GM Mitch Kupchak 2019 NBA Trade Deadline Conference Call Transcript

On how close the team was to making a trade:

“I guess that would depend on who you ask.  We were working on a lot of deals. I would say we focused on two or three as of late and I thought we were making progress, but I don’t know if we ever got close or not.  Communication and back and forth almost always picks up as you approach the deadline, so there’s always the illusion that because there’s more back and forth you are getting closer, but I don’t know if that was in fact the case.” 

On balancing winning this season versus planning around future assets:

“I think that’s a good question.  The answer is yes we are looking to balance as best we can.  We’ve got a veteran roster with players on multi-year deals.  Our focus is to try to win and to try to get in the playoffs.  I know our veterans want to do that and it’s easier to play as you get older, in this business, the grind is such that if you’re not playing for something it’s difficult.  Of course, I don’t want to minimize the amount of money that players are getting paid, because people in general would not understand that question that it’s hard to play as you get older, it just doesn’t sound right when you’re making a lot of money and you’re playing. Over an 82 or 90 game schedule it does become a grind.  When you’re an older group with veterans, it’s something they want to do and you want to provide them with that opportunity. Quite frankly, as an organization, that’s what we want to ultimately provide for our fans and supporters, is a team that wins.  Having said that, we know it’s a process, especially in today’s world with the draft.  When you take players in the draft that are only 19 years old, it takes time to develop them where they’re mature experienced players who can contribute to a winning team.  You can’t just start that process in one year.  If you do, you need a bunch of draft picks that year, which of course is not realistic.  And then you have to wait a long time for all those players to mature at the same time.  So it’s a balancing act, we are trying to win and we are trying to get in the playoffs.  We do have veteran players that want to win, our fans always want us to win but I think they’re sophisticated enough to understand that you have to have something in the pipeline all the time.  It’s a part of what we’re trying to do, it’s a balancing act and it’s not the easiest thing in the world but we’re doing the best we can at it and I’m hopeful in the last third of the season we can hit our stride a little bit and go in to post-All-Star break with some rest, some steam and some confidence and achieve our first objective which is to get in the playoffs.” 

On expectations for the last third of the season:

“Well by expectations, I don’t have the schedule in front of me, so it’s hard to go game-by-game which I’ve done on my own, but I don’t have it in front of me, in terms of how many home games and how many away games and how many I think we are going to win. I do know our schedule is not in our favor.  We are having, of course what is a great honor, the NBA All-Star game next week which is going to take our team out of the building for eight to ten days and then we are hosting the ACC tournament which is another honor but that’s going to take our team on the road also.  When that happens, we kind of have a schedule at the beginning of the year where you have a bunch home games and then at the end of the year we are on the road quite a bit.  So it’s not really in our favor, but we are right in the middle of it right now.  I think you’ll start to see some separation in our league.  You saw today, a lot of the teams that made moves, I’m not going to say they’re throwing the towel in on the season but if they’re not in the playoffs the became sellers the last two or three days leading up to today and the teams that felt they were in it, or had a chance to get in it, were buyers.  Typically, sellers will play their young players more so towards the last third of the season so if we stay healthy, even though we’re on the road, we’re hopeful we can take advantage of that. So maybe we can put something together, get some steam, win some games despite our schedule and get in to the playoffs.”

On the potential for evaluating the buyout market and the 15th roster spot:

“Part of the reason why we have that spot available, is to cover ourselves in times like this should a player become available, and then also, knock on wood, due to injury.  We’ve had a relatively injury-free season and I’m hopeful the rest of the season follows suit.  As far as a buyout, and signing a player that normally would not be a free agent or free at this time, some of that is taking place and we’ll look at each case individually.  I think the biggest question we have to answer internally when reviewing a player that’s available, ok if we bring this player onboard how much is he going to play and is that player potentially going to take away from the development of potentially some of our other players, particularly our younger players?  Injury is something different, that would force us to go in to the free agent market quickly and look at who’s available.  Right now, for the next three or four days, maybe the next week, it’s a question of who’s out there, who’s available and is that player going to take minutes away from somebody we want to get minutes to help that player develop? Or are we going to bring a player on and just have that player fill a 15th spot but not get in the game or contribute? Which wouldn’t make that much sense to me.” 

On movements made by the teams near the Hornets in the Eastern Conference:

“I’ve seen both, I’ve seen players in front of us (in the standings), try to improve themselves and I’ve seen teams do the opposite.  I’ve seen teams below us (in the standings) do the same thing.  So it’s hard to put myself in everyone’s shoes and determine how they look at the rest of their seasons.  In a general sense, to answer that question, whether it’s the owner, the general manager and the coach they look at their franchise individually different than everyone else does, but we’ve seen some of both of those things happen.  In other words, buyers and sellers above us and buyers and sellers below us.  The one thing I will make mention of, almost half of the deals were done by teams looking to improve their financial situation.  In other words, there were a lot of teams that were in the tax, and as you know, today the tax in the NBA is a very punitive system.  I think a lot of the moves were done by teams in the last two or three days to improve their situation financially. A lot of those deals were done with teams, if you’re going to do a deal, you have to find a team to do a deal with.  So I think six or seven teams, and then you need a partner, so probably 14 of the teams involved in trades in the last week or two a lot of them were done for financial reasons to improve their structure financially whether it’s this year trying to get under the tax, or lessen the tax burden, or to improve their financial structure next year or the year beyond.  So I think a lot of them were also trying to improve their team like we were trying to do.  We weren’t motivated by trying to get out of a tax situation because we’re not in a tax situation.  We were trying to look for a way to improve our team and not forfeit or compromise our future.” 

