New Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke almost exactly 5,000 words in his introductory news conference Tuesday.
So he talked a lot, but in reality he said very little. This was obviously by design. Kupchak is smart enough and has been in the NBA long enough that he’s not going to say something offhand in an opening news conference that’s going to come back to bite him a few days or months later.
Of those 5,000 words, though, I found eight particularly interesting – four pairs of two words apiece. Let’s explore them.
This is how Kupchak described his relationship with Hornets owner Michael Jordan. They went to the same college (North Carolina) and both were coached and mentored by Dean Smith. But Kupchak isn’t a FOROM (Friend or Relative of Michael) in the way that so many current or former front-office Hornets personnel have been.
“I’ve gotten to know Michael basically at arm’s length,” Kupchak said after recounting their first meeting, which came the day before Jordan hit the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA championship as a college freshman. “Maybe we would see each other at a game and say hello. ... Every now and then we would get hooked up in a golf game. But it never got to the point that we considered ourselves — at least I never considered myself — a friend of his. So here we are many, many, many years later – and I’m being named to work for Michael.”
I think this is a good thing. Kupchak and Jordan have the Chapel Hill shorthand, yes, but Kupchak also has forged his own successful career and sure shouldn’t be afraid to say “No” to Jordan – or to disagree with him about a player.
Former GM Rich Cho was supposed to be that guy — he certainly wasn't a FOROM. But Cho was such a pleaser that shutting down a Jordan idea was a very hard thing for him to do.
Kupchak went on to say he wants to develop his friendship with Jordan, which makes sense. But I also get the idea that this will be a professional relationship without a whole lot of extra sauce.
Kupchak used this phrase a lot whenever he declined to discuss a sensitive subject, such as whether he’s going to keep or dismiss head coach Steve Clifford. “Once again, I just got the job two days ago,” Kupchak said.
Kupchak went on to say some nice things about Clifford — but they weren’t absolutely glowing, either. The “two days” thing was an exaggeration – Kupchak started talking to the Hornets almost a month ago and got the GM offer more than a week ago – but a useful one for him as he dodged the question with ease.
As I wrote earlier this week, I hope Kupchak keeps Clifford for another year – but ultimately I expect that he won’t.
This was sort of funny. Kupchak was a bruising, 6-foot-9 big man as a player. He played within 3 feet of the paint pretty much his entire life – and he had a solid NBA career doing it, too, lasting 10 seasons and averaging 10 points per game (and playing for the 1978 Washington team that won the NBA title).
That was in another era – so long ago that not only did big men not venture beyond the three-point line, but for some of the time there was no three-point line to venture beyond in the first place. So since most basketball-playing big men love to shoot 3-pointers, I asked him if he would have jacked up hundreds of them if he played in today’s NBA.
“Well, in college (at UNC), it had to be three passes before I was allowed to take a shot, OK?” Kupchak said. “In high school, I was allowed one dribble (before shooting or passing). I think in my pro career, I took one three. It was at the expiration of a half, and it was a launch of desperation.”
In this case, Kupchak’s memory is being kind. Kupchak actually took five 3-pointers in his NBA career – and missed all five. He didn’t take any as a Tar Heel, because he played before the 3-point shot was added.
“What would I do today? It is a long shot. My guess is I could shoot it from the corner because it is so much closer,” he said.
Kupchak has been pretty darn good at the art of the deal in the NBA. Those 10 NBA championship rings – seven as a front-office man for the L.A. Lakers — would attest to that. This may be in part because while he’s pleasant, it’s also a little unclear what’s going on beyond that smooth surface.
What does he want? Who does he covet? Who will he keep and who will he trade?
“People say I have a poker face,” Kupchak said Tuesday.
He did get one thing he wanted, though – this job. Although Kupchak, 63, admitted “I did my best” not to let the Hornets know during this process how much he desired to be back in the NBA doing something significant, he said: “This is something really that I did want from the beginning.”
The only time Kupchak looked slightly rattled in his news conference was totally my fault.
I was using my iPhone to record his news conference and had sat it near him to do so, along with the phones and tape recorders from a number of other journalists. Unfortunately, I neglected to mute it, so right in the middle of one of Kupchak’s answers, my phone went off. Startled, he began feeling every pocket he had, saying: “Is that mine?”
Um, no, it was mine. Mitch, again, I really am sorry about that. I’m an idiot sometimes. I also once stopped a Carolina Panthers news conference in its tracks by accidentally leaning on the light switch.
But enough of that. Let me just say once more:
Welcome to Charlotte, Mitch Kupchak — and good luck.
Because no matter how good you are, you’re really going to need some.