Now that offensive coordinator Mike Shula is gone from the Carolina Panthers, social media can turn to who in Charlotte Hornets management should take the fall if this team doesn’t right itself to some degree in the second half of the NBA season.
It’s mailbag time again. I solicited Hornets-related questions via Twitter this week, and many of your replies asked when general manager Rich Cho would be fired. The implication being that seems inevitable if such a veteran roster fails to at least qualify for the playoffs.
Cho has been with the Hornets since June of 2011, after the Portland Trail Blazers let him go (that was his first stint running an NBA basketball operation). Cho took on a bigger role in 2014, after Rod Higgins left basketball operations.
Cho runs the Hornets’ draft, scouting and other player-personnel responsibilities, but he does not supervise the coaching staff. His contract with the team reportedly expires after this season.
Q. Who in the team brass is on the hot seat? Years of mediocrity and missed draft picks isn’t good.
A. Since team owner Michael Jordan seldom does interviews, there isn’t really anyone to ask questions about that right now.
All this is additionally complicated by coach Steve Clifford’s health issue, which has kept him away from the team for more than a month. The team has not specified Clifford’s ailment.
Does Clifford get a pass because he isn’t available to coach? That one is way too hard to predict.
Cho’s track record is just OK. His trades have ranged from a coup (Dwight Howard) to a waste (Miles Plumlee). Signing Lance Stephenson was a huge (and predictable) mistake, but in fairness to Cho, I don’t believe that was his call. His drafts haven’t been bad, but they also haven’t been game-changers (and taking Malik Monk over Donovan Mitchell looks regrettable so far.)
We don’t know how Cho’s job performance is viewed by Jordan or team vice chairman Curtis Polk. We might not know until after the 2018 draft, when ownership would most likely make a call on Cho’s future here.
Q. How untouchable is the Hornets’ 2018 first-rounder?
A. Trading is in the Hornets’ DNA, but based on Cho’s track record, he’d be very reluctant to deal away a first-round pick that could end up in the lottery. That the Hornets still hope to reach the playoffs probably wouldn’t change that philosophy.
Q. If Hornets would have held on to Lance (Stephenson), would they be in a better position today?
A. There aren’t many questions I can answer with more conviction: Absolutely not!
The day the Hornets agreed to terms with Stephenson in the summer of 2014, this looked like a reality show in the making. It didn’t disappoint in that regard. Stephenson is an odd dude; he was hard to play with and hard to coach. Clifford felt he could manage Stephenson, and that was a huge miscalculation.
Q. Why not just play Malik Monk now, despite the defensive deficiencies? They knew what they were drafting, not to mention we’re eight games below .500.
A. Multiple reasons: This is a veteran roster, and those veterans believe they can still dig out sufficiently to reach the playoffs. Also, there is a presumption playing time will improve Monk’s defense, and that is not necessarily true. It could have the opposite effect of implying he doesn’t need to fix flaws to earn minutes.
Q. Should/would they tear it all down and go into full "trust the process" mode?
A. I don’t think so, and I certainly would not endorse that strategy. The NBA is changing the draft-lottery rules to further reduce any incentive to tank.
Also, does this fan base have the loyalty and long-term view to stick it out through three to five seasons of awful? It’s easy to advocate a strategy like this on Twitter, but will you buy tickets in the interim with no Kemba Walker to entertain you? I doubt it.
Q. With the difficulties of trading a big-salary player, do you think the Hornets would ever go above the luxury-tax threshold?
You mean Jordan becoming a tax-payer for a team that just reaches the playoffs? No, and he shouldn’t. Why should Jordan throw away financial resources unless it’s to accomplish something that would, at minimum, make it likely the Hornets would have home-court advantage in the first round?
Q. If things keep going how they are, could you see them trying to trade (veterans) like Marvin (Williams) and maybe (Nic) Batum to get some youth and maybe picks?
A. I’m sure they’d explore any other team’s interest in the veterans, but that would be true if the Hornets were on track to win 50 games. No one on this roster – even Walker – is so good he couldn’t be traded.
However, this isn’t baseball, where the trade deadline sets a stark line between buyers and sellers. If you trade away Williams’ or Batum’s contract, you’re going to have to take back a contract another team wants to discard. You probably won’t get a treasure chest of young talent and/or draft picks. So you would have to explore such options warily.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell