Lopez eager for fresh, healthy start with Hornets
Robin Lopez always saw himself as a defense-first big man, someone who can grind out low-scoring games.
The 7-foot center suspects that's why the Hornets, with defensive-minded coach Monty Williams at the helm, made a trade with the Phoenix Suns for him late last month.
''With the exception of Phoenix, in college and high school I always played with low-scoring successful teams,'' Lopez said on Thursday morning while working out at the Hornets' training center. ''That is something I can definitely get accustomed to here.''
Lopez is currently rehabilitating from an operation earlier this month to repair a torn medial meniscus on the same left knee that has bothered him since early in the 2010-11 season, when he went out for a month after then-Suns teammate Jared Dudley fell and rolled into him.
His performance has sagged ever since the injury and last season he fell out of a starting role and averaged 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14 minutes a game. Other previous injuries during his young career have included a bulging disk in his back and a fractured foot.
''In a competitive league like this, (injuries) can kind of make or break a season for you,'' Lopez said. ''I don't want to make any excuses, obviously, because there are other contributing factors. I wasn't what I should have been. I wasn't up to par, I guess, so that can be rough. So being almost healthy right now, or definitely being on that course, that's very exciting for me. Right now, I feel great.''
Lopez said that although he is eager to do more basketball-related training on the court with his new teammates, he is trying not to rush back with more than two months still remaining before the regular season opens.
The 24-year-old makes no secret, though, that he views his move to the Big Easy as a fresh start after struggling to live up to expectations as Phoenix's 2008 first-round draft choice (15th overall).
''I'm excited to be here. We've got a young, energetic group,'' Lopez said. ''The good thing is we've got some youth that has a little bit of experience as well. If you look at their age you wouldn't necessarily assume that, but it's true and hopefully we can parlay that into something special.''
The Hornets' roster is full of players who have gotten solid chunks of playing time in their first few years in the NBA, including forward Ryan Anderson, guard Eric Gordon, guard Greivis Vasquez, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Lopez himself.
Then there is rookie Anthony Davis, who has no NBA experience, but comes in on the heels of teaming up with the best basketball players in the world to win an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. team. Davis did not play much in the Olympics, but likely gained experience through practice that he can apply heading into his rookie NBA season.
Lopez said he believes that when he and the 6-11 Davis are on the floor together on the defensive end, opposing players are going to have a tough time scoring on drives to the hoop.
''From what I've seen of him, he's fantastic,'' Lopez said of Davis, who was the star of Kentucky's 2012 national title team. ''He's got great timing, long athletic. I don't think I'm too bad of a defensive player, so we make a heck of a tandem down there on the defensive end. Hopefully we can kind of close down some lanes.''
Notes: Hornets assistant coach James Borrego is leaving to join Jacque Vaughn's new staff in Orlando. Hornets head coach Monty Williams says current assistant Bryan Gates will take on more responsibility after Borrego's departure. Williams has not said when he may add a new member to his staff, which also includes Randy Ayers, Dave Hanners and Fred Vinson.