CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak is confident Michael Jordan’s Hornets will become an NBA playoff team again soon, possibly even next season.
But just how he intends to help Charlotte get there remains unclear – for now.
The Hornets new general manager and president of basketball operations said during his introductory news conference Tuesday this is a job he coveted. But the 63-year-old Kupchak was vague when it came to pressing questions surrounding the futures of the franchise’s top player Kemba Walker, eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard and coach Steve Clifford – as well as whether the team needs to undergo a complete rebuilding process.
“I’m limited in my knowledge other than what I have seen on TV and learned in the last 48 hours,” said Kupchak, who accepted the job on Sunday. No details have been released about the terms of his contract.
He helped the Los Angeles Lakers win seven NBA titles and has spent 30 years as a front office executive, including 17 as the Lakers’ general manager.
He hopes to build a winner in Charlotte too – with Jordan’s help.
“I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek out his opinion,” said Kupchak, adding that Jordan is arguably the greatest player ever to play the game.
Kupchak said Jordan is still very passionate about not only the NBA game, but the college game as well – and keeps up on the talent.
“I hope that most of the time we are on the same page and there may be a couple of times we are not,” Kupchak said. “He may look at me and say, `You know Mitch, we don’t see eye-to-eye on this but you do what is best.’ Or he maybe he will look at me and say, `Mitch we don’t see eye-to-eye on this one but this is my decision.’ And that is his right as an owner.”
In Los Angeles, Kupchak inherited a roster from Jerry West where he acknowledged “the cupboards were full.”
Behind Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers became a dynasty.
Things are little different in Charlotte, which lacks the glitz of a big market like Los Angeles, the talent of a Golden State and the history of franchise like Boston.
Kupchak inherits a team with 10 players under contract next season leaving the Hornets close the luxury tax threshold – making turning over the roster a little difficult.
Charlotte’s most tradable commodity is Walker, who has played in the last two All-Star games and is making just $12 million a year with one season left on his contract before becoming a free agent.
Walker is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, but he’s also stated that he would prefer to win playoff games rather than go through a rebuilding process.
“I like a player that doesn’t want to be somewhere where they’re going to lose,” Kupchak said. ” … I know he’s had an All-Star year. It’s tough to answer the question with any certainty.”
He said the same goes for the 32-year-old Howard, who rebounded from two lackluster seasons in Houston and Atlanta with a solid campaign this season for the Hornets averaging 16.7 points, 12.4 rebound and 1.6 blocks in 80 games played.
Howard played for Kupchak in Los Angeles when he was GM there, and Kupchak said he didn’t want the big man to leave for Houston as a free agent.
He said he’s watched Howard play recently and likes what he’s seen.
“He is as lively and energetic as I have seen him play in years and years and years,” Kupchak said. “I know next year is the last year of his deal so there is some uncertainty with some of the players going forward.”
There is also uncertainty surrounding Clifford’s future.
Charlotte has made the playoffs twice in five seasons under Clifford, but has never advanced out of the first round. Clifford missed a large portion of this past season dealing with headaches related to sleep deprivation.
Clifford spent one season with the Lakers and Kupchak felt at that time he had head coaching potential.
But when asked directly about Clifford’s future with the Hornets, Kupchak struck a popular refrain, saying he just got the job two days ago, “so in all fairness I have not had the time” to assess.
As for whether the Hornets need to rebuild, Kupchak said, “I don’t know if that is the right word or not. I think our actions in the next three months might answer that question.”