Fifteen years removed from working his way into the NBA as an assistant video coordinator, James Borrego is now officially one of 30 head coaches at the top level of basketball.
The Charlotte Hornets and Borrego finalized contract terms Thursday, after Borrego, 40, interviewed with team owner Michael Jordan over the weekend. Borrego will be introduced at a news conference Friday morning at Spectrum Center. Working for new general manager Mitch Kupchak, Borrego, 40, replaces Steve Clifford, who was fired last month after five seasons on the job.
Like Clifford, Borrego worked his way up from the bottom rung of the NBA, without the advantage of having played in the league. A former college player at the University of San Diego, Borrego got his first opportunity with the San Antonio Spurs breaking down game footage. He sufficiently impressed his bosses to be promoted to an assistant coach, serving in two separate stints with future Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich.
In between those jobs, Borrego worked for Monty Williams with the then-New Orleans Hornets and Jacque Vaughn with the Orlando Magic. When the Magic fired Vaughn in early February of 2015, Borrego served as Orlando’s interim coach for the last 30 games of the season. While he finished 10-20 in that assignment, he drew praise for keeping a young group on task and improving the defense.
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Video coordinator might sound like a lowly position, but three NBA coaches of recent vintage - Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, Mike Budenholzer (formerly with the Atlanta Hawks) and Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers and Magic) - all got their start there. Like advance scouting (where Clifford got his start), it’s a deep-drill opportunity to study coaching strategies all around the league.
Borrego takes over a team that has gone 36-46 each of the past two seasons, missing the playoffs both times. He inherits a roster that is veteran-heavy and expensive: The Hornets’ player-payroll next season already is close to the NBA’s projected luxury-tax threshold, which the Hornets aren’t looking to cross.
Borrego gets an All-Star point guard in Kemba Walker, and some young talent in Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who just completed their rookie seasons. The Hornets will learn Tuesday night in Chicago, at the annual draft lottery, where they will select in the first round in June. They have a remote chance to jump into one of the top three spots in the weighted lottery process. Most likely, they will select 11th overall.
In addition to hiring a coaching staff, Borrego figures to be in Chicago next week for the annual draft combine May 16 through 20.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell