Mitch Kupchak

Hornets Notes: Offseason, Washington, Monk, Hernangomez

The Hornets lobbied to be included in the NBA’s restart this summer and are “very disappointed” not to be part of it, president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak said on Tuesday, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. However, Kupchak and head coach James Borrego accepted the league’s decision and will be satisfied with an opportunity to conduct team activities this summer.

As Bonnell details, Borrego thinks it would make sense for the bottom eight teams not invited to Orlando to be permitted to practice while the other 22 clubs are playing at Disney in August.

“The amount of time they’re spending with their teams and their players as a unit, we believe we should have the same. That would level the playing field a little bit more,” Borrego said. “For me, it’s more about the time that we have (to work with players and to scrimmage) — that it syncs with what (other teams are) getting in Orlando — and also the live play, which we don’t get a lot in the summer.”

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • Also within that Bonnell article linked above: Borrego said he thought P.J. Washington should be on this season’s All-Rookie First Team, and Kupchak said that the Hornets are still in talent-acquisition mode rather than focusing on fit. “At some point, we’ll hopefully be that advanced, to sit down and talk about, ‘Hey, we’ve got five or six guys with great talent, now how do they fit together?'” Kupchak said, according to Bonnell. “I don’t think we’re there right now.”
  • In a separate article for The Observer, Bonnell digs into whether the Hornets have any realistic paths to acquiring a star player.
  • Now that Malik Monk has been reinstated following his drug suspension, he’s set to enter a big year in 2020/21. As Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer writes, the Hornets may have to move on from Monk next year if he doesn’t take a noticeable step forward after three up-and-down seasons.
  • Willy Hernangomez will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but he said today that he plans to remain in Charlotte for most or all of the summer, tweets Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Hernangomez added that he’d “love” to re-sign with the Hornets if possible.I love Charlotte, I love the group of guys we have,” he said, per Bonnell (Twitter links). “I want to be part of the young core that we have.”

Hornets Notes: Jordan, Cap Room, Roster, Rozier

The Hornets haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 and haven’t won a postseason series since returning to the NBA in 2004 as the Bobcats. However, as the team goes through another rebuild, general manager Mitch Kupchak says team owner Michael Jordan is “100 percent on board with what we’re doing,” according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer.

“We made a decision to take a certain approach for this summer and we knew what that would lead to (losing) this year. There are no surprises,” Kupchak said. “With our plan, it just takes time. You draft a kid who is 19 years old and it’s going to take two or three years for him to help us win. Also, we wanted to slowly dig our way out of some of the contracts we had. That takes a year or two.”

Some of those pricey veteran contracts Kupchak referred to are coming off the books this summer, and the Hornets project to have $28MM+ in cap room, as Bonnell details. As he has said in the past, Kupchak reiterated today that Charlotte doesn’t expect to be in the market for major free agents this offseason, but suggested the club will have several options for how to use that cap space.

“You can (trade for) a player from another team straight into cap room,” Kupchak said. “Or maybe (take on) a player who makes decent money (on an unwanted contract) and you get a draft pick.”

Here’s more on the Hornets:

  • Asked about the Hornets’ biggest needs going forward, Kupchak mentioned rim protection, rebounding, and “a wing that can score,” according to Bonnell. However, the Hornets’ GM said the team plans to take the best player available in the draft and figure out the fit.
  • The Hornets have until Saturday to add at least one player to get back to the NBA-mandated roster minimum of 14. As Bonnell relays, Kupchak said today that Charlotte will likely go the 10-day contract route, and could call up a G League player from the Greensboro Swarm. The Hornets want to “look for someone we can develop,” Kupchak added.
  • Rookies Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels will probably stick with the Hornets for the rest of the season rather than being sent to the G League, according to Kupchak (via Bonnell).
  • The Hornets have never been a taxpaying team during Michael Jordan‘s tenure as owner, but Kupchak insisted that increasing payroll won’t be an issue once the team is ready to contend. Even the tax won’t be an issue for him,” Kupchak said, per Rod Boone of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • Devonte’ Graham‘s breakout season has meant that Terry Rozier‘s role isn’t exactly what he was expecting when he signed with the Hornets last summer. But that’s okay with Rozier, as Bonnell writes in a separate Observer article. “If I sit here and complain that, ‘Oh, I should be the point guard!’ or ‘I should always have the ball in my hand!’ nobody really cares,” Rozier said. “(Graham) has put himself on the radar. You can’t take any of that away from him or this team. I just try to adjust.”

