CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — New Hornets coach James Borrego plans to make Charlotte relevant again in the NBA’s Eastern Conference by developing the existing players on the roster.
He may not have any other choice.
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday “there is no master plan to blow up this team right now” when asked about the chances of dramatically overhauling the roster after back-to-back 36-win seasons. He said Borrego was hired with the understanding that “he was going to coach the guys that are on this team right now.”
Borrego, who was hired Thursday night as the first Hispanic-American head coach in the NBA history, appeared to be up to the challenge when he was introduced at a news conference on Friday.
“My mentality is this is our group and we are moving forward with it,” said Borrego, who becomes the 11th head coach in franchise history. “I’m excited about that current group as it stands right now. I think our biggest room for growth is the internal development piece.”
That’s a good thing since Kupchak said the Hornets don’t have a lot of salary cap flexibility at this time, something which could what the team can do this offseason in terms of free agency and trades. The GM noted that “right now the likelihood is we are going to go forward with this team.”
Borrego said it is up to him to develop younger players Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who saw limited playing last season as rookies under former coach Steve Clifford. He also pointed toward getting more out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a former No. 2 overall pick who is still just 24, and Frank Kaminsky, also a first-round draft pick.
“There is a group of young guys that after this summer should take a major leap,” Borrego said. “If they take a major leap our roster changes significantly.”
While he was quick to acknowledge turning the Hornets into a winner will be a challenge and that he doesn’t bring “a pocket full of fairy dust” with him from San Antonio, Borrego does feel the Hornets have quality pieces in place, including two-time All-Star Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard.
Borrego said he is a “big fan” of Walker and his goal is to open up the floor for him on offense to make more plays.
“It’s my job to put him in position to succeed,” Borrego said. “For me that means giving him space and a floor that is open to create, so he should be excited about that. I’m in his corner. I back him. I’m with him.”
He likes Batum too, calling him an unselfish player that is hard to find. He also praised Howard for a terrific first season in Charlotte.
The 40-year-old Borrego, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, knows what it’s like to win.
He spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA, including 10 with the Spurs working under Gregg Popovich where he won two NBA championship rings and went to four Western Conference finals.
He has been a part of staffs that have led teams to the playoffs 11 different times during that span with stints in San Antonio, New Orleans, and Orlando.
Borrego said he plans to play an up-tempo style on offense while placing an added emphasis on defending the 3-point line on defense.
“There are pieces in place here to play that style,” Borrego said.