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It’s official: Charlotte hires James Borrego as new head coach

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This was reported as all but done a couple of days ago, now it is official.

James Borrego is the new head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. A deal was reached and the team made the announcement Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very excited to serve as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets,” Borrego said in a statement. “I want to thank Michael Jordan, Mitch Kupchak and Buzz Peterson for this opportunity. I’m confident in the coaching foundation I’ve had the opportunity to develop during my time in San Antonio, Orlando and New Orleans, and I cannot wait to get to work in Charlotte.”

“We are thrilled to have James join our franchise,” Hornets GM Kupchak said in his statement. “He brings a wealth of experience and a strong track record of player development from his time as a coach in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando. He has been a part of teams that have ascended to the highest levels of success in our league and understands what it takes to win in the NBA. James is considered one of the NBA’s most well-regarded assistant coaches and it’s great to have him as part of our team. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.”

Borrego comes out of the Spurs coaching tree. He started with that organization as a video coordinator and worked is way up to being an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich. He left with Monty Williams to be an assistant coach in New Orleans, from there went to Orlando under Jacques Vaughn — where Borrego was an interim head coach for 30 games after Vaughn was fired. After that, he came back to the Spurs and has been an assistant there for three years.

He comes to a Hornets team on the cusp of changes, it’s just unclear what direction Kupchak will take the team. With massive contracts on the books for Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard, plus paying eight figures to Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets are capped out and are pushing the luxury tax. They can keep the roster together mostly, add a lottery pick, and make a push for the playoffs, or it could be time to start the rebuilding — which begins with trading Kemba Walker.

Borrego and Kupchak clearly talked about this before this hiring was made — Borrego knows what he’s getting into. While he picks a staff and sets up his infrastructure, the future direction of the Hornets will become clear.

 

Report: Hornets hiring Spurs assistant James Borrego as head coach

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The Hornets narrowed their coaching search to Spurs assistant James Borrego and Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga.

Apparently, Charlotte chose Borrego.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Borrego has worked under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs the last three years, still a strong implicit endorsement for any coaching candidate. In 2015, Borrego served as the Magic’s interim coach. He didn’t exactly impress in the most visible role of his career, but taking over a losing team mid-season is no easy task.

He’ll get a fresh start in Charlotte – though not an easy situation.

The Hornets aren’t good enough to warrant clear playoff status, but they’re also too capped out to simply upgrade the roster or rebuild. They might just be stuck.

It’s now on Borrego to help get them out of this purgatory.

If Charlotte is trying to win now, Kemba Walker is a nice start. The rest of the veteran roster – Dwight Howard, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams – is good enough to win moderately with the right breaks.

If the Hornets are rebuilding, that’d likely begin with the return in a Walker trade. They also have their own lottery pick this year, Malik Monk and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

It’s just unclear which direction new general manager Mitch Kupchak will take the team. But we now know he’ll do it with Borrego coaching.

Will LeBron James keep outlasting Eastern Conference field?

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DETROIT – When I brought up comments he made about LeBron James during the Cavaliers’ sweep of the Raptors in last year’s playoffs, Kyle Lowry responded before I even asked a question.

“Finish the quote, though,” Lowry said. “Go look at the whole quote.”

The headline:

Kyle Lowry: ‘They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him’

“The whole quote,” Lowry insists. “So, what did it say? Go ahead.”

The second paragraph and first quote:

“They’ve got LeBron James,” Lowry told The Vertical late Friday night. “Nobody’s closing the gap on him. I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him.”

“Did you finish the quote?” Lowry asks again.

Finally, the fifth paragraph (which followed a large image):

“I don’t know when his prime is going to stop,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. I think he’ll be able to continue what he’s doing for a long time. But that’s basketball. You’ve got to find a way to beat the best.”

To Lowry, the key portion of the quote: “You’ve got to find a way to beat the best.” He believes people took his statement out of context with that part buried.

“Yes, they did,” Lowry said. “For sure. That’s why it kind of got to me.”

Lowry said he meant no disrespect with his defensiveness, and I took none. He sounded tired of hearing about that quote for nearly an entire year.

He doesn’t want that soundbite to go the way of Brandon Jennings‘ “Bucks in 6,” Lance Stephenson‘s ear blow and Stanley Johnson‘s “I’m definitely in his head” as the latest punchline in LeBron’s reign of Eastern Conference dominance. No, Lowry wants to end LeBron’s rule completely.

“We’ve got to be better than him to be the best team we can be,” Lowry said. “And that’s what it is. We’re not afraid of him. We’ve got to be a better team and figure out how to beat him and beat every other team.”

The Raptors are the last challenger standing in the wreckage left in LeBron’s wake.

LeBron has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles, four with the Heat then three with the Cavs. In that span, he’s 21-0 in Eastern Conference playoff series and 84-21 in Eastern Conference playoff games.

Of the 21 Eastern Conference teams LeBron has beaten in this run, 11 have completely turned over their roster since losing to him.

LeBron has broken up the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Rajon Rondo Celtics, Paul George-Roy Hibbert-Lance Stephenson-David WestGeorge Hill Pacers, Derrick RoseJoakim NoahLuol Deng Bulls, Al HorfordPaul MillsapKyle KorverJeff TeagueDeMarre Carroll Hawks and Isaiah ThomasAvery BradleyJae Crowder Celtics. Yup, LeBron is going for seconds.

Of Eastern Conference players who lost to LeBron’s Miami teams, only John Henson (2013 Milwaukee) and Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller (2014 Charlotte) have remained with the same team. And those were teams LeBron swept in the first round, hardly marquee competition.

Here’s everyone who has played against LeBron in the Eastern Conference playoffs the last seven years. Players are sorted by minutes in the series. Those in green remain with that team. Those in red and crossed off changed teams (though three – Lance Stephenson, Brandon Jennings and Omer Asik – returned).

