Hornets’ Kelly Oubre recovering from surgery, wants to stay in Charlotte

Charlotte Hornets guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Scott Kinser)

Charlotte Hornets guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Scott Kinser)


This is all new territory for Kelly Oubre.

Sidelined for the past month recovering from surgery on his left hand, the Charlotte Hornets swingman can’t stand his current situation. He feels powerless to offer up any assistance and the feeling nearly makes him sick in every inch of his 6-foot-6 frame.

“It’s terrible, I hate it,” Oubre said Thursday. “I’ve never really sat out during the season … for this amount of time. It’s just tough, man, watching my guys put in the pain, go out there and compete, play and have fun and just win games.

“That’s what I miss the most about it. But it’s (about) just being able to be a supporting cast member right now, clapping and yapping and cheering. Just leading with my boys is what I’m trying to do.”

During the past few weeks, Oubre made incremental improvements that give him rays of hope. He spends time with the assistant coaches putting in pregame conditioning and shooting work with strictly his off hand, and that was no different for the natural lefty prior to the Hornets’ matchup with Chicago at the United Center.

Albeit the progress is slightly tangible, he’ll take it.

“I’m feeling better,” Oubre said. “I can move my hand now, move my fingers. So time is ticking. Every day is a new day closer to coming back. So I’m just doing everything that I possibly can and more during this process to just come back as soon as possible.”

In the midst of one of the best seasons of his eight-year career and knowing how much the Hornets could use his services, the last thing Oubre needed was this. At the time of his Jan. 5 surgery, he was second on the team in scoring at 20.2 points per game. Oubre was filling in more than adequately as a starter until he slid into a reserve role as the Hornets moved closer toward full strength following their rash of injuries.

When he got injured, Oubre was one of the six players in the league averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game, along with Dallas’ Luka Dončić, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray and Paul George of the LA Clippers. Oubre also cracked double figures in scoring in his initial 34 games, which was the longest span of his career.

It’s why he sought a second opinion, flying to New York with Hornets director of healthcare and sports performance Joe Sharpe to get it looked at.

A procedure to alleviate the injury immediately was highly recommended by noted hand specialist Dr. Michelle G. Carlson, along with Sharpe. Let’s just say the alternative would be less than pleasing.

“I wanted to not have surgery,” Oubre said. “I was fighting for that. But Dr. Carlson said that if I waited to have surgery, my finger and my ligaments would have folded up into my knuckle and I would have a sideways pinkie. And I didn’t really want that.

“So, it was one of those things. I had to talk to my family, talk to my coaches and the staff about. And I think the best deal was for me to get this right so I could perform at 100%.”

Oubre is still wearing a splint during basketball activities, but said he gets to graduate into a smaller brace next week that he currently puts on periodically throughout the day just to move his fingers. That timetable should last roughly one-to-two weeks.

“And then right after that we’ll be at All-Star break,” Oubre said. “And then that’s, Godspeed, the plan to come back.”

Make no mistake about it, he’s eager. He said he’s been going hard in his rehab to match the heart rate levels of his teammates, all to try to stay in solid shape.

Ramping up the conditioning activities are a big part of his long-term thinking.

“I want to get out there and finish this season strong,” Oubre said, “and continue to help us get as many wins as possible.”

He’s completely committed to turning it around with the Hornets, too.

As next Thursday’s NBA’s trade deadline approaches, the versatile nature of Oubre paired with his economical contract situation makes him an intriguing option for prospective playoff teams. He’s in the final months of a two-year, $24 million deal, which almost looks like a steal given the numbers he’s put up during his tenure with the Hornets.

But the Carolinas have Oubre’s heart, and if it was up to him he’d be in purple and teal for years beyond this season. An extended stay with the Hornets is preferable. Being a hired gun for a possible playoff run isn’t an attractive option in his eyes.

“I hope they just keep my name out of it,” he said. “I’m looking for a home somewhere where I can just win, and grow, and continue to perfect my craft and also help this city, help this organization. I love everyone on this team and this staff, so I would love to stay here.

“I’m from New Orleans. The New Orleans Hornets used to be my favorite team and now I play for the Charlotte Hornets. And it couldn’t come more full circle than that. So, hopefully God has got in His plan for me to stay.”

Roderick Boone joined the Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and NBA. In his more than two decades of writing about the world of sports, he’s chronicled everything from high school rodeo to a major league baseball no-hitter to the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep North Carolina roots and enjoys watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” endlessly.
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