What we learned during Charles Lee’s first appearance as Hornets head coach

Finally, Charles Lee can get down to work.

It’s not like the Charlotte Hornets new head coach hasn’t been busy, given the run of his previous employer in Boston. If there’s ever an excuse to put a 800-plus mile move on hold, winning an NBA championship for the second time in four years certainly qualifies.

But Lee is joining the organization right when the offseason is gathering steam, readying itself for the wild ride that starts with the NBA Draft on Wednesday and hits another gear when free agency begins Sunday. There’s not much room for a breather prior to settling in, yet Lee could care less.

“I didn’t feel overwhelmed by any stretch of the imagination,” Lee said Tuesday, “because you get to be a part of a championship-caliber team and you are on a deep playoff run. And then I also get to be the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. Even saying that gives me the chills a little bit.

“Knowing that as we get this thing moving, and trying to get the Carolinas back to support us and just get it to a really high level, because I know it’s there. And I’m excited to be a part of the leadership group that’s going to help us get to a point that every night it’s going to be fun to come and watch Charlotte Hornets basketball.”

Forty-seven days after being named the 12th head coach in franchise history, the Hornets introduced Lee during a press conference at Lowe’s Tech Hub. Lee’s transition is officially complete, another change in an offseason loaded with upheaval spurred by co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin.

In part due to his familiarity with vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson, the 39-year-old was the Hornets’ top choice and frontrunner for the job when Steve Clifford announced he was retiring from coaching and moving into an advisory role within the front office. He brings a wealth of experience despite not cracking into his 40s yet, and it’s something the Hornets plan to tap into as they attempt to end the NBA’s longest playoff drought sitting at eight years and counting.

“Over time after talking to — again, it was a talented group — some of the other candidates and I got to the point I told Gabe and Rick, ‘I’m sitting here trying to figure out why we shouldn’t hire him,’” Peterson said. “And I felt pretty good about that in terms of checking my work and figuring out why we wouldn’t go that route.

“So, I think just being able to be privileged in terms of talking to members of the Celtics organization, members of the Milwaukee Bucks organization, and of course my experience with him in Atlanta just kind of crystalized everything. I’m very confident that he’s the right person to lead us going forward.”

Lee and Peterson discussed a variety of topics and made several points during the 31-minute session broadcast nationally to the masses on NBATV. Here are five things we learned at Lee’s introduction to Charlotte:

Building team camaraderie is important

Moments before Lee took the podium, the Hornets’ star point guard walked in and shook a few hands before taking a seat with a pretty healthy contingent of players.

LaMelo Ball joined Brandon Miller, Grant Williams and a few more of his teammates at Lee’s unveiling. And there was some symbolism behind it.

“Part of that togetherness is having a group of guys that want to go to battle each night,” Lee said. “ The preparation that we are going to put in with each other is going to be so important. And part of what excites me about this opportunity is those guys that are sitting over there, I appreciate them being here today and this is part of the togetherness we have talked about as a lot of us have had conversations.

“And they are here to support me today. I can remember going through the Celtics’ playoff run, calling them, texting them. They’re texting me messages of encouragement, and all I could feel was I was letting them down, because the hiring had happened so long ago. But they were like, ‘Nah, coach. You go do what you’ve got to do, and we’ll be here when you win it. And so that togetherness has already started, and I think that’s one of the key ingredients of what we need going forward.”

Tapping into Lee’s championship pedigree

Lee learned plenty in his previous two stops in Milwaukee and Boston. He intends on imparting some of that title-winning wisdom on a Hornets’ roster filled with mostly twentysomethings.

“It helped show me what is important and winning at the highest level,” Lee said. “ I would say in both of those stops we also won consistently. And it takes a lot of work. I think it takes a lot of work from the player’s standpoint, from the coaches, even from the front office, how you are structuring a team and making sure that all the pieces fit properly. And that’s what I know we are going to have here.

“Jeff and his team, they worked so hard. Even the last couple of days I’ve been here, I’m like, ‘Yo, bro. You OK? Can I help you? Can I get something off your plate? Do you just need to talk?’ So, their group is so diligent with everything they do. I think he’s also such a hard worker, has a great eye for talent. So from a front office standpoint, we are in a really good place and it’s exciting. And I think that from the player’s standpoint, these guys want to work.”

Lee said it’s already noticeable.

“I got a text from a couple of guys, ‘Hey, I’m going to work out today. What would you like me to work on?’ And that’s exciting, when you have self-motivated, driven guys. That’s what I’ve seen at two of the championship-caliber organizations that I’ve been a part of. From your two-way player to your best player, they all just want to work.”

NBA Draft and free agency

Lee’s late arrival meant he couldn’t impart much knowledge or offer much of an opinion on any potential prospects. Same goes for the impending free agency.

Still, he’s confident the Hornets will find a solid addition.

“I feel great about the draft preparation so far because like I said Jeff and his team have been grinding in that area,” Lee said. “And I think every now and then he’ll ask us to watch some film or impart some wisdom on what we think of some players. But I don’t want that to ultimately hold too much weight because they have done so much work over the last months and years, and there’s an ultimate level of trust with Jeff and our team.

“He got here earlier than I did, so he’s had time to evaluate where maybe some of the needs are and he’s going to do a phenomenal job.”

Getting Mark Williams to ‘dominate’

Mark Williams has a fan in Lee.

The Hornets center played in only 19 games in 2023-24 due a nagging lower back injury involving a bone issue, and was sidelined since December. He missed the bulk of the final four-plus months, leading to questions about his health and long-term viability.

Sounds like Lee has big plans for Williams next season.

“I’m really hopeful for him that we can get him to a place where he’s healthy, can play games, can get some reps and we can really get to see the Mark Williams that I know when I was in Boston he destroyed us when we played here in Charlotte. And that’s the type of dominating force that we want on both ends of the court.

“Hopefully, defensively we can unleash him a little bit more to be that rim protector, coming over, blocking shots, going vertical. … Sometimes commanding the paint isn’t getting 10 rebounds, but it’s making sure the other team doesn’t get the rebound. … But I think that him as a pick-and-roll screener, and that ability to finish in the paint, too, is going to be a trademark of his. So, dominate in the paint is going to be his middle name.”

Changing perception

During Peterson’s introductory press conference in March, he repeatedly said he planned on making the Hornets the premier franchise and a destination.

Judging by some of the constant barbs still being tossed around about Charlotte — remember Luka Doncic poking fun at JJ Redick? — it appears there’s still plenty of work to do in order to alter the perception.

So, how is Peterson going to do that?

“Throughout the process, Rick and Gabe and I, we’ve talked about, ‘It’s all about the people.’ It’s all about the human beings. You want to have really, really good people and from there good things typically happen.

“I’m very process oriented. I try not to worry about results. I try to control what I can control on a daily basis. Adding Charles was just another step in the vision, and that’s why I’m so happy to be up here today with him.”

Lee knows altering the landscape positively is part of his job description.

“As I went through this interview process, Gabe, Rick and Jeff made it very clear to me that they wanted this to be one of the premier franchises in the NBA,” Lee said, “and they explained to me how passionate of a fan base the Carolinas can be. And as soon as I heard those two things, I was all in.

“And me being all in, my coaching staff being all in, the things that we can promise from this team is that they are going t o be very competitive, they are going to be very together and we are going to be focused on what we can control, which is out daily progress, process and effort. And so that is what I can promise you.”