Mitch Kupchak

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:

Southeast Notes: Gordon, Isaac, Wizards

The Magic have a pile of intriguing, raw projects on board but the only way that those will help them win games this season is if the best among them – 22-year-old Aaron Gordon – takes the next step in his development.

As John Denton of the team’s official site writes, the Magic desperately need Gordon to take another big leap. He had a fantastic start to the 2017/18 season but didn’t finish as strong down the stretch.  They’ll also need him to prove that he can hold up over the course of a full season.

Sharing forward responsibilities with Gordon is sophomore Jonathan Isaac. The club, Denton writes, would be delighted if the 20-year-old could simply establish himself as a defensive force that runs the floor.

There’s more out of the Southeast tonight:

  • The Wizards may be the front runners to win their division, a Basketball Insiders panel concludes, but they’ll need the team to stay healthy and avoid any chemistry concerns. It will be on head coach Scott Brooks to balance all the skill sets and personalities on the payroll.
  • The Hornets will once again find themselves in NBA purgatory as it it’s still unclear whether the franchise aims to rebuild or make a desperate attempt to be competitive. Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders suspects that the next few months should shed light on what general manager Mitch Kupchak might be thinking.
  • Get a complete breakdown of the players whose draft rights are held by teams in the Southeast Division… but Magic fans, don’t hold your breath for that Fran Vazquez signing. We also have lists for the other five divisions.

Southeast Notes: Kulboka, Sanon, Taylor, Walker

The Hornets plan to stash 6’10” forward Arnoldas Kulboka in Europe, Chapel Fowler of the Charlotte Observer relays. The Hornets took the Lithuanian native with the No. 55 pick with that plan in mind. “He’s got a buyout that’s manageable, but we’ve talked to his representative …” GM Mitch Kupchak told Fowler and other media members. “At least right now, the plan is to keep him over there and hopefully watch him develop and then, when he’s ready, bring him back over here and see how good he is.”

In other developments around the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards will go the draft-and-stash route with the No. 44 pick, Issuf Sanon, Candace Buckner of the Washington Post tweets. The Ukrainian combo guard is just 18 years old and played in the Slovenian League last season.
  • The Hawks have pushed back the date of Isaiah Taylor‘s partial guarantee from Friday until the end of the month, Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. Taylor would receive a $300K guarantee by remaining on the roster through the due date. The remainder of his $1,544,951 salary for next season would become guaranteed if he’s on the roster through July 27th. The 6’3” point guard appeared in 67 games last season and averaged 6.6 PPG and 3.1 APG.
  • The Hawks dealt their early second-round pick at No. 34 because the players they liked in that spot were guards and they already got two backcourt players in the first round, Cunningham reports in a separate tweet. The Hawks secured two future second-rounders in their deal with the Hornets. In the first round, Atlanta wound up with point guard Trae Young after dropping down two spots from the No. 3 slot and chose shooting guard Kevin Huerter at No. 19.
  • Kupchak would like to see point guard Kemba Walker play his whole career with the Hornets but can’t do much about that before Walker hits free agency next season, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes. A contract extension isn’t feasible because of Charlotte’s salary-cap restraints. “He is on a (contract) that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out (the best course) before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak told Bonnell.

Hornets Rumors: Walker, Quinter, Whiteside, Workouts

A lottery pick and a young player would be a reasonable return in any trade involving Kemba Walker, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. In consultation with ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Bonnell takes an in-depth look into the possibility of trading Walker, who has a year remaining on his contract. All-Star caliber point guards are highly valued but any suitor would want to feel they could re-sign Walker. The Hornets could package a bad contract with Walker but only if he committed to re-signing with his new team, Bonnell adds.

In other developments involving the Hornets:

  • The Hornets have parted ways with director of pro personnel Todd Quinter, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Changes are being made in the Charlotte organization with recently-hired Mitch Kupchak running the front office. Quinter is one of the league’s most seasoned scouts, Stein notes.
  • It wouldn’t make sense for the Hornets to pursue Heat center Hassan Whiteside in a trade, Bonnell opines in a separate story. The Hornets already have an older version of Whiteside in Dwight Howard and don’t need to saddle their payroll by adding Whiteside’s contract, which has two years and $52.4MM remaining, Bonnell continues. The Hornets would be better off moving forward next summer after Howard’s contract expires, Bonnel adds.
  • Charlotte is bringing in six draft prospects on Friday: Guards Connor Burchfield (William & Mary), Jon Davis (Charlotte), Lexus Williams (Boise State) and Ray Ona Embo (Tulane); forward Marcanvis Hymon (Ole Miss); and center Bakary Konate (Minnesota).

