Kupchak Hiring Ushers in New Hornets Era

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

The Charlotte Hornets officially have a new President of Basketball Operations and General Manager with the recent hiring of long-time, distinguished NBA executive, Mitch Kupchak. It’s a move that brings immediate credibility to the organization and should also help jump start a team stuck in neutral right now.

Raised on Long Island, the now 63-year-old Kupchak began playing basketball at the University of North Carolina in 1972, going on to win the ACC Player of the Year award his senior season. After graduating in 1976, he played nine NBA seasons with the Washington Bullets and Los Angeles Lakers, accumulating three championships rings and an Olympic gold medal in the process.

In 1986, Kupchak was hired as an assistant general manager for a Lakers squad that won consecutive titles his first two seasons off the court (1987 and 1988). He succeeded Jerry West as the team’s General Manager in 2000, which was one year into the organization’s championship three-peat led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

After taking over for West, Kupchak led the Lakers to another four championships (2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010), bringing in key additions along the way like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza. He also holds a noteworthy draft history that includes the sectioning of Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Kupchak remained the Lakers General Manager until February 2017, when he was let go following 31 years in the team’s front office.

Working under the bright lights of Los Angeles for one of the league’s most storied franchises, Kupchak wasn’t afraid of swinging for the fences at times. He brought in an albeit older Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Lakers in 2003 and added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in 2012. While these moves ultimately didn’t pay off with championships, they certainly indicate Kupchak has a tendency for being aggressive at times. 

He’ll have his work cut out for him in Charlotte with the franchise coming off back-to-back seasons with 36-or-fewer victories. The most important thing to keep in mind though is change is not going to be instantaneous. The Hornets have limited salary cap space and just two contracts (Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham) coming completely off the books this summer. A little over two months away, preparations for the upcoming NBA Draft will likely be the most immediate task on Kupchak’s agenda. 

The Hornets currently own their first-round pick (projected to be in the 10-11 range) and Cleveland’s second-round pick (projected to be in the 50-55 range). Of note, their own second-round pick was traded away two years ago to Memphis in the Courtney Lee deal. Limited maneuverability from a cap standpoint makes hitting on these upcoming selections even more imperative for Kupchak and the organization. 

There are two ways NBA teams generally improve in the offseason. Externally, players can be added via free agency, trades or the draft, although this is highly contingent on salary cap space and current assets. Internal development means that players (especially Charlotte’s younger ones like Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and Willy Hernangomez) take their respective careers to another level this summer. Again, with external options limited, the Hornets will need to make meaningful strides from within.

“In every role and in every stop during his tenure in the NBA, Mitch Kupchak has brought the highest levels of success to his teams. He’s a proven winner,” stated Charlotte Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan after the hiring was officially announced on April 8.

It’s an exciting time for the organization and hopefully improvements and a turnaround are on the horizon. Getting things back on track will take time and patience, but bringing in somebody with Kupchak’s pedigree to lead the way is a significant step in the right direction.