Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t have the best showing in his first return to Phoenix after the blockbuster trade that brought All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Suns.
With the Warriors, Oubre shot a disastrous 1-of-11 for four points as Phoenix won by 21.
“It was freshly after getting traded,” Oubre said. “It was a lot of emotions and a lot of energy that I didn’t know how to process. Mentally, I wasn’t really into the game and I didn’t know my role with the Warriors at that time, either.”
Now with the Hornets (16-15), Oubre is further removed from the trade, is in a better place physically and mentally, but calling his second trip back to Phoenix (23-5) “just another game” for him.
Don’t take that to think Oubre doesn’t care about Sunday’s matchup against his former team.
“I’m just happy to be able to see the old faces in the same places that I used to be at,” Oubre said. “It’s going to be a good one, though.”
Averaging 21.6 points on 50% shooting (42.1% from 3) in December, the athletic, explosive and energized Oubre returns to a city that embraced him from the moment he arrived in a trade from Washington in the 2018-19 season with a young, exciting, talented Hornets’ team he’s helped become a playoff contender.
“It’s a blessing,” said the 26-year-old Oubre, who is in his seventh NBA season. “I just want to play the game of basketball, get better each and every day, each and every year and just continue to sharpen my tools. Blessing to be able to sharpen them here with a bunch of guys who are still trying to learn their way. I have some battle scars to be able to tell them on what not to do and what paths not to go down on. I’m just here to be a voice and here to show them how to be a consummate professional and Godspeed, we’re going to get there.”
Oubre calls the journey from Phoenix to Charlotte “a blessing,” saying he has gone from being young and “rough around the edges,” to being a veteran in the league.
“It’s night and day,” Oubre said. “It’s a cool process and evolution to see.”
Oubre’s two seasons in Phoenix were certainly memorable, though.
The 6-6 wing out of Kansas had a career year in Phoenix in 2019-20 as he averaged 18.7 points in helping the Suns begin the process of becoming one of the NBA’s elite teams under Monty Williams.
“He was instrumental in us building our program,” Williams said about his first season in Phoenix. “It sounds kind of sappy, but I’m forever indebted to those guys because they helped us build Suns basketball back to where it is.”
Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes and Oubre are “those guys” Williams later named.
“People thought we were like a rebuild team, but how can you be a rebuild if you’ve got Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes and Kelly Oubre,” Williams said. “Those guys had experience and they brought it every day.”
Oubre and Williams share having a strong work ethic. Now they certainly have different fashion sense as Oubre is far more expressive, but Williams said he liked Oubre’s personality.
“He’s a unique dude,” Williams said. “I enjoyed my time with him. We had really good conversations. I always knew I could be straight with him. He gave us a lot. He gave a lot to our program.”
Oubre respectfully said he can’t take anything from being part of the foundation of the Suns’ rise, but he spoke highly of Williams and his time in Phoenix after having some choice words about Suns team owner Robert Sarver following the trades that landed him to Golden State.
After the Suns traded Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, Rubio, Oubre and a 2022 first-round pick to Oklahoma City for Paul and Abdel Nader, the Thunder traded Oubre to Golden State for draft picks.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy for Coach Monty and the whole program,” Oubre said. “That was once home so I have no ill will or hatred towards this organization, but at the end of the day, I have to move forward and focus on my career and my path. I was blessed to be able to be a Phoenix Sun for my time.”
Oubre had just as much of a voice in the Suns locker room as did Devin Booker and was a huge influence on Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
“I was definitely really grateful for him,” Johnson said. “He was just encouraging. He was a great teammate.”
As a rookie, Johnson had a stunning play in which he drove past Anthony Davis and dunked on now-Suns teammate JaVale McGee in Los Angeles when McGee was with the Lakers.
Oubre was so pumped about the play as he had been encouraging Johnson, a 3-point shooter, to attack the rim.
“You can’t back down from anybody,” said Oubre after that game the Suns lost Feb. 10, 2020. “I think he’s learning that. It’s either kill or be killed in this league.”
The next season, Johnson proved he’d learned the art of aggression as he punched one on P.J. Tucker in the 2021 finals against Milwaukee with authority.
“Cam is somebody who works hard, who paid his dues to the game,” Oubre said Saturday. “It’s all a mindset shift, honestly. At the end of the day, you’ve got to want it more than the next guy and I think that he was starting to learn that. Obviously, if you’re around me, I want this s—t. I’m hungry. I’m just blessed to be able to be in his life at that time in his career for him to know that you’ve got to attack the rim.”
Oubre doesn’t have the same connection he once had with the Suns young ones, but is happy to see Bridges, Ayton and Johnson shine in Phoenix.
“I’m proud of them from a distance,” Oubre said. “I haven’t really talked to them. I talk to Mikal every once in awhile, but I haven’t really talked to them like I would’ve liked to after the whole trade thing went down, but I’m just blessed to be able to serve. Blessed to be able to be heard and to be able to help and bring light to some dark times within the Suns organization. It was blessing in my time here. I’m just happy I made those bonds.”
The Suns clearly got the better end of the trade as Paul was the catalyst in the Suns reaching the finals last season in his first year with the franchise, but Oubre is impacting the play of the Hornets.
“Kelly has been a big addition,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.
Borrego said he spoke to Williams about Oubre as he was an assistant under him in New Orleans.
“He was very complimentary (of Oubre),” Borrego said about Williams. “Thought very highly of Kelly.”
Averaging 16.6 points a game and shooting a career-best 38.4% from 3, Oubre has been a pleasant surprise for Borrego, who has started him nine games this season.
“He’s played extremely well,” Borrego said. “Better than I anticipated and I think he’s even got more in him left on the bone.”
Williams noticed Oubre starting slow with the Hornets just as he did with the Warriors. Averaging 15.4 points in his one year (2020-21) in Golden State, Oubre missed his first 17 shots from 3 last season.
Oubre has four-game stretch in November this season when he connected on just 2-of-17 threes.
Two games later, Oubre dropped a season-high 37, going 7-of-9 on 3s, in 31 minutes in an 118-108 win at Memphis.
“He’s picked it up a lot faster,” Williams said. “Kelly is a guy who cares about the game, about his game and we saw that here.”
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