Southeast Notes: Kupchak, Hawks, Magic, Bagley/Doncic

Mitch Kupchak joined the Hornets as the team’s new president of basketball operations and found himself in unfamiliar territory at the NBA draft lottery. The Lakers were a perennial playoff favorite for most of the 18 years Kupchak spent with the franchise, so the early draft picks were hardly ever on his radar.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes that Kupchak looked and felt out of place at the lottery. The new Hornets GM — who left the event with the 11th overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft — also expressed a goal for both his and the organization’s future.

“This was the first lottery and, I hope, the last lottery that I ever attend,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak added that he was more concerned with moving down from 11th than he was with moving up in the draft, as Charlotte only had a 2.9% chance at a top-three selection. Now, Kupchak and the Hornets will aim to use its positioning to pick the best player for the team. “We’ll obviously pursue all the options how to use the pick,” Kupchak said, “but right now, we’re going to concentrate on using the pick to pick a player.”

Check out more Southeast Division notes below:

  • The Hawks, who own the third overall pick in the draft, are not opposed to trading down from the slot if the right offer presents itself, tweets Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.
  • If the Hawks keep their pick, Marvin Bagley III looks like an easy choice, assuming Luka Doncic is unavailable, Jonathan Givony said on The Woj Pod (via RealGM). “With Atlanta, you heard all along that Marvin Bagley was really their guy,” he said. “Potentially at two also, maybe even at one, I think they would have looked very hard at him. If he’s there at three, it’s an easy choice for them.”
  • The Magic have been riding some hard luck in recent years and drawing the sixth overall pick in the draft was just the latest instance, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel writes. Players such as Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba, and Luka Doncic will all likely be off the board when Orlando’s pick comes around.
  • While those big names may not be available when their pick rolls around, the Magic still believe they will select an impact player at No. 6, NBA.com’s John Denton writes.

Southeast Notes: Hornets, Haslem, Van Gundy

According to general manager Mitch Kupchak, the Hornets have no immediate plans to blow up their roster. As Steve Reed of The Associated Press writes, recently appointed head coach James Borrego will approach his first season with the team under the assumption that there is no dramatic overhaul right around the corner.

I’m excited about that current group as it stands right now. I think our biggest room for growth is the internal development piece,” Borrego said. Given the Hornets’ lack of financial flexibility – they have $120 already tied up for next season – they may not have any other choice.

There were several calls for dramatic action last season as a short-staffed Hornets team limped its way to a second consecutive lottery appearance. In fact, things were so dire that mid-season the club’s previous executive team even said the franchise would consider trading star guard Kemba Walker.

Among the young players that could be developed by Borrego and the rest of the Hornets staff in 2018/19 are 2017 lottery pick Malik Monk, as well as other established rotation players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 24, and third-year big man Frank Kaminsky.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards signed forward Otto Porter to a four-year, $107MM contract last offseason. With that increased salary has come increased scrutiny, Candace Buckner of The Washington Post writes. Porter excelled as a three-point shooter in 2017/18 but was criticized for lacking aggressiveness in the fourth quarter.
  • Veteran Heat big man Udonis Haslem hasn’t made a decision about retirement yet but he does know that when that time comes, he has no interest in coaching. He would, however, be open to serving in Miami’s front office, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald writes.
  • Some Magic fans have contemplated the idea of bringing back former head coach Stan Van Gundy. David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel writes that a reunion with the bench boss who led Dwight Howard and company to the Finals back in 2009 would not be a good idea.

Hornets’ Polk Talks HC Search, Kupchak, Outlook

Hornets vice chairman and managing partner Curtis Polk is described by Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer as Michael Jordan‘s “eyes in Charlotte” for both the basketball and business side of the franchise. That makes him an important figure in the Hornets’ management hierarchy.