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LeBron’s moves from Cleveland to Miami in 2010 and then back to Cleveland in 2014 were obviously monumental. But his presence has loomed over the entire East.

“You’re gauged on if you can beat his team that gets to the Finals every year,” said Bucks center John Henson, the only man who has stayed with an Eastern Conference team beaten by LeBron’s Heat from 2011-2013. “Constantly building and rebuilding and trades are being made to dethrone him.”

Paul George takes pride in pushing LeBron as hard as anyone in the East has during this time. His Pacers were the last Eastern Conference team to reach even a Game 7 against LeBron (2013 conference finals), and Indiana battled the Heat in a hard-fought six-game conference finals the following year.

“Going through that changed me as a player, changed my learning, my experience,” George said. “And that’s what it came down to. I was very proud of where we, that group that competed in that Eastern Conference finals, I’m very proud of what we accomplished in that short period of career we had together.”

George has moved on to the Thunder in the Western Conference, where the competition certainly isn’t easier, but at least doesn’t include LeBron.

Al Horford helped the Hawks win 60 games in 2014-15 only to get swept by LeBron’s Cavaliers in the conference finals. Atlanta returned mostly intact the following year, but got swept by LeBron again.

“They just kind of just kept wearing down on us over the years,” Horford said.

Now, Horford is with Boston, again trying to get past LeBron.

The Celtics appear particularly conscious of LeBron. While still competitive, they traded icons Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. Though the Nets’ ridiculously generous offer certainly helped, it’s hard to believe Boston wasn’t influenced by LeBron being in his prime.

That prime has only continued. After losing in five games to LeBron’s Cavs in last year’s conference finals, Boston got rid of 11 of 15 players.

If the Celtics’ front office fears LeBron (wisely, if it does), it shares company with his opponents on the floor

“Some people he plays in this league, for sure, get intimidated,” said P.J. Tucker, who faced LeBron with the Raptors last year. “…People, when you watch the TV, you think he’s just going to come in and just manhandle you.”

Of course, LeBron isn’t doing this alone. He played with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland.

But that’s part of the lore. LeBron has engineered super teams so he could dominate a conference for the better part of a decade.

Continuing the streak won’t be easy. The 76ers are growing up before our eyes. The Celtics are young and good, and they’ll be healthier another year. The Raptors are digging in.

And the Cavs look vulnerable. Their defense is ugly. For the first team in this era, LeBron has only one supporting star, Love. The Cavaliers are just the No. 4 seed, LeBron’s lowest seed since 2008. Though LeBron isn’t worried, that means a first-round matchup with the Pacers (48-34) – the best record of any of LeBron’s first-round opponents.

LeBron has won all 12 of his first-round series, including 21 straight first-round games. Given how much Cleveland relies on him, even a prolonged series with Indiana could have lasting negative consequences deeper in the playoffs.

The last time so much was on LeBron’s plate was 2010, when his top teammates were Mo Williams and a declining Antawn Jamison. The Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the second round.

Rajon Rondo, now with the Pelicans, said he had no idea that Boston squad was the last non-LeBron team to win the East.

“He won seven straight, huh?” Rondo said. “It’s looking like it’s about to be eight.”

Report: Hornets offer GM job to Mitch Kupchak, expect to hire him

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As soon as the Hornets fired Rich Cho as general manager, Mitch Kupchak emerged as the likely replacement. Charlotte interviewed other candidates but has apparently circled back to the expected choice.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Kupchak previously worked as general manager of the Lakers. He won multiple titles, but by the end of his tenure, he looked desperate and out of touch.

His North Carolina connection with Hornets owner Michael Jordan probably helped Kupchak get another chance.

If he accepts the offer, Kupchak will inherit a rough situation. Charlotte is merely a borderline playoff team and strapped with:

Kemba Walker is a star, but time is ticking until his 2019 free agency.

Will Kupchak trade Walker and rebuild? Unloading all those big contracts won’t be easy.

Will Kupchak try to win around Walker? Again, those big contracts are prohibitive.

A middle ground of rebuilding while keeping the beloved Walker? That might push him out in free agency.

This isn’t an easy job, but there are only 30 NBA general managers. Kupchak has an offer to become one again.

Hornets dropping GM Rich Cho, will reportedly pursue Mitch Kupchak

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Update: Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will not extend the contract of General Manager Rich Cho. The Hornets will begin a search for a new general manager immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

 

Last spring, the Hornets exercised their option on general manager Rich Cho for this season. It wasn’t exactly a strong vote of confidence without a contract extension.

Now, it’s becoming even more clear he’s a lame duck.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cho has had plenty of hits and misses as general manager, including a year with the Trail Blazers. But the misses have added up in Charlotte. The Hornets’ next general manager will inherit:

Kemba Walker helps, but he can’t do it alone. This bloated payroll leaves little flexibility for roster upgrades – necessary to lift Charlotte into strong playoff contention. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and affording him could be tricky.

This is not a good job (relative to the other 29 NBA general manager jobs, of course).

Hornets owner Michael Jordan certainly plays into that. In one of the biggest gaffes of the Cho era, Charlotte rejected the Celtics’ offer of four first-round picks for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, just to pick Frank Kaminsky. (Boston wanted Justise Winslow.) Was that Cho’s call or Jordan’s?

Cho takes the fall, though. That’s how this works.

Jordan’s ownership also means he gets to pick the replacement. It’s surely not a coincidence he’s leaning toward Mitch Kupchak (who played at North Carolina) and Buzz Peterson (who played with Jordan at North Carolina).

Kupchak fizzled late, but his overall tenure with the Lakers was a success. Has the game passed him by, or did recency bias unfairly paint him unfavorably? We might get to find out.