Mark Price is in his second season as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets. As a member of a talented staff led by head coach Steve Clifford, Price has been an integral part of the Hornets’ newfound success over the last two years.
Before joining Clifford in Charlotte, the son of Oklahoma hoops legend Denny Price spent time coaching with the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic. The four-time NBA All-Star and all-time leader in playoff free throw percentage has also made coaching stops in high school, college and overseas since retiring after a 12-year NBA career in 1998.
While building off the momentum created by a postseason berth a year ago, Price has been working with Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the newly acquired Lance Stephenson, among other Hornets. Coach Price talked with SLAM about how the Charlotte group is progressing, along with what he learned by going through the interview process for the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach position last summer.
SLAM: With the season underway, what have been some of the messages or themes that you, Coach Clifford and other Hornets assistants like Patrick Ewing are talking about with the guys?
Mark Price: We’re trying to build off the success we had last year. We added some new pieces over the summer, so we have a different-looking team right now than we had last year. We lost Josh McRoberts, and we brought in Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, and two draft picks; so we have five new guys on our team. We got off to a slower start than we hoped, but I feel like we’re starting to play better now. Sometimes it just takes a little while with any new group of guys. But I like the way we’re starting to play.
SLAM: You mentioned adding Lance, a player with star-ability who’s shown up big in the postseason during his career with the Indiana Pacers. How are things going for Lance, adjusting to the new system, new plays, and new team in Charlotte?
MP: He’s coming along well. You always have to get a feel for your new teammates and the new system. For Lance, he played his entire career in Indiana. So there’s an adjustment there, learning a new system and new terminology. But we’re excited about his progress, and then also excited about what Lance brings to the team. His ability to pass the ball and rebound from the shooting guard position, facilitating offense, things like that. We didn’t really have that type of piece on our team last year. So we’re obviously excited to have him, and hopefully we can continue to keep getting better as the season progresses.
SLAM: How about the other New York kid, Kemba Walker? He just signed a four-year, $48 million extension. How has his approach been evolving in terms of leadership at point guard?
MP: Kemba’s been a great leader for us. He was our leader last year, and he continues to do that now. He really worked hard to continue to improve his game. He worked extremely hard over the summer, and he’s playing really well for us right now. His floor game has improved and that’s helped his ability to run the team. That’s an area of his growth. He can still score the ball, but he’s more comfortable running the offense and contributing in other ways. And then he also knows he’s going to be in Charlotte, like you said. He doesn’t have to worry about any of the contract stuff. He can just continue to concentrate on helping us win games.
SLAM: You and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have a strong bond, you’ve spent a lot of time working with him. How is he progressing in his third NBA season?
MP: Mike probably had the best summer of anybody on our team. He just worked extremely hard. We spent a lot of time together, working on improving his jump shot. And he’s made tremendous progress in that area. He’s playing with a lot more confidence. He was probably our best player during the preseason for us. Unfortunately, he’s banged up a little bit right now, not playing for a few games. But he’s just that guy who defends the best player on the other team every night. He brings that energy level. And now that he’s confident he can knock down that 15-foot jumper, you can see him just add even more confidence to other areas of his game, and it’s helping him really grow.
SLAM: The Cavaliers—a franchise that has your No. 25 hanging from the rafters—requested to speak with you during their head-coaching search this summer. What did you learn, or how did you grow as a coach, by going through that interview process?
MP: I think you can grow from every experience you have. That experience helped me take another step as a coach. It was an honor to be considered, and I was excited that the Cavs wanted to talk with me about the position. You know how I feel about Cleveland, and the people of Cleveland, so that was just a real thrill to be considered by the Cavs. It was also a great experience to have the chance to talk with [Cleveland GM] David Griffin, talk about philosophy, talk about others things. And it was just kind of another step forward for me, helping me to get better and grow as a coach.
SLAM: As a Cleveland sports icon and Cavs hero, obviously you’re focused on the task at hand in Charlotte, but seeing or hearing about how Cleveland was as a city on opening day to celebrate LeBron’s return, what was your reaction? I know the Hornets haven’t been to Cleveland yet, but just as a former Cavaliers player, what is it like to see the festive atmosphere and energy back in Northeast Ohio?
MP: When I learned that LeBron was going back to Cleveland, I was really happy for the city. And the team. I want the Cavs to always do great, except for every time they play the Charlotte Hornets [Laughs]. But I was, and I am, extremely happy for the city of Cleveland and everything going on right now with Lebron’s return and the team they have. Having played there, I know what great people Cavs fans are, and the energy has been really great to see.
SLAM: You joined Twitter a few months ago (@Mark25Price). How is your Twitter game coming along?
MP: It’s just been fun. It’s a new experience for me. My wife kind of tricked me into getting on Twitter. My wife actually communicates with a lot of Cleveland fans, and they made a Twitter site for me. So when they turned it over, I really didn’t have to do too much to create it [Laughs]. But you know, I’m trying to throw a tweet out there every once in a while, trying to get a feel for it. I’ll get better at Twitter eventually.
Brendan Bowers is an NBA writer who covers the Cavaliers and the NBA in Cleveland for SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @BowersCLE. Image via Getty.