It is early Saturday afternoon as the Hornets are finishing up their practice during training camp at the newly named Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Players are off doing their own thing. Some, like Nic Batum and Marco Belinelli, are shooting 3s on opposite ends of the practice court. Roy Hibbert is working with assistant coach Patrick Ewing on Hibbert offensive post game. Kemba Walker stands off to the side of the court, talking on a phone as a part of an interview, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist jokes with team assistants while practicing layups.
Near midcourt, Brian Roberts is working on his handling, crossing up imaginary defenders as he motions up and down the court. It is a familiar sight for Roberts - to be in the Hornets' purple and teal again. It is also rare for the 30-year-old guard, who has known anything but continuity since joining the NBA.
Roberts' first two years in the Association took place in New Orleans, but for two different teams - his rookie season, he played for the New Orleans Hornets. His second, the New Orleans Pelicans. He enjoyed a year and a half with the Charlotte Hornets, averaging 8.2 points and 3.0 assists in 16.3 minutes per game.
Then came the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline. Roberts was dealt to the Miami Heat as a part of the three-team deal that netted the Hornets Courtney Lee. Two days later, before suiting up once for the Miami Heat, Roberts was traded again, this time to the opposite side of the country - Portland, to be exact.
When asked about the trade, Roberts says the right things. He understands that it was a business decision the Hornets made, and he made the most of his time in Portland. But, he is happy to be back in Charlotte, which he felt was ideal for him on and off the court.
"When I found out that (Charlotte) was interested in me coming back, I was excited," Roberts said. " Obviously, I’m familiar with the team, the staff and the organization, so it’s an easy transition for me and my family. We get (to go) right back into our (old) house, the same old routine – that’s always good, to have a year of that kind of stability again."
It is an ideal match for Roberts to return to Charlotte, where the rest of his family called home and had to visit Roberts for six weeks in Portland last season. It is also ideal for the Hornets, who needed a veteran guard presence on their bench following the loss of Jeremy Lin to the Nets via free agency this offseason. Roberts, combined with Ramon Sessions, should be able to provide the team just that - though Roberts has offered to help in any way, shape or form he can.
"Personally, just being that guy the team can depend on in whatever role I’ll fill – I’m gonna do that," Roberts said when asked what his goals for the season were. "I feel like I can just provide that leadership on the bench and (help) guys get ready to play and just fill whatever role Coach (Clifford) needs me to play, I’m willing to do.
"I feel like when I was here last year, I feel like guys were respecting me and the coaching staff (was) respecting me." he added. "I’m trying to fill that same role. I think they can rely on me, they know what they’re gonna get from me night in and night out. That’s basically what I’m here to do."
Though Roberts was not around for the team's playoff run last season, he says he can feel the sting of the loss from his teammates when their first round defeat to the Heat is mentioned. It has been a theme of training camp so far - now that the team has reached the playoffs, they want to advance beyond just the first round. Based on what Roberts learned from his time at Miami and Portland, the pieces are set for just that.
"The biggest thing is just, you know, this place is great and they do it the right way," he said. "Those two places (Miami and Portland), they also were…playoff caliber/championship-type teams, and there’s no difference in the mindset, as far as winning and succeeding between those teams and here. I think this is a great city, a great organization to aspire to go deep in the playoffs and aspire for a championship. I feel like this is a great city to do that (with)."
Roberts would add that there are some similarities between Walker and Portland star guard Damian Lillard, who has made a name for himself as one of the NBA's best underrated players with his knack for scoring, particularly in clutch situations.
"Neither one is afraid of the big moment," Roberts noted. "Playing with Kemba for a couple of years, and being back with him, I know that down the stretch, he wants the ball and wants to take the shot. Same thing with Dam(ian) – he’s definitely (a) big time finisher at the end of games. They both aren’t scared of those big moments, and that’s what makes them great."
On Saturday, Roberts was one of a handful of players who missed contact drills due to injuries. A minor hamstring strain, Roberts called it. Nothing serious. The team plays its first preseason game of the season on Monday night, and neither Roberts, Walker nor Cody Zeller will be taking part in the game.
For most teams, having this many injury issues this early in training camp would be a problem. But, thanks to the stability of major pieces in the organization, Roberts is not worrying just yet.
"With this core that’s back and familiar with each other, I think it’s not as big of a factor, because we got guys who (have) played together and know each other, and obviously played in this system," Roberts said. "I think on other teams, it might be a little bit of a factor, but I think here, it’s OK."
For Charlotte, that is vital, since their schedule out of the gate looks daunting. Five of their first nine games of the season come against playoff teams from a year ago. Of the four other teams the Hornets begin the year with, one is the much-improved Milwaukee Bucks, and the other is the Utah Jazz, who just missed out on the playoffs last season.
Roberts had noted that while the playoffs are the Hornets' main goal, there is a long way to go between now and the postseason, and that the team needs to take it day-by-day. For now, Roberts is just glad to be back in a familiar setting, hoping to take the Hornets somehow they are unfamiliar with: the second round of the NBA playoffs.