L.A. Notes: Bryant, Kupchak, George, West

The Lakers returned to practice today for the first time since Kobe Bryant‘s death on Sunday, writes Greg Beacham of The Associated Press. The mood was reserved as players tried to move beyond the tragedy and focus on basketball. Some of them, including Anthony Davis, spent time looking at Bryant’s two retired numbers hanging in the rafters before practice began.

“We want to represent what Kobe was about, more than anything,” said coach Frank Vogel, who was the only person to address the media after the workout. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud, and that’s not going to be any different now.”

The Lakers’ game against the Clippers last night was postponed to give the organization more time to deal with the tragedy. Instead, the team held an afternoon gathering where players and coaches shared stories and memories of Bryant. The meeting was “therapeutic and beneficial,” according to Vogel.

“It’s been something that has touched my family, being the father of daughters, and it’s been very emotional,” he said. “It’s something that brings us together. I’m around the people who were closest to Kobe throughout his time here, and it’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The franchise-altering trade that brought Bryant to the Lakers in 1996 nearly didn’t happen, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak tells Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Kupchak, who served as assistant GM for the Lakers at the time, said Charlotte had second thoughts about going through with the deal. “I think we always felt that we’d get the deal done,” Kupchak said. “Certainly, history would have been a lot different, at least from a Lakers point-of-view. Kobe would have been great no matter where he was.”
  • Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both spent time working out with Bryant at his Mamba Sports Academy and both credit him with helping to mold their careers, relays Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “He was my Michael Jordan growing up as a SoCal kid,” George said after today’s practice. “He was what every kid wanted to be here. I started playing basketball because of Kobe.” 
  • Current Clippers consultant Jerry West said when Bryant was thinking of leaving the Lakers as a free agent in 2004, he warned him not to go across town and play for former owner Donald Sterling (video link from TNT).

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/24/19

Here are Sunday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

Hornets Notes: Batum, Walker, Offseason Plans

Hornets coach James Borrego isn’t sure how Nicolas Batum fits into his plans for next season, Borrego admits to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Batum was placed in a variety of roles but had another disappointing season and was briefly benched by Borrego. The team’s highest-paid player has two years and $52.5MM remaining on his contract, making him virtually untradeable unless Charlotte sweetens the pot with a first-round pick or young player. Bonnell suggests making Batum a utility player where he sees minutes at shooting guard, small forward and power forward.

We have more on the Hornets:

  • Unrestricted free agent Kemba Walker was unhappy that an attempt to acquire veteran center Marc Gasol from Memphis before the February trade deadline fell through, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (hat tip to NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman). The outline of the proposed deal would have sent out center Bismack Biyombo, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a protected first-round pick for Gasol. Memphis instead chose to make a deal with playoff-bound Toronto.
  • If Walker re-signs with the club, Jeremy Lamb will likely be a cap casualty, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks points out in his offseason preview. Getting a commitment from Walker would push Charlotte past the luxury tax threshold. Re-signing Lamb for a conservative estimate of $11MM in the first year would trigger an approximate $27.5MM in additional luxury tax penalties. The team also has to make some hard decisions on non-guaranteed contracts, including Tony Parker‘s deal. The Hornets are unlikely to give forward Frank Kaminsky a $4.5MM qualifying offer before the June 30 deadline, Marks adds.
  • Walker’s chances of returning are pegged at 30% by Bonnell in his player-by-player breakdown of the roster. Those odds will rise only if GM Mitch Kupchak can pull off a blockbuster deal before free agency to entice Walker to stay.

