LAS VEGAS — Sunday afternoon, it was missing 14 of 20 shots in 27 minutes and, thanks to the forgiving rules of Summer League, committing seven fouls, which came after the first game, which came after the car swap, which came after the fight with a high school kid. All of which, of course, came after everything else.
P.J. Hairston of the Hornets dropped to No. 26 in the Draft — six or eight spots lower than others with the same talent would have gone, according to some teams — amid concerns with off-court issues. He was suspended by the NCAA before last season at North Carolina as part of an investigation into allegations he received impermissible benefits and an association with a local felon, beyond previous legal issues, before school officials announced in December they would not seek reinstatement. The evidence against him was too strong.
Hairston played last season with the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League, waiting for the Draft in June and insisting at every opportunity there was no reason for concern, then got the new start he wanted when he joined the NBA, officially picked by the Heat but quickly traded to Charlotte. And then he couldn’t even make it to the first summer-league game before trouble tracked him down again.
There was a fight in a pickup game at a Durham, N.C., YMCA … with a 17-year-old high school student. That resulted in Hairston being charged with assault and given an Aug. 8 court date. Then there was what he said was a chance meeting with Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns at a Raleigh, N.C., grocery store that led to the two deciding to swap cars for a day, only to have the Pro Bowl receiver later get arrested while driving impaired in Hairston’s 2015 Cadillac Escalade.
“What I told him the other day is ‘We need to start having more meetings about his defense and shot selection and less about what he’s got to do to be a dependable player,’ ” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said a few days ago.
Once Hairston finally got to play — not against high schoolers, though — he took 16 shots against the Warriors on Friday and made two. A versatile offensive threat in college and the D-League who could score from the perimeter or be aggressive and use strength to get to the rim, he launched 10 3-pointers and made one. Maybe there would be a meeting about his shot selection, after all.
So Sunday in the 72-65 loss to the Kings at Cox Pavilion was just the latest. Hairston going 6-for-20 from the field prompted Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing, running the bench during summer league, to note, “P.J. played better today.” Talk about perspective.
“He has the ability to be a rotational player in the NBA,” Ewing said. “Right now, it’s a work in progress. He has abilities. The mistakes that he’s making right now, he’s not going to be able to make them when the season starts because if he does, he won’t play. That’s part of growing. He has to put forth the effort to do those things.”
Hairston concedes he briefly thought, after hearing he would be a Hornet, that it might be best to get a fresh start away from his North Carolina past. But he grew up in Greensboro, has family in Charlotte and saw the chance for home-cooked meals and a support system as too valuable. He called the draft pick/trade one of the biggest accomplishments of his life.
The recent troubles?
“It’s just stuff I have overcome and look past and keep moving forward,” Hairston said.
He understands he fell in the draft because of the off-court concerns — “I guess. I don’t know. But I’m assuming that probably is the case. Like I said, I’m working on moving forward instead of moving backward.” He understands the need to play better for a team that needs the scoring to build on the playoff appearance of 2014. Now to do something about it.
“I’m confident that he’ll get to that,” Clifford said. “He’s a good person. I like him, I like the way he works. Everybody knows he’s made mistakes. He knows it, he’s owned up to it. It’s part of his maturation process. I think he understands at this level it’s all on him. We have to help him. He’s a talented enough guy to have a good NBA career, but here, the way we do things, if he can be dependable he’ll get off to a great start.
“The guys who do the right things off the floor give themselves the chance to do the right things on the floor. That just makes sense. It all fits together. … I told him I’ll commit to him — I like so much about him — but the commitment comes with the trust, the understanding, that he’s got to be a dependable, professional player who’s accountable to himself, his teammates and our franchise every day.”