After going with the analytics, outside-the-box hire last time in Rich Cho, Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets are going old-school NBA with their next front office hire.
Former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has reached a deal to become the next GM in Charlotte, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the team.
“I’m excited to join the Hornets organization and I want to thank Michael for this opportunity,” Kupchak said in a statement. “I am well aware of the passion for basketball in Charlotte and throughout the entire state of North Carolina, and I am confident that we can build the Hornets into a successful team that our great fans can be proud of.”
There is no surprise here, Kupchak has been the frontrunner since the day it was announced Cho was out as GM. Kupchak and Jordan have a relationship forged through their ties to North Carolina and former coach Dean Smith.
Kupchak steps into a team with big questions hanging over it — do they trade Kemba Walker and jump-start a rebuild, or do they retool around him (with Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum on the roster) and aim to be a playoff team for a couple more seasons?
What does that mean for coach Steve Clifford’s job security? That is up in the air, but Clifford was an assistant coach with the Lakers while Kupchak was a GM, that could buy him some trust and another year.
Kupchak brings a resume that includes four rings won with the Lakers — including the smart trade for Pau Gasol, drafting Andrew Bynum (who was good with the Lakers), and even the failed Steve Nash/Dwight Howard move was bold and seen as brilliant before that team took the court — plus he has a presence and demeanor that will play well in Charlotte. Also, he drafted well, often at the back of the draft.
There was also a sense in some quarters in Los Angeles that the game had passed him by. He completely misread the market in the contracts for Luol Deng (four years, $72 million), Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) and even Jordan Clarkson (four years, $50 million, although the Lakers were able to eventually trade that one). Kupchak was a good soldier for the Lakers’ organization and so how much of those moves were the brainchild the former head of basketball operations in L.A. Jim Buss is up for debate, but Kupchak at the very least didn’t talk Buss out of those moves. (Both Buss and Kupchak were trying to keep their job, which also can account for the errors.)
There also were reports that the old-school Kupchak was a bit behind the modern NBA curve — he wouldn’t reach out through back channels to agents and free agent players before July 1, and that had him starting steps behind other teams.
Kupchak may be the safe choice for the Hornets, but that’s not necessarily bad.