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Mitch Kupchak is resigning as president of basketball operations for the Charlotte Hornets.
“Mitch’s success as an NBA executive speaks for itself and we thank Mitch for all his work during his six years leading our basketball operations,” co-chairmen Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin said in Monday’s announcement.
“His professionalism, integrity and commitment have been a major benefit to our franchise. We have built a strong relationship with Mitch during our time as owners. We are thrilled that he will remain with the franchise in an advisory capacity as his experience and knowledge of the NBA will be a valuable resource for our team as we move forward.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported there’s already a projected shortlist for the vacancy:
Wojnarowski provided more context: “There’s an expectation that new owners [Schnall] and [Plotkin] will hire a new top basketball executive prior to the end of the regular season, which will allow Kupchak to remain in his day-to-day role until his successor is on board, sources said.”
Kupchak’s departure comes less than a week after the NBA trade deadline passed. He helped set the stage for a rebuild by dealing Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington shortly before the deadline, while Terry Rozier had been shipped out in January.
That’s likely to help make Kupchak’s old job a little more attractive. Charlotte will need multiple seasons for its transitional phase to bear fruit, but taking the reins now gives a new lead decision-maker a lot of flexibility with the roster and presumably plenty of patience from ownership.
LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller are also two young stars who can form the bedrock for the next era. Ball is averaging 23.9 points and 8.0 assists, though his injury trouble is concerning. Miller is putting up 16.5 points per game and shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc, so far more than warranting his No. 2 pick status.
There’s no question the current state of the franchise is a reflection of Kupchak and his biggest misfires.
Firing James Borrego after a 43-win season in 2021-22 and hiring Steve Clifford was puzzling at the time and hasn’t aged any better. It probably didn’t speak well for Charlotte that Kenny Atkinson, its first choice to replace Borrego, left the team at the altar.
Signing Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract was another easily foreseeable mistake. The 2016-17 All-Star missed 93 games through his first three years before his trade to Oklahoma City.
Then there are the first-round draft picks that have come to nothing for the Hornets.
The Hornets don’t have a first-rounder in 2024 after they moved up to take Kai Jones in the 2021 draft. Jones was waived in October, logging 67 appearances over two seasons. James Bouknight, the No. 11 pick in 2021, was just waived as well.
Whoever takes over for Kupchak will have a lot of work ahead. Starting with a clean slate for the most part is a challenge plenty of candidates will relish.