I feel like front office executives and coaches in the NBA are subject to more unfair scrutiny than their equivalents in any other sport. More than any other sport, one player in the NBA can directly impact the game and success of a franchise that other individuals, whether its baseball, football, etc, just can’t match. And in the era of the NBA super teams, very few franchises have a legitimate shot to win a title and small market teams like the Hornets have a very hard time jockeying for position to be among the elite. It truly is a very hard job for both a GM and a coach.
As hard as the job is and even though we understand the challenges attached, you can’t be complacent or settle for mediocrity. That’s why at the end of the 2017/2018 season, both Rich Cho and Steve Clifford were relieved of their duties as GM and Coach respectively.
Replacing both of those guys was the right move for the franchise. Both Cho and Cliff had some nice moments, but ultimately, each had flaws that made them too much of a liability to keep going forward. With Cho, his saving grace was his ability to make trades. The only trade that I truly believe he lost was when he dealt Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert for Miles Plumlee. To go through everything that was wrong with that deal would take a separate blog post and frankly, no one needs to relive it. Even if that was Cho’s low point in the trade game, he was able to rectify it by dealing Plumlee away a couple months later in a deal that got Dwight Howard in return.
While Cho’s trademark as the Hornets GM were the trades he was able to make, the reasons as to why he had to make trades to remain competitive were the reasons he was fired. Cho wasn’t able to draft well and he handicapped himself with bad contracts. He’s going to be remembered for two things during his time here. One is that he only drafted one all star and two starters in seven drafts and the second is that he signed Nic Batum to a 5 year/$120M contract. Ouch. For all of the things Rich might have done that were positive like signing Big Al Jefferson or drafting Kemba Walker, those two things will make up his legacy here in Charlotte and that’s just brutal.
Fans are definitely hoping that Mitch Kupchak will be able to stabilize this franchise and eventually build a roster than can compete and go on a deep playoff run in the Eastern Conference. For an organization that hasn’t won a playoff series since the 01-02 season with Baron Davis, this seems like a tall order.
The immediate focus of Kupchak needs to be the upcoming NBA draft next week and based on his activity watching prospects at their pro days and the slew of prospects that have worked out in Charlotte over the past few weeks, I’d say that he’d agree with me. Given the atrocious cap situation that Kupchak inherited, getting this pick right at 11 is critical. There won’t be any spending room in free agency you can’t just depend on trades to present themselves to you. So in order for Kupchak to build this team while weathering this cap storm, he will have to capitalize on opportunities to acquire young controllable assets via the draft at pick 11 and frankly, at pick 55 as well.
A successful draft will certainly help ease Mitch’s time in free agency where he won’t have hardly any money to spend. If you’re confident that whoever you draft at 11 can come in and contribute right away, then you can take your time in free agency and find potential bargain deals or wait on potential trades to formulate.
This is where having a guy with Kupchak’s tenure will really help. Kupchak has been around long enough that he’s seen most every situation that the league has to offer and he’s made his fair share of mistakes working through them. Granted, operating in a gigantic market like LA compared to small market Charlotte is very different. The pressure to win in LA is much greater, but the pressure to deliver on a lottery pick has much more impact in Charlotte given that it’s not a desirable free agent destination. Trades and signings will certainly impact the direction that Kupchak wants the Hornets to head over the next few seasons, but this pick at 11 is the key into putting that plan into motion.
It’ll be interesting to see how Mitch plays this summer out for the Hornets, but having a guy who is a 10 time champion in the league as a player/executive, I have more confidence than ever, that this team will begin to trend forward. Excited for the journey.