Standing outside the door of the Hornets’ practice facility, Miles Bridges took a moment to compose himself. He was just returning from a two-month sojourn to the mountainous regions of western North Carolina, where he had reconnected with his inner self, attained a higher spiritual awareness, and, yes, worked on his game. Limiting himself to a strict ten minutes of “phone time” per day had allowed him to be immersed in the stunning natural beauty of his surroundings and maintain perfect focus on his own attitude and his own skill development.
There was a part of him that, even now, wanted to escape back to his idyllic mountaintop hermitage until the season started, but he knew he couldn’t. He had to be there for his teammates. He had to develop chemistry with them. He had to demonstrate to them, through his actions, what it meant to truly be a student of the game of basketball.
“Hey guys,” Miles said as he walked into the gym, where some familiar faces (and some new ones) were already shooting around. He grabbed a ball and started to get some practice shots up as well. Soon, Devonte’ Graham walked in, and made a beeline for his friend and fellow second-year player.
“How’d your vacation go?” Devonte’ asked. “You, like, attain nirvana or something?”
Miles laughed. “Pretty much. Honestly, I think I can step up and be a secondary leader of this squad behind Kemba.”
Devonte’s face fell. “Oh. Nobody told you.”
“Told me what?”
Now Devonte’ was grimacing like he was feeling physical pain. “Man, Kemba’s gone. We didn’t re-sign him. He’s on the Celtics now.”
Miles was stunned. He could feel his positive attitude deflating within him. It didn’t seem real. “No way, man. No way. Tell me you’re joking right now. Tell me you’re joking and I’ll even forgive you for telling such inconsiderate jokes.”
“No joke,” Devonte’ said, and Miles could tell from his teammate’s apologetic tone that he was telling the truth. Now that the information was sinking in, the disbelief was being replaced with anger. How could the Hornets not retain Kemba? Did they not realize that he was the face of the franchise and the was the man who single-handedly made the team relevant? Miles ran out of the gym and towards the executive offices before anybody could stop him.
Soon, he was in front of Michael Jordan’s office. MJ had a relaxed “open door” policy when it came to his players, and Miles had taken advantage of that policy several times during his rookie season, looking for advice and guidance from a guy who had seen it all during his career. Now he would be having a very different kind of conversation with him. A conversation about the direction of the team.
“Miles. What brings you in today?” Michael said from his desk.
Miles didn’t answer right away. He was staring in confusion at the decor of the office. Spread across every wall was a veritable collage of images of military tanks, propane tanks, and oxygen tanks. A flat-panel television had been affixed to the wall across from Michael’s desk; it was playing a History Channel documentary about WWII Russian tank technology. Michael himself was dressed unprofessionally in a tank-top and shorts, and he wasn’t looking at his player at all; his attention was solely on the computer screen in front of him, where he was playing some kind of game.
“Can you pause that?” Miles asked.
Michael shook his head. “Actually, I can’t. It’s online. But you can ask your questions and I’ll just keep playing World of Tanks.”
Knowing that it was unwise to talk back to the GM of the team who happened to be the GOAT, Miles tried to keep his voice level. “Is it too late to, like, match Kemba’s contract or something? Or trade back for him?”
“Way too late. Kemba’s gone for good. We appreciate what he brought to the team and wish him the best but we needed to move in a new direction.” This reporter-friendly line sounded rehearsed and insincere.
“But we’ll be trash now!” Miles protested. “Our best player will be, like, MKG.”
Michael, perhaps still distracted by his game, didn’t seem perturbed at all by Miles’ protestations. “We’ve made a good-faith effort to acquire some players who can replace Kemba’s production.”
Suddenly, another person entered the office. Miles identified him quickly: it was Terry Rozier. For some reason, Terry was wearing an elaborate tank costume made out of cardboard and bicycle wheels. There was a Pringles-can turret on top of his head.
“Tank commander Rozier, reporting for duty, SIR!” Terry said, putting his hand up in a salute.
Terry’s arrival was apparently enough for Michael to forget about his unpausable game; he got up and started dapping up the new acquisition. “You ready for this? You ready for this? You ready to tank like never before?”
Miles got out his phone and texted Kemba’s number, hoping that it hadn’t changed with his move to Boston. “Already missing you down here, bro.”