Although NBA commentators have been wishy-washy with their praise for the Hornets off-season, Rich Cho demonstrated that long sought after competence is behind the helm for the rechristened Charlotte Hornets.
Bob Bass: The Legacy
In the first run of the Charlotte Hornets, the history of the team was written by Bob Bass. Bass postponed retirement in 1995 to run the front office for the Hornets. He was put in a series of difficult positions because of the realities of the small market Hornets. Yet he always seemed to make it work.
His first big deal was trading Alonzo Mourning to the Miami Heat and Pat Riley. Without a lot of leverage, Bass didn’t lose Mourning without getting Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves. Geiger and Rice became important pieces on the Hornets teams that made playoff runs.
In 1996, Bass needed a big man. He drafted Kobe Bryant with a prearranged deal that the Lakers would send him Vlade Divac. Bass later admitted that he knew that the Lakers deal would help Shaq leave the East, an ulterior motive.
Time and time again Bass struck gold in some lousy situations. He traded Larry Johnson and his contract for Anthony Mason. Glen Rice became Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell. Mason and Jones were turned into PJ Brown and Jamal Mashburn. Despite the sheer strangeness of some of these deals, Bass set a standard for front office competence that made you believe the Hornets were never out of it.
Bass retired soon after the franchise moved to New Orleans.
The Bobcats Era: Competing Voices
The next Charlotte franchise, the Bobcats, spent a lot of the time in search of a vision. The front office was not stable and consistent. Bernie Bickerstaff pursued a 2003 Detroit Pistons model, but fell out of favor as Michael Jordan became part of the ownership group. This led to some hard knocks for Jordan and his team as they kept trying new things.
There were too many voices at the top. Who was driving the bus? Was it Jordan? Was it Rod Higgins, who bore the titles? Was it Larry Brown in the short time he was here?
The best roster that the Bobcats assembled was the 2008 final roster with its Okafor-Diaw-Wallace-Bell-Felton line. The amount of disarray was shown when that group broke up almost immediately.
After the Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, and other deals, Jordan finally got that he needed a single voice running personnel. Enter Rich Cho. Cho’s resume included time with the Oklahoma City Thunder front office, who had a reputation of doing things the right way for a small market. With Cho installed as the GM, and now with Higgins out, the Hornets (once again) could act on a single vision.
Cho started working through bad deals and finding building blocks. Tyrus Thomas was amnestied, and Al Jefferson was signed. With the emergence of point guard Kemba Walker, the basic backbone of the team was set. Now that team had to be fleshed out.
That the 2013 Bobcats had as much success as they did is due to Cho’s identification of talent and Clifford’s technical coaching style. A team with a lack of shooting made the playoffs on good defense and the discovery of Josh McRoberts. McRoberts is gone now, but the blueprint worked. It just needed to be filled in.
The pieces that were needed were a stretch four to pair with Jefferson and a shooter at two guard to make up for Kidd-Gilchrist’s deficiencies at the small forward. Backup help for Kemba was also important. Finding cap room to do these things also got on the list. So Cho went to work.
First came the draft. Cho used the two picks of the Hornets to take Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston. Vonleh offered the kind of forward that the Hornets would want in the future, and Hairston could shoot it. At some level, Cho had already dealt with the two biggest needs on his list. However both players were likely to be projects rather than day 1 starters.
Then came free agency. Cho had enough cap room to offer a max deal, but he really wanted more flexibility than that. I think the Cho front office identified Lance Stephenson as a target early, when Indiana proved reluctant to move mountains to keep him. With the idea that Stephenson could be had at a bargain price, Cho took a shot at Gordon Hayward with max money. The Jazz matched.
In the meantime McRoberts went to the Heat. Cho went and targeted Marvin Williams to take that spot. Williams had spent a year with Jefferson in Utah, so it was a good fit. Williams could help build the bridge to the time when Vonleh was ready. Cho also went out and got Brian Roberts, who had played a lot for the Pelicans, to backup Kemba. Again, this was a point were Cho could have rested, secure in the knowledge that the Hornets were better than last year.
Yet he didn’t. Cho and Jordan went out and got Lance Stephenson to fill that offensive and defensive gap between Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Cho even got him on something of a discount considering where rumors put his salary number during the 2013 Playoffs. So the Hornets are armed with a number of rotation players. It is out of Cho’s hands now. It is Clifford who will have turn them into a viable basketball product.
It is so nice to have competent front office work again. And that is why Rich Cho won the off-season.