WESTWEGO — Former LSU forwards Tasmin Mitchell and Darnell Lazare moved their workouts from Baton Rouge to the Alario Center to participate in a New Orleans Hornets mini-camp for free agents Friday.
Mitchell and Lazare have been working out together in gyms throughout the Baton Rouge area as they try to latch on with an NBA team. The Hornets, who don’t have a first-round draft choice and face an uncertain roster with only five players locked in for next season and a likely lockout looming, are scouring the landscape for potential new players.
Whether Mitchell, Lazare, or any of the other 14 players who participated in the mini-camp will become Hornets remains to be seen, but the get-acquainted session seemed mutually beneficial.
“We’re looking under every rock,” Hornets General Manager Dell Demps said. “We’re looking for guys that can help us. It’s possible that these guys are better than the 45th pick in the draft (New Orleans’ only selection).
“We’re going to keep trying to find ways to improve as a team. These are some guys that we wanted to take a look at. With everything going on this year and our contract situation, this is a chance for us to get our hands on some guys who are available and let our coaching staff work with them.”
Demps said he remembered Mitchell, a native of Denham Springs, from seeing him at camps while Mitchell was in high school. Coach Monty Williams said he remembered him from LSU, where Mitchell became the third-leading scorer in Tigers history.
“Tas is the same player he was at LSU,” Williams said. “He has great hands, defends, talks on defense, is crafty around the basket. We always want to make sure that we open our arms to the local guys. We feel it’s our duty to make sure we explore all those options.”
Lazare, a Lafayette native who is four seasons removed from LSU, said his game has improved in a lot of ways since he was an admitted “role player” for the Tigers.
“My ability to score and my one-on-one game are a lot better,” Lazare said. “I defend a lot better because I understand the nuances of the game a lot better.”
After leaving LSU, Lazare (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) played one year in Poland, then one in the Ukraine. Then he reached the NBA Development League and played in Maine two years ago and in Fort Wayne (Ind.), this past season, during which he averaged 30.5 minutes, 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“It’s been a long journey for me, an interesting journey,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep working my way up and create opportunities for myself.”
Mitchell (6-7, 235) spent his one season removed from the Tigers playing with Erie (Ohio) in the D-League. He averaged 33.0 minutes, 16.5 points, and 5.7 rebounds. He also learned a lot off the basketball court.
“At LSU, we’d take charter flights to Oxford, Miss., Starkville, Kentucky, places like that, and come back the same night,” Mitchell said. “In the D-League you leave the day before the game, play the next day, and come back the day after that. It’s a lot of Southwest flights.
“The D-League was a real experience. It teaches you to appreciate the game a lot more and not worry about the other aspects. This is about responsibility. You’re making a livelihood, not just playing for your love and passion for basketball. You still have fun playing basketball, but it’s also a job.”
Both players said they expect to participate in camps with other teams. Mitchell said he’ll play overseas if he doesn’t get offered an NBA contract or if the lockout delays next season.
“Growing up, I always liked the Hornets,” he said. “I’d love to be here. If it works out it would be a dream come true.”
Other participants of note were F Darryl Watkins, who was one of New Orleans’ last cuts last training camp, F Rodney Carney, who has played in nearly 300 NBA games, former North Carolina F Deon Thompson, former Kentucky C Randolph Morris, and two New Orleanians — F Carlos Wheeler and G Squeaky Johnson. … Hornets top assistant coach Mike Malone was absent from the camp as he is being courted by new Lakers coach Mike Brown for a similar position in L.A. … Williams said he spoke with F David West last week and West’s rehabilitation from knee surgery in April is going well. West hasn’t indicated whether he will opt out of the final year of his contract before the June 30 deadline.