So, with new head of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak not saying much publicly about the club’s ongoing head coaching search, Bonnell went to Polk to get a sense of what the Hornets are looking for in their next coach. Polk also weighed in on a few other topics, so let’s round up a few highlights…

On the most important trait for the Hornets’ coaching hire:

In today’s NBA, one of the important things, particularly in a market like Charlotte (which can’t live off free agency), is player development: getting those draft picks and developing them.

“It’s an 11-month business. Maybe at some point if you’re out of the playoffs, or after free agency, you have sort of a slow month, but this is 11 months of high-intensity work where you have to pay attention to what your players are doing in the offseason. Make sure they are following a training program so that they don’t come into training camp out of shape or picked up any bad habits. It’s really something that has become a premium: What are the players doing in the offseason?

“That is going to become a very important quality to our coaching hires – that they came from an environment where there was a big premium on player development, and where they’re able to articulate to Mitch what sort of program they plan to put in place with us.”

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

On whether Kupchak has full autonomy to make personnel decisions:

Mitch is our guy. Mitch has the authority to make all the decisions relative to basketball. When I say decisions, he’ll go through a process, just like he is right now with the coach. He will bring to ownership the decision he wants to make. But for the most part, I can’t imagine we’ll disagree with the things he recommends, based on the fact that he’s doing quite a bit of homework and we keep abreast of the process.

“I think Michael and I fully want to support his decisions. We might ask him some questions, but for the most part, it’s for him to put together a plan to get us back on track.”

On how close the Hornets are to where they need to be:

I think a change here or there, maybe looking at how we get balanced offensively and defensively again with our new coaching staff. We won 36 games. There were a lot of close games that we lost. I feel like (by) putting a priority on developing young talent – that’s really key for us in developing a pipeline of players who after a few years can be significant contributors – I think we’ll be fine.”

On whether the Hornets would ever go through a rebuild similar to the Sixers’ “Process”:

I think there are times when everybody goes through some version of that. That seems to be an extreme example. I can’t think of another one that extreme. In 2011, we went through our own little version of that for two seasons. It’s more of a (matter of) degrees. Right now, Mitch is still getting his arms around everything and we still don’t have a coach in place. I’m hopeful we won’t have to make dramatic changes to get this thing back on track.”

New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak Talks Rebuilding, Kemba, Analytics, Draft

The Hornets appear to be stuck in the NBA’s no-man’s land—too good to get a top lottery pick, yet not good enough to make a real dent in the conference’s playoff race. However, despite the status, new GM Mitch Kupchak isn’t ready to undergo a full rebuild, as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer relays.

“I don’t know the ins and outs much. I don’t know if that is the right word or not. To sit here and say this is a team that needs to be rebuilt, I don’t know if that’s fair,” Kupchak said at today’s introductory press conference.

The GM added he hasn’t made a decision yet on the status of coach Steve Clifford and that he doesn’t feel pressure to trade Kemba Walker.

“I don’t think [his distaste for losing is] something to overreact to. I want a player who doesn’t want to lose. That’s a good thing. I’m aware of [Walker’s comments]. Over the next several days, I will have player interviews. My understanding is he has another year under contract. It’s clearly a very favorable contract [for the team, at $12MM], but he’s going to be just fine going forward. I’m very aware of his talent. From what I hear, he’s great in the locker room and great in the community. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want that going forward.”

Kupchak talked about his approach to analytics, telling the media that if all others things are equal in evaluating a player, he’s trusting his instincts over the numbers.

“Gut instinct has been a big part of talent evaluation: watching the player, watching the player walking to the bench, how he interacts with the coach. Scouting games in person. Those things are the biggest,” he said. “Over the last 15 years, with the introduction of cameras on top of each building basically like GPS, it’s created a whole new form of data. That creates so much data every night; data uploaded every night and you have to have people to evaluate that data. That’s how the business has really changed.

“Every GM is different [as far as] confirming your instincts as a GM. If it ever was a tie I’d always go to my instincts. Might be 70-30 or 60-40.”

Charlotte is currently slotted to pick 11th in the upcoming draft, as our Reverse Standings indicate. In picking that far down the lottery, Kupchak believes the obvious strategy is simply taking the best available player.

“If we’re picking around 10 or 11, you would almost always go with the best player. If it was close, you might go with position. But you can always trade players if you have duplication,” he said.