The Charlotte Hornets have reportedly cut ties with general manager Rich Cho after the team entered the All-Star break in Los Angeles with a measly 24-33 record. The Hornets currently sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, 5.5 games back of the Miami Heat for the last playoff spot in the East.
With the current outlook in Charlotte looking bleak, the team will be looking for someone that can come in and right the ship. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they already have their eyes on someone with a ton of front office experience: former Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Wojnarowski notes that Kupchak may not necessarily be targeted for the general manager position, citing that the Hornets want to continue grooming assistant GM Buzz Peterson (Hornets GM named Buzz? Sign me up!). But Wojnarowski also mentions that Kupchak is expected to be targeted for a “high-ranking role in the organization,” which could see the longtime former Lakers’ GM partner with Peterson.
Kupchak won two NBA championships with the Lakers as a player in 1982 and 1985. After his playing career he worked with the Lakers as a member of the front office, having Jerry West take him under his wing. Kupchak became the general manager of the Lakers in 2000, holding that position until he was let go in 2017, along with vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss in light of the regime change that brought Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson into their roles, respectively.
Kupchak orchestrated a number of significant acquisitions as Lakers GM. Prior to the 2003-04 season, after the team’s run of three consecutive titles came to an end, the Lakers signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton, which would help them return to the NBA Finals that season, where they came up short against the Detroit Pistons. That summer, Los Angeles traded Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant, triggering a rebuild around Kobe Bryant, who re-signed with the Lakers in the same offseason.
Kupchak and Buss selected Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Bynum became an All-Star starter in 2012 before he was traded in the four-team deal in the summer of 2012 that landed the Lakers Dwight Howard for just one season. That same summer, the Lakers acquired Steve Nash in exchange for multiple draft picks. At the time, the moves were considered a splash that would vault the Lakers back into serious title contention, but an injury-riddled, drama-filled 2012-13 season was derailed fairly quickly and hurt the Lakers moving forward.
But of course, Kupchak’s most prominent move as GM of the Lakers was the trade that brought Pau Gasol to Los Angeles from the Memphis Grizzlies, helping the Lakers make three straight trips to the NBA Finals. They were victorious in 2009 and 2010, bringing the franchise’s championship count to 16 in their history.
Kupchak has plenty of front office experience and could potentially be someone to help stabilize the situation in Charlotte. An interesting dynamic would be to see the relationship between Kupchak and Howard after a rocky one season together in Los Angeles. Howard is under contract with the Hornets through the 2018-19 season.
Kupchak and Hornets owner Michael Jordan both played at the University of North Carolina (defending men’s basketball national champions). Although they were never teammates at North Carolina, the men’s basketball program is a strong brotherhood that links former players of different eras with one another, and the two have frequently been sighted at games in the Dean Smith Center, so there is a connection there that could help make it a comfortable transition for Kupchak, if he does get hired.
Kupchak may be looking at a chance for redemption after his last offseason as a GM resulted in the contracts of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. It looks like he may soon get that chance.