On Frank Kaminksy’s status with the team:

“Frank Kaminsky is on our team. He’s not playing as much as I’m sure he’d like to play. He’s had moments throughout the season where he did get a chance to play. Recently he has not played as much. I know Frank, I know how hard he works, I know how dedicated he is, he wants to play. He is under contract for the rest of the year. Short of that, there have been no decisions made as to improving that situation or addressing that situation. I think everybody was waiting for the conclusion of the trade deadline. That is something that Frank may come to talk to me about. I’m not talking about, as you put it, a buyout. I’m talking about [Kaminksy saying] ‘I want to play, what does that look like here, can I play?’ And my advice to Frank would be to do what you’re doing. Continue to work, come in the gym at night, work on your game, get in the weight room, stay ready from a conditioning point of view. And just because you haven’t played as much as you wanted to in the first two-thirds of the season that doesn’t mean you might not the last third of the season. Having said that, we take each situation like this individually and my door is open. I talk to Frank all the time. If there’s a concern that he or his representatives need to talk to me about – I’ll be honest, I get it. I know we’re talking about a young player, who wants to play in this league for a long time and I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t, that’s not playing as much as he wants to and I know he’d like to play more. So I’m open to any kind of a discussion with Frank or his representatives. I’ve known Frank very well here for less than a year, but I’ve known his representatives – oh my goodness – Bill Duffy for probably over thirty years and Kevin Bradbury for probably almost ten. So we have a great rapport and whatever needs to be addressed – if it can be addressed – it will be addressed.”

On Kemba Walker’s free agency this summer:

“Well I think that’s a question for Kemba. Because really what he thinks is much more important than what I think. We’re right in the middle of a playoff hunt right now. I think we’re at the seven spot [in the Eastern Conference], maybe close to the eight spot. I’m hoping, as I mentioned earlier, despite our remaining home/away schedule that we can gel, our chemistry continues to improve and we can get on a roll and get into the post season feeling really good about ourselves and entering the playoffs. I think that is all any NBA player wants. I’m not sure any NBA player at this stage in their career would run around trying to find the best spot to win a championship. Because a lot of times the best spot to win a championship and be paid what you feel is the correct market value for you, a lot of times they don’t line up. And I think a lot of players feel a loyalty to their team and if they trust management, they trust management they’ll stay and they’ll compete. I will say I think Kemba has great relationships with all the guys on the team, they get along really well. I mean that’s not the most important thing, the most important thing is that we win. But I think he really enjoys his teammates, I think he has had his best year, maybe ever, under our coaching staff. Despite how often he gets beat up and how hard he plays I think our medical people have taken great care of him and I think he feels in good hands. But that’s kind of up to him. I sense Kemba is the kind of guy who just wants to trust in an organization. That we’re always trying to do the right thing. I do know he likes Charlotte, I know he’s a loyal person. So I think those things bode well for us, but we’re a long way off. Let’s see how we end the season. I’m optimistic and I’m hopeful, as I always have been, that Kemba starts his career in a Hornets uniform and ends it in one.”

On this roster’s strengths and weaknesses:

“Well our best player, obviously is Kemba [Walker]. I’ve seen Jeremy Lamb separate himself to some degree and become our best second option. Tony Parker has been much more valuable than we ever anticipated and then I think the rest of our players all bring something different and unique to the table. And I think it’s a challenge for our coach to come up with combinations from game to game and you can see that he searches and he’s trying to do that. We have a lot of good players, but we’re not a team that has two or three superstars and then everybody else. We have one guy who is an All-Star and then we have an older player who has been just spectacular in Tony, but the rest of our guys are kind of all in the same area, so to speak. In a perfect world you have two or three guys that you can rely on. If one guy doesn’t have a big game, then you can go to your number two or number three guy. We really don’t have that. We rely so much on Kemba. I would love to be able to have one of those players on our team right now continue, or emerge, to be that number two guy. Like I said Jeremy is having an excellent season and maybe as the season progresses he can continue to progress. That’s kind of how I see the group in general. I think our two rookies, we have a great feel that both of those guys are going to be in this league for a long times. Miles [Bridges] is our first round pick and Devonte [Graham] is our second round pick. Devonte’s maturity and leadership and his poise on the court is far ahead of most rookies and I think Miles’ skill level and his athletic ability and his strength is the way he plays the game with reckless abandon gives us great hope that he’s going to continue to develop.” 

On free agency this summer:

“Well we’ll have challenges but we also feel that we’ll be able to do it. We will have challenges, I don’t think that’s any secret, but we do have flexibility and I think we’ll be able to do it.”

On disappointment after not making a trade:

“Yes. I’ve been through a lot of these [trade deadlines]. I always feel the same way. But sometimes the deal you don’t make is the best deal. You start to look back on stuff and you start to say ‘what if I would have done that or what if I would have done that.’ But you have to trust your instincts in this business. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’m not always right, I hope I’m right more than half the time. If you don’t get a deal done, and sometimes you get a deal done and you go through the same process. You wonder if you could have done better with the deal you did do, is it going to be a good deal. You know it could be buyer’s remorse or it could be regret, but you always have a feeling after the trade deadline that you could have done better or you could have done something. Very rarely does the deadline pass where you feel just completely satisfied, that’s unusual. Because you don’t know how things are going to turn out.”

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