Southeast Notes: Riley, Heat Outlook, Bryant, Hornets

Heat president Pat Riley felt it was time to invest in his own roster after he failed to sign top-level free agents in recent years, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. “Once we didn’t land Kevin Durant or didn’t land Gordon Hayward, then it was time to sort of move on from searching for room and at the same time holding your other players hostage,” Riley said. “To move into a two- or three-year window with young players that we drafted and others who we thought were on-the-brink-to-make-it veterans that hadn’t made it somewhere else. What we came up with and what we found out is that we have a very, very competitive team.”

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • Riley made moves during the trade deadline to get rid of the glut of guards and wing players on the roster. He also waived Rodney McGruder right before the end of the regular season to dodge the luxury tax. He feels the roster is much more balanced now heading into the summer. “I think we have built a base. … We have our draft choices,” he said. “The possibilities of room are right around the road. Don’t be making any kind of conclusions about next year in that we’re stuck with certain contracts or whatever it is you think we can’t get out of. That would be foolish thinking on your part.”
  • Center Thomas Bryant will be a restricted free agent if the Wizards extend a qualifying offer of $3MM and he intends to re-sign, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “They gave me an opportunity to play,” said Bryant, who inherited the starting job with Dwight Howard playing only nine games. “Why would I want to leave?” Retaining Bryant is high on the current front office’s priority list but the GM who replaces fired Ernie Grunfeld might not feel the same way, Hughes points out. League provisions could also come into play if Bryant signs an offer sheet. The Wizards hold his Early Bird rights but salary-cap concerns would grow if Bryant signs a back-loaded contract.
  • If the Hornets move up in the lottery and snag a top-three pick, GM Mitch Kupchak would likely listen to trade offers, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer opines in his latest mailbag. However, that would only make sense if Kupchak was confident that bringing in an impact veteran would secure a commitment from Kemba Walker. Otherwise, the Hornets would be in a rebuild mode, and a rookie with star potential would be more valuable to them.

Southeast Rumors: Hornets’ Plans, Walker, Ferry, Skyhawks

Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak said the team will not be a major player in the free agent market, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer tweets. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Marvin Williams holding player options on their contracts for next season totaling $45MM, the Hornets likely won’t have much cap space to utilize. Upgrades will be sought mainly through trades, according to an Associated Press report. Kupchak’s main goal this offseason is to re-sign unrestricted free agent Kemba Walker. “I think this is a place that he wants to be and we’ll do everything that we can to bring him back here,” Kupchak said.

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • The Charlotte Observer editorial board took the unusual step of urging the franchise to let Walker seek greener pastures. Opining that “a special player should get the opportunity to find something truly special someplace else,” the board believes it may be in the franchise’s best interest to start over, go into tank mode and gain the financial flexibility required to bring the city a winning team.
  • Danny Ferry, who pulled himself out of consideration to run the Pelicans’ front office, is very interested in the Wizards’ top front office job, Gery Woelfel of Woelfelspressbox hears (Twitter link). Ferry served as the interim GM with New Orleans after Dell Demps was fired just after the February trade deadline. Washington fired longtime president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld last week.
  • Dan Dial has been named president of the Hawks’ newly-relocated G League team, the College Park Skyhawks, according to a team press release. Dial spent the last seven years as president of baseball’s River City Rascals in the Frontier League. The G League team was previously called the BayHawks and located in Erie, Pa.

Eastern Notes: Kaminsky, Maker, Giannis, Cavs

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday that no decisions have been made about pursuing a contract buyout with young forward Frank Kaminsky, with the 25-year-old still on the Hornets’ roster after the trade deadline.

“He wants to play,” Kupchak said of Kaminsky, as relayed by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “He’s under contract. Short of that, no decisions have been made addressing that situation.”

Bonnell also relayed that Kupchak, hired by the Hornets last April, is sympathetic to a remedy if Kaminsky is looking to play elsewhere.

The Hornets explored moving Kaminsky in the hours leading up to the trade deadline Thursday, but failed to find a suitable deal for the fourth-year player. Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported (via Twitter) that Kaminsky would likely become a buyout candidate in the near future, but it’s unclear where the possibility stands right now.

