem is that, at 6-foot-9, 219 pounds, he has the game of a power forward but the body of small forward. He realizes that, but says there’s definitely a role for him in the NBA , one in which he swings between both spots.
“It can be a problem, and it can be a plus,” he said, when asked if his fate lies in that he is a “tweener.”
“Being able to play multiple positions, the better the chance you have of being out there. But it’s also a negative because some people will say they don’t know if you are a true power forward or a true small forward.”
He was a very athletic back-to-the-basket player when he came into the league with the Memphis Grizzlies, backing up Pau Gasol, the team’s star. The next season, Gasol was injured, and for a month, Warrick started and played well, often flirting with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He said he hangs onto that during tough times.
“It showed me I can play in this league,” he said.
He averaged 12.4 points that season, then 11.4 and 11.6. After that, he joined the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent but was traded to Chicago. Chicago traded him to Phoenix, and the Suns jettisoned him to the Hornets. He had continued to put up respectable numbers as a reserve, but teams always had bigger, taller, athletic options.
So he has developed the range on his jump shot and worked on improving his small forward skills, hoping for a niche. In the Hornets’ intrasquad game on Oct. 20, he played small forward and sank a long shot in the second half.
But for now, there’s no opportunity. The veteran in him has seen a lot, though, and he remains encouraged.
“With me, you just have to realize it’s a long season, and that there are a lot of peaks and valleys, and anything can happen,” he said.
Williams said much of the same.
“It’s not anything he’s doing wrong,” Williams said. “Hakim is a pro. He’s been around, been on a number of teams. He knows he has to keep himself ready.”
Williams said shooting guard Eric Gordon could have his first scrimmage with contact today at practice.
The practice will be the first of three days of preps in advance of Wednesday’s season opener against San Antonio. Those practices are expected to determine if Gordon will be ready to play.
“He’s got to go through some hard practices,” Williams said. “We’re going to ... let him boogie a little bit against our guys and with the team full-contact, and then we’ll be able to make a good assessment.”
Monday is the day for NBA teams to make their final cuts and get down to roster for the start of regular-season play.
Williams said he was to have discussions with General Manager Dell Demps and Executive Vice President Mickey Loomis concerning spots, particularly the team’s flexibility.
Although Lance Thomas has moved to the forefront in the competition at small forward, Williams remains high on Darius Miller, a rookie from Kentucky.
Heading into Friday’s game at Miami, Miller was 14 of 24 from the field, including 8 of 12 on 3-point attempts.
Still, it appears Williams would like Miller to come off the bench and give the team a spark at both small forward and shooting guard. That could also give him time to develop. Williams said he expects the development of Miller, who was drafted after his senior season in college, to be steady and gradual instead of one in which he suddenly bursts into stardom.
Oddly, Thomas might help with that, giving Williams another option at the position if Al-Farouq Aminu simply cannot gain the starting spot, which is how it looks.
Point guard Greivis Vasquez shaved his beard and cut his hair low recently.
“I wasn’t playing too well with the beard,” he said.
Vasquez had some stubble for Wednesday’s home game against Houston, but said he’s planning a clean shave for the season opener against San Antonio.
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