LAS VEGAS — When Ronald Nored was hired as a Charlotte Hornets assistant coach prior to last season, he had reason to have some lingering bitterness toward the team’s All-Star point guard, Kemba Walker.
Seven years earlier, when Nored was a backup point guard playing for Brad Stevens at Butler, he helped the Bulldogs improbably march back to the NCAA championship game for the second consecutive year. They were stopped by Walker and UConn, falling just short of the ultimate goal once again.
But after arriving in Charlotte, Nored quickly realized it was impossible to be upset with Walker about, well, anything.
“Kemba’s a great guy,” Nored said. “He’s like the best guy ever, really. Every day he comes with a smile. He competes at a high level. He’s a great teammate in the locker room. He’s amazing in the community. Literally, I can’t say a bad word about Kemba.”
And that, for the most part, was the message Nored relayed to Stevens after the Celtics agreed to sign Walker to a four-year, $141 million deal at the start of free agency. Nored was disappointed that he’d no longer get to coach Walker, but he was happy that Stevens and his former Butler teammate, Gordon Hayward, would soon get a chance to work with a player he admires so deeply.
“Kemba is super unselfish, and he’s humble,” Nored said. “I think that fits with Brad perfectly. There’s going to be no issues there. It’s going to be seamless, because they’re two like-minded people that push other people to get better, and they’re good people. It’s going to work so well and I think they’re going to have a great relationship.”
Nored said he and Stevens did not talk about Walker or former Celtics guard Terry Rozier — who swapped places in a sign-and-trade deal — when free agency courtships were unfolding. But when the two talked over the course of the year, their mutual admiration for Walker came up often. In addition to coaching against Walker in the 2011 NCAA title game, Stevens coached him in the 2017 NBA All-Star game and of course has been facing him in the Eastern Conference ever since he was hired by the Celtics in 2013.
Nored was also an assistant coach under Stevens with the Celtics during the 2014-15 season, so he has a good understanding of the team’s schemes and the city’s rabid fan base. He beamed when he thought about how Walker will embrace both of those things soon.
“He’s a guy that people in Boston will love,” Nored said. “They’ll be able to wrap their arms around him when he gets his pull-up threes and his crossovers and all that stuff that he does. People will love it. And people will like him because of the kind of person he is and the way he plays.
“He’s a worker. Even at the point he is in his career, a three-time All-Star, he still works really hard. He doesn’t go through the motions. He loves to be in the gym and he loves basketball. I think that sets him apart.”
Nored left the Celtics during the summer of 2015, when Boston drafted Rozier 16th overall. But he became familiar with Rozier’s game because he watches the Celtics more often than every team but his own. He and Stevens recently talked about Rozier’s fit in Charlotte, too.
“I think Brad was excited that Terry is going to a good organization with good people that he’ll relate to well,” Nored said. “I think he brings a scoring element. You think about him in the playoffs a couple years ago, his ability to create shots, his athleticism. Defensively he competes pretty hard. He’s going to fit for us, because we need all that. We need a guy who can score and play pick-and-roll and defend.”
Nored and Hayward were in the same freshman class at Butler and played together for two years before Hayward left early to enter the NBA draft. They remain friends, and Nored said it is frustrating that the ankle injury Hayward suffered two seasons ago has kept him from dominating like he is capable of with the Celtics. But he is confident that cloud will soon lift.
“I know it was a tough year in a lot of ways for Gordon, but I think he’ll bounce back,” Nored said. “He’s a worker. I think at the end of the season and into the playoffs you saw, ‘OK, this guy is getting back to who he is.’ That’s a tough injury to come back from. A year doesn’t even seem like enough time. So this year I think he’ll be much better.
I’m looking forward to it a lot just for him. He’s a friend, he’s a teammate. I want to see him do well and have success, just not against us.”