Charlotte also held strong trade discussions with the Grizzlies on a deal centered around Marc Gasol, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), but talks eventually broke off. The Hornets ended up not making a single trade on deadline day.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference today:

  • The Bucks traded Thon Maker to the Pistons for Stanley Johnson this week, sending away one of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s closest teammates in an effort to upgrade the roster. “Thon is like my little brother, this one hurts more than any trade that happened that I’ve been a part of but this is the business we work in,” Antetokounmpo said, according to Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN (Twitter link). The Bucks eventually flipped Johnson, Jason Smith and two second-round picks to acquire sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic.
  • For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo could be the next star involved in rumors as the 2019/20 season draws closer, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports notes. Antetokounmpo is eligible to receive a super-max extension in the summer of 2020, but could become a free agent in 2021 if he chooses not to sign the extension. Antetokounmpo has cemented himself as one of the league’s top stars, leading the Bucks to a 40-13 record through 53 games this season. “He has been incredibly loyal,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think that’s something that’s important to him. So, he’s a gift, for sure.”
  • The Cavaliers renounced the free agent rights to Deron Williams and Dahntay Jones today, Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports tweets. Cleveland made multiple trades in the past week, acquiring Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss and a 2019 first-round pick in a multi-team deal on Wednesday.

Kemba Walker Trusts Kupchak To Build Hornets’ Roster

A Hornet since 2011, Kemba Walker has still appeared in just two career postseason series, a factor he’ll surely consider as he weighs his upcoming free agency decision. However, Walker said this week on ESPN’s The Jump that he has spoken to general manager Mitch Kupchak about what the team has in mind for roster upgrades and has faith in Kupchak to build Charlotte’s roster.

“They know. They know what they got to do,” Walker said. “That’s not my job. I’ll leave it up to those guys. … We have Mitch now, who’s a great guy who’s done a great job at building teams over his GM career, and I have a lot of trust in him.”

The Hornets are currently carrying several oversized contracts on their cap, which will make it tricky for the team to substantially improve its roster this season or next. Reports have suggested that Charlotte is making an effort to move at least one of those contracts – possibly Nicolas Batum‘s – by dangling Frank Kaminsky as a sweetener. That would create some added flexibility for Kupchak and his front office this offseason, but there’s no indication that any deal is close at this point.

Of course, at this time last year, it was Walker who was the subject of those trade rumors, but the Hornets held onto their star point guard through the 2018 trade deadline. And after Kupchak took over for former GM Rich Cho in the spring, that trade speculation died down for the most part, with the former Lakers GM expressing multiple times that he viewed Walker as a long-term building block.

Walker, who turns 29 in May, will be an unrestricted free agent in July, at which point the Hornets could offer him up to five years and a projected $189MM+ (or $221MM if he meets the Designated Veteran Extension criteria). It’s not clear if Charlotte would be willing to go that high, but the club is expected to make a strong push to bring back Walker.

For his part, the veteran point guard joked that he’s not sure what he’ll say to “the GOAT” (team owner Michael Jordan) at the negotiating table, adding that he’s in wait-and-see mode in regard to his free agency.

“I want to enjoy that process I guess, and just wait for it over the summer,” Walker said on The Jump.

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Green, Cousins, Cauley-Stein

Lakers legend Kobe Bryant played a key role in bringing LeBron James to Los Angeles this summer, Sam Amick of The Athletic reveals in a new story.

Bryant, who spent his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, met with team owner Jeanie Buss in February of 2017 to deliver strong advice: Shake up the front office, start new and bring a new culture to the franchise.

“Jeanie, I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this s–t going on,” Bryant said, according to Amick. “It’s not going to happen. So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I’m telling you that you’ve gotta clean house, and you’ve gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we’re just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We’ve got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.

“As a player, it’s like, listen, it’s a cultural thing. You’ve got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career,” Bryant explained. “You don’t want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bull—-, right? You don’t want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don’t want to do that. So I said, ‘You’ve got to start anew.’”

Buss listened to Bryant’s advice, firing older brother Jim Buss and letting go of general manager Mitch Kupchak. In turn, the team promoted Magic Johnson to president of basketball operations and hired Rob Pelinka as new general manager. Fast forward to July of 2018, and the new-look Lakers convinced James to sign a free-agent contract.

There’s more from the Pacific Division: