This Is What James Borrego Envisioned. That’s a broad statement, but it is entirely true. This Hornets team that we have witnessed over these past few weeks is exactly what JB visualized at the beginning of the season. The direction this team’s heading in, their style of play, the whole nine yards.

The catalyst for this youth movement – and the ability for JB to able to initiate his ‘Four Pillars’ without limitations – is the aligned vision throughout the organization. James Borrego has complete alignment between Mitch Kupchak and Michael Jordan regarding the direction in which the Hornets are going in. Borrego has the absolute freedom to institute his plan due to the organization fully embracing their youth movement. 

Often times this is an area where professional sports clubs struggle and eventually fall apart.

Borrego is on the same page with the front office and ownership with which direction the team is going and how they will get to their desired destination. They have complete confidence that James Borrego can be the navigator for the Hornets’ development ship. It starts with investing entirely in this young core that the Hornets have quickly formed over the past few years. 

This isn’t an overnight process – to build the culture and team you desire, it takes your players buying into your system but first off the approval of your superiors

“I feel completely aligned with Michael and Mitch. There is a clear vision. We know where we are headed and it’s my job to help navigate that,” Borrego said Sunday. “When you have openness to go ahead and grow and develop the guys you need to build this thing long-term, it allows me to coach a certain way. I can hold guys accountable, play the right groups, and make sure that the number one priority on our agenda every night is to develop and grow. That’s what allows organizations to grow and develop. If I was restricted, that would be difficult. But because I do have that leeway to play the groups that I see fit to grow and develop, it allows me to stick to that plan and not waiver from it. 

“We are in this for the long haul. I think this has allowed guys to keep gaining ground and get consistent minutes. With that consistency comes development. That’s really what they’ve given me is consistency. Now we are seeing our guys grow.”

The distinct clarity from the hierarchy above regarding the Hornets’ agenda is imperative

There’s value in having complete transparency from top to bottom – which is both relieving and liberating. It gives you freedom as a coach to stick to your gut and do as you see fit. JB can operate without having pressure from above to perform at a specific level or to win a certain number of games. Having that freedom allows you to implement your plan as you fancy, at the rate you wish. That latitude and flexibility is quite freeing. 

“It allows me to coach,” Borrego said Sunday. “Coach with instinct, coach with my gut and my feel every day. I don’t feel restricted because there is clarity. Whatever decisions I have to make, I make them based on what’s best for this group. 

“Clarity is extremely important, starting at the top all the way down to where I’m trying to lead this group. Not only off the court but on the court. We understand who we are on the court, our identity is starting to be built and the movement is starting to take place… This is a good place to be for me and for us. I feel great about where we’re heading. I feel great about coaching this team. It really starts with the alignment between Michael, Mitch, and myself. From here we will continue to grow.”

Borrego’s glow

This is what James Borrego envisioned back in October: A young, energetic, group that wants to get better, wants to learn and grow as much as possible. A team that plays both ends of the floor, competing at a high level, sacrificing everything in order to win. This is exactly what the Hornets have been post-All-Star break. James Borrego seems to be on cloud nine with this team. 

JB’s had a different glow about him over the past week when addressing the media. He can’t help but beam as he answers questions about his team, constantly speaking with an optimistic tone. When he talks about the Martin brothers, Jalen McDaniels, or the progression of this team as a whole, he has done so with a smile on his face. 

“I’ve really enjoyed this group,” Borrego told The Painted Lines. “They are an exciting group out there. They’re like sponges out there. They aren’t like sponges, they are sponges. They’re just taking everything in. Every timeout they’re locked in, every practice, every film session. To me, that’s rewarding as a coach.”

The Hornets have a completely new look, helping them win five of their last eight games

He doesn’t have to worry about a team hustling for 50/50 balls, going after long rebounds, or playing at an acceptable intensity. This group is doing that and more. This newfound energy is becoming contagious. 

“It’s rewarding [as a coach] when you have a group that’s bought in, number one,” Borrego told TPL. “They’re developing, wanting to get better, and they care about each other. I can live with that every day. I’m excited to come to work every day with a group like this. They want to get better, they pull for each other, they’re unselfish, and they’re growing. I can live with that as a coach.”

A new focus: defense, defense, defense

If you have watched the Hornets post-All-Star break you can tell there’s this distinctive energy about them. A new feel. A fresh look to the team. A positive look. They are tenacious, active, swarming, aggressive, not moping around. They want to win. They’re hungry. That’s what you typically see in young teams. Guys are trying to prove themselves and their game and are completely bought into what their head coach wants them to do.

“Coming out of the All-Star break, we had a couple of keys. Both of them being on the defensive end,” Borrego said last week. “We have talked a lot about that, and I think we are limiting teams in the paint, we are swarming, we are challenging everything. We are trying to make it difficult for them. There have been fewer rotations which allows us to stay even on the board. This is probably the best defense we have played in the last two years right now. I think we should only see us climb in that area. They have bought into that end of the floor.”

The Hornets have struggled for much of this season on that end of the floor, but the team has seemed to have turned a corner

Typically it is difficult for a young team to buy in defensively, but this team is different. Their pride and joy are in the trenches on defense. Getting up in the grill of players more talented than themselves but not backing down, not shying away. 

“This team has the versatility, we have length, we have the size. We are capable of defending at a high level,” Borrego said referencing the efforts of Jalen McDaniels and Cody and Caleb Martin. “Our personnel, the attention to detail, and the pride we are taking on the defensive end is giving us a chance every night… I couldn’t be more pleased right now defensively. We are really trending in the right way.”

Defensive keys turned the tables

Young teams often struggle to score at an acceptable rate, so coaches often focus on the other end of the floor – which is what JB has done. Defense is vital through this contender-heavy schedule the Hornets face in March. Losing is inevitable and part of the learning curve for a young team, but if Charlotte can contain this level of productivity defensively, they will get the most out of this month. Heck, maybe they will even pull off a win or two against a Philadelphia, a Miami, a Denver, or a Houston. 

“We haven’t been where we needed to be defensively for the past year and a half, but we are turning a corner,” Borrego said Sunday after a close battle with the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks. “A lot of it has to do with the personnel we have on the floor right now. The length, the personnel, the athleticism. The way we’re building this thing is to compete with teams like we saw tonight.” 

Charlotte’s defense is already bearing fruit as the Hornets have held teams under 100 points in four of their last eight games. On Sunday, they broke the Bucks’ 83-game streak of scoring 100 or more points, limiting them to 93. 

Everything is starting to come together for the Hornets on that end of the floor

“This is the defense I envisioned. This is where we’re headed. It’s looking and feeling like the defense we need to compete at a high level. If we stick with this type of mentality the rest of the season, we’ll be fine. If we can do this against Milwaukee, then we can compete with anybody. We’re locked in, guys are communicating and bought in on that end of the floor. We’re still a ways away, but we have a nice base.

“Obviously, we have to get better from here, but to me, I’m really excited about where we’re at, where we’re headed, and the men in that locker room.”

The future is bright in Charlotte. They have transparency and alignment through ownership, the front office, and the coaching staff. The team’s young talent is enticing with immense potential. Charlotte will continue to build through the draft and continue to focus tremendously on their player development program which has already proven to be successful. The Hornets are trending in the right direction.