Charlotte Hornets

Hornets GM Rich Cho: ‘This draft is very strong’

In his first public comments as singular head of the Charlotte Hornets’ basketball operation, general manager Rich Cho said the June 26 draft will be good to this franchise.

“This draft is very strong,” Cho said at a pre-draft news conference. “We’ll get a very good player at No. 9, a very good player at No. 24.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that player would be a rookie. Cho made it clear he’s open to deals – trading up, trading down, trading a pick for a veteran – a week out from the draft.

“We’ve been getting a ton of calls, and we’re making a ton of calls,” Cho said of trade possibilities.

Cho noted that nine of the NBA’s 30 teams don’t currently have first-round picks in this draft. Five of those nine teams also don’t have second-round picks. The implication was there’s a market for the Hornets’ picks if that’s the direction Cho takes.

This will be Cho’s second draft working with Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who guided the then-Bobcats to the NBA playoffs in his first season here. The Hornets now revolve around 10-year veteran center Al Jefferson, which might suggest a faster, “win-now” building plan than it seemed a year ago.

Clifford said earlier this week that given a choice between experience and potential, he’d lean in the direction of experience. Cho said he understood that view, but in balance with long-term goals.

“The last thing you want to do is sacrifice long-term flexibility for short-term gain,” Cho said.

Asked in a separate interview with the Observer how in-sync he is with Clifford’s priorities, Cho said: “The general manager and the coach should be on the same page. Not necessarily the same sentence, but the same page.”

Cho is now singularly in charge of the front office after president of basketball operations Rod Higgins resigned last week. Team owner Michael Jordan wanted to re-shift some responsibilities between Cho and Higgins. Higgins viewed that as a demotion, so he moved on.

Cho would not talk about individual draft prospects, saying doing so might tip his hand to other teams. But he did address the Hornets’ needs heading into the draft and free-agency, which begins July 1.

He listed those needs as more shooters, a backup point guard, more front-court depth and more skill along the perimeter, as far as making plays for teammates.

The Hornets were in the bottom third of the NBA in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage. Backup point guard Luke Ridnour’s contract expires, and it seems unlikely the Hornets would bring the 10-year pro back.

In addition to the two first-round picks, the Hornets have the 45th overall pick in the second round. So far the Hornets have auditioned 64 players in 11 Charlotte-based workouts. They interviewed 18 players last month during the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Cho said it’s possible the Hornets will hold a couple more workouts next week, but the vast majority of preparation is over. Cho said his staff has compiled 3,500 scouting reports in preparation for this draft.

Not all the viable possibilities for the ninth pick have come to Charlotte to work out. Cho estimated 15 players and their agents believe they’ll be gone before the ninth pick.

Cho said the lack of a workout wouldn’t deter him from selecting a player: “Over the years I’ve definitely been involved in drafts where we selected players” who hadn’t worked out.

Notes: Michigan State guard Gary Harris and UCLA guard Zach LaVine, possibilities for the ninth pick, were among six players who worked out Wednesday for the Hornets. At 6-foot-4, Harris is a bit undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but Clifford saw traits he likes: “I think he has the mental toughness and competitiveness to make up for that. Smart and tough is never bad.”

At 6-6 LaVine has the potential to play both the point and shooting guard in the NBA. Clifford said: “Great size, quickness, can elevate over people to get his shot.”

• The Hornets have hired Steve Hetzel as an assistant coach. He was previously head coach of the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League.

• The Hornets will unveil their new uniforms at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. For updates, check

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