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Guess what: A Charlotte Hornets post without Jeremy Lin or Kemba Walker! Now to business: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, injured before the season began, might actually get to play before it’s over, quietly getting back to practice on his next step back towards full recovery.

Kidd-Gilchrist, who suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder during a preseason game in Orlando on October 3, has been participating in noncontact practices for the last two weeks, and is now cleared to be part of full contact practices. When the injury happened, estimates about his return suggested it’s not going to happen before March, and maybe until the end of the season. Now? It looks like he might be able to help the Hornets try and make the playoffs.

What does getting him back mean for the Hornets (19-22, 2.5 games behind 8th in the East), when it actually happens? Well, defensively it gives them a huge boost, with the 22-year old often mentioned as the team’s best defender. Offensively he has been struggling throughout his career, especially with his jump shot. He did score 10.9 points per game last season and averaged 7.6 rebounds per game, but that has more to do with positioning and making shots near the basket. He has taken only 18 3-point shots in his NBA career, which is remarkable of the wrong kind of a small forward.

It would mean less and less of P.J. Hairston. So far, the Hornets have usually started with Nicolas Batum in the backcourt, while Hairston plays the small forward role next to Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller (since Al Jefferson has been injured) in the frontcourt. Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t make much sense coming off the bench because he doesn’t bring much in terms of offense, although his minutes will be limited early on. He should be able to get back to his original starting small forward role soon enough.

What does this do to the Hornets? Well, this is a team trying (although not always succeeding) to be different compared to last season, so it’s hard to know how he’ll mesh with everything that’s going on. Adding a player, a good one at least, should improve the Hornets, but will it fix whatever has gone wrong with this team in recent times? Far from certain, especially not during the early days of his return. And maybe if the playoffs become too difficult to reach, the Hornets don’t risk it and don’t even let him come back this season.

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