New GM hire Mitch Kupchak has gotten off to a very aggressive start in the new job and good for Mitch doing Mitch things. Firing coaches is something he is particularly good at. Hiring bad coaches is his particular talent, coaches that don’t fit the personnel but who “interview well.” That was the reason behind the Mike Brown Lakers hire instead of more experienced coaches like Rick Adelman who actually coached in the NBA Finals.
So here’s the skinny on Steve Clifford who is now unemployed. He took the job in Charlotte, an assistant becoming a head coach for the first time, and he changed the culture. He only had one year in the playoffs but was choked by stupid front office moves.
Paying Nic Batum $120 million. Batum averaged 11.6 points this season. The Hornets are on the hook for next year at $25 million and the year after that at $27 million. In 2020-21, he has a player option for $27 million and good luck him turning that down. By signing him to that contract, the Hornets basically made Batum untradeable and asphyxiated their team.
Trading for Dwight Howard. The $23 million that Howard gets next season is bad enough, but having to incorporate Howard who has a very old school game into a modern reiteration of professional basketball with floor spacing and an iso-lite exceptionalism means Howard is an afterthought. His money is his money. The bigger problem is Howard’s game. He’s the 32nd ranked center (Real Plus-Minus) trailing Dewayne Dedmond of Atlanta. Who? My point exactly. Not to mention, when Howard gets to a team, the coach is mysteriously fired.
Horrific Draft Moves. Since Clifford was hired in 2013, the former Lakers assistant was lowballed by the front office with these draft moves.
- 2013: They passed on Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert
- 2015: They passed on Devin Booker, Larry Nance Jr. ‘
- 2017: They passed on Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart
Five years for any NBA coach is usually divorce time unless he has gotten his team to a conference final. Clifford didn’t have the roster to consistently get to the playoffs. So part of the blame is Michael Jordan and the moves he co-signed. The players are average and average gets eaten up by the NBA elite.
2017-18 Hornets Weaknesses. 28th: Steals. 27th: 3-Point Defense. 24th: FG Percentage, Assists. 22nd: FG Percentage Defense.
The Hornets can’t score if it’s not a three point shot and they can’t do anything about the other team scoring. Needing to address this is priority numero uno but their financial flexibility is pretty much zero.
2018-19 Cap Space: $119 million in salaries. Over the cap, treading water in luxury tax lane.
But before Kupchak can even consider whose salary he can foist off on a sucker, he needs a coach. He has to determine a style of play. He has to evaluate his roster with what is reasonably possible in the near future. As it is now, the Hornets are a dinosauar, a throw back to 1970 basketball. Everyone pretty much stands around and watches Kemba. Howard tries to muscle in the paint but he’s an aging player who has lost explosiveness around the rim. He doesn’t protect the rim, drivers aren’t scared of Howard like they are of Rudy Gobert. The Hornets are iso heavy and don’t move the ball. They play like the Warriors are a fantasy they just cannot copy.
After determining how he wants the team to play, Kupchak has to interview coaches and this is where he gets an F. After Phil Jackson left the Lakers in 2004, he hired Rudy Tomjanovich who didn’t last two months. Then Phil returned. When Jax left again, Kupchak hired Mike Brown, a disaster who wowed them in the interview. He fired MIke Brown five games into his second season and then hired MIke D’Antoni when he was well aware D’Antoni despises big men and the Lakers had two on the roster who at the time were pretty good: Dwight Howard and Paul Gasol. Disaster part two. The Lakers didn’t have the scorers to run D’Antoni’s system. D’Antoni was a bad candidate for that particular job because he can’t manage difficult personalities. He couldn’t stand up to the Mamba death glare and he allowed Kobe to play 48 minutes in back to back games and then Kobe’s Achilles tore. After D’Antoni was fired, Kupchak hired ball buster Byron Scott for a team of kids who probably needed a gentle approach more than they needed a dictator. Then he fired him. He hired Luke Walton before Kupchak was the one fired.
Objectively, you can say all the Kupchak hires may have panned out if they had experienced talent to work with and that’s my point. Charlotte doesn’t have the talent outside of Kemba. It’s a zero sum game with the Lakers past looking like the Charlotte present. And why in the hell would a quality coach, not a career assistant, want the Charlotte gig? They are in the bottom-5 of attendance. This year’s attendance was worse than last year’s, only Detroit and Atlanta were worse. Even the horrible Grizzlies had more fans in the building than the Hornets. The Hornets have no roster flexibility. The reason MJ put Kemba on the block was to try to get rid of Batum too, using Kemba as bait. But no one wants to pay a 10 ppg player $27 million. Go figure. You aren’t going to look at the Charlotte job and say playoffs in the future. You say, get rid of Batum’s chokehold and then maybe something is there. Plus the other jobs are more attractive than Charlotte. The Knicks are the Knicks. And they have a young All-Star in Porzingis. The Magic are pathetic but have financial flexibility. They can actually be a free agent player. Doc may leave the Clippers and you have another marquis big market team. Charlotte is holding up the rear.
Whatever coach Kupchak hires is dealing with feast and famine. He has a consistent All-Star in Kemba Walker. And he has a lot of untradeable parts that lack the versatility that dominate the modern game. Charlotte isn’t young and exuberant like the Lakers. It’s hard to see where their future is headed. It will take someone with grand vision and someone willing to suffer. The Kupchak Hornets are now in the Sisyphus with the rock era, climbing up a steep mountain with the rock continually crushing them. Their new coach won’t save anything in the short term.
That’s the problem