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Hornets’ PJ Washington: ‘I think it’s going to be big things here in Charlotte’

PJ Washington was in the middle of explaining why he preferred to return to the organization that drafted him when the person sitting to his right interrupted the Charlotte Hornets big man.

“That’s not what your agents were saying,” team president/GM Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday during a press conference formally announcing Washington’s re-signing. “That’s the first I’ve heard that.”

Once the laughter subsided from Kupchak’s comedic barb, leading to a hearty chuckle from Washington, the 25-year-old power forward reiterated his stance.

Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak, left and PJ Washington speak during a press conference announcing Washington’s signing of a three-year contract in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Khadejeh Nikouyeh/Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com
Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak, left and PJ Washington speak during a press conference announcing Washington’s signing of a three-year contract in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Khadejeh Nikouyeh/Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com

“I wanted to be here, so for me it was just great,” Washington said. “It took a minute, but I think everybody was happy and glad to be on the same page.”

The timetable for both sides to reach agreement on a three-year contract, which can be worth up to $48 million with incentives, spanned eight weeks. Washington finally cashed in after averaging a career-best 15.7 points per game in 2022-23, netting a pact that will give him the ability to control his own destiny sooner as an unrestricted free agent in 2026.

As The Observer previously reported, talks were sporadic for a good portion of the past month before momentum picked up last week, propelling Washington to ink a deal that left both sides happy.

“Without going into great detail, being a restricted free agent, there are restrictions that come along with that kind of status,” Kupchak said. “Quite frankly, sometimes things just take longer than they do other times. There was always good intent from the negotiation. Nobody ever went sideways and everybody was very professional.

“We understood and we listened to each other, took a couple weeks off, got back on the phone. Sometimes it just takes longer. I think the key is on the representation side, they were always level-headed, and listened and were always engaged. And I hope that we did the same thing. When those things happen, then most times there’s going to be a deal.”

Leaning on a window sill on the practice court inside the Novant Health Training Center and still in the light green suit he wore during his press conference, Washington spoke exclusively with The Observer. He discussed maturing off the court, Miles Bridges’ return, whether he cares about starting or coming off the bench, the Hornets’ next step as a team, coach Steve Clifford’s impact on him and more.

Roderick Boone: How relieved are you to get this done so you can focus on basketball?

PJ Washington: I think it was a big relief. Obviously, it took kinda long – the whole summer. For me, I just stay level-headed and control what I can control. That’s being in the gym and being a good dad and being a good fiancé. So, that’s all I was doing and I was just happy to get the deal done, happy to be here and happy to move forward.

RB: You seem content with how things are going for you off the floor and the progression of becoming a family man. How thrilled are you to now have the financial means to take care of them for the rest of their life?

PW: That’s the goal. Just growing up and having a family, you want to be able to take care of them. I’m just extremely blessed. I’m excited. My kids are growing up and I’m excited they will be around to witness all this stuff. I think it’s going to be pretty cool to have an NBA dad for them. I think it’s going to be pretty fun.

RB: You’ve always worked out here at the facility during the offseason, but couldn’t this summer because of your free agency status. What was it like spending the bulk of the past two months using UNC Charlotte?

PW: I was itching to get back in here and see the guys. I definitely wanted to see everybody. I missed everybody. For me, the first day back was great. I got to see everybody. And working out at UNCC, it wasn’t too bad. But I wanted to be here.

RB: Miles is also back. What’s that like?

PW: It’s great. I’m just happy he’s back here and has the ability to play. Especially after everything he’s gone through. So, just to be here and pick up a basketball again is just a blessing for him. I’m excited for him. I’m excited for myself and I’m excited to be playing with him again. So, I think it’s going to be big things here in Charlotte.

RB: With a couple of the core players such as LaMelo Ball and yourself now locked up for the foreseeable future, how much do you guys discuss taking the next step of getting to the playoffs?

PW: That’s the main focus for us. Since I’ve been here I haven’t been in the playoffs at all. So I want to get a taste of that. I want to see how it feels, and I want to eventually win in the playoffs. I think we have a good coaching staff, we have a good front office, we have good players. So, I think we have everything it takes to be there. It’s just about us being consistent each and every day and trying, but we have to fight and make it happen.

RB: What are your thoughts on the roster overall with the new additions like Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr.?

PW: It’s exciting, especially with the rookies. They’ve been in here working. Brandon, Nick all those guys. I’m just excited to see how everything matches up, and how we play together and just see how we roll.

RB: How important will it be for you and others to sacrifice minutes, starting roles and such given Brandon’s arrival, Miles returning and more?

PW: At the end of the day we are professionals. At the end of the day, we have a job to do and that’s the main focus. It doesn’t matter if you are starting or coming off the bench — you have a job. For me, I just have to do my job the best I can and produce, and make sure my team wins. That’s all my main focus. I don’t care about starting, not starting. It’s about winning. That’s the biggest picture.

RB: During the offseason, how specifically did you work on becoming a better player and what can people expect to see from you this upcoming season?

PW: I want to be consistent scoring on all three levels. I want to feel comfortable shooting the three. I want to feel comfortable taking two dribbles and getting into my middie. I want to feel comfortable getting to the rim. So that’s been my main focus this summer — to be comfortable everywhere on the floor and not feel like I’m not good at something or I can’t shoot this shot or I can’t do that. It’s just being comfortable in everything I do on the floor.

RB: This will be your second season playing for Steve Clifford. How has he helped your career?

PW: It’s been great. I think it’s been a blessing. I loved playing for him last year. He’s a great coach. He gets the best out of his players, and he’s going to hold you accountable for everything and you have to earn everything with him. So for me, I’m just excited he’s here and I’m just excited I get to play for him again.

RB: We are less than a month away from the start of training camp. How much are you guys looking forward to starting things up and showing you should be getting a little more respect than what you are receiving?

PW: For us, we know how good we can be. It’s just us being consistent and doing it every single night. That’s one thing we haven’t done. So for us, it’s the defensive end and turning it into offense. We have great offensive players, but in the past couple of years it’s been our defense. So, we have to come in and really get down.