Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: ‘No question I’m going to play this season’

The Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist posed for a photo during the team’s media day in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.
The Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist posed for a photo during the team’s media day in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. Associated Press

Recent developments suggest Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could still play a significant chunk of the regular season.

Kidd-Gilchrist was recently cleared for all non-contact activities, following shoulder surgery in October to repair a torn labrum. If the former University of Kentucky star progresses successfully in non-contact drills, he could be cleared in the coming weeks to start contact drills, the next step toward playing.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s original timetable suggested a six-month recovery time. So far he appears well ahead of that schedule.

“For sure. No question I’m going to play this season,” Kidd-Gilchrist told the Observer on Wednesday at shootaround. “I’m going to play. It’s a matter of when now.”

Kidd-Gilchrist tore the labrum in his right shoulder in early October during an exhibition against the Magic in Orlando. He had surgery days later and the original projected recovery time was six months.

Kidd-Gilchrist is the Hornets’ best defensive player. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Kidd-Gilchrist signed a four-year, $52 million contract extension with the Hornets over the summer.

While the team will be deliberate and cautious in managing his rehabilitation, Kidd-Gilchrist sounds upbeat about a significant role this regular season.

“I want to help my team win and I feel I can bring a lot of energy both on the offensive side and the defensive side. I just want to get back to what I love to do,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “It’s exciting. Another stepping stone to look forward to. Again, I’ve worked as hard as possible.”

In Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence, Coach Steve Clifford has started P.J. Hairston at small forward, in part so Nic Batum doesn’t start off games guarding the opposing team’s primary wing scorer.

Hairston has played solidly, but no one was going to replace Kidd-Gilchrist’s impact at the defensive end.

“He can make a big difference in our team,” said Clifford, whose team was 17-17 entering Wednesday night’s road game against the Phoenix Suns.

“He’s an elite defender. There are not many guys who can guard the other team’s primary scorer (night after night) and make it hard on them. Nobody can guard (Kevin) Durant or (Dwyane) Wade or LeBron (James) one-on-one. Nobody.

“But he’s smart and so good technically in a way that you have a chance without it being an all-out double-team. That makes a big difference.”

Clifford said everything so far looks positive, but the Hornets have cause not to project just when Kidd-Gilchrist might be ready to play.

“He’s been doing all the 5-0 and 3-0 drills in practice. Frankly, it’s just nice to have him around because he brings such energy to everything he does. They seem pretty ‘So far, so good' with his recovery,” Clifford said.

“I’m not a doctor, but I think (he'll play in the regular season). The only thing they’re hesitant about is the nature of these injuries. Literally it has to be step-by-step. They are hesitant to put out a timeline. They just want to make sure.”