Mitch Kupchak is entering his second season as the Charlotte Hornets’ General Manager and President of Basketball Operations. Kupchak is in charge of the organization’s transition from a team built around Kemba Walker to a team built around the team’s existing young players. He spoke to the media today and addressed many topics surrounding the Hornets’ season and their future.
The Hornets can finally look to the future after having to try and make a playoff push last season and potentially re-sign Kemba Walker. They are now in a new era centered around player development and are not focused on wins and losses right now – James Borrego, Kupchak, and Michael Jordan are all on the same page in this regard. Player development is the “life blood” of the organization according to Borrego, and now the team can put all of its eggs in that one basket.
Kupchak is not to blame for the Hornets’ current roster construction. He came in after Rich Cho had given out several questionable contracts that en route put the Hornets close to the luxury tax. Some say Kupchak should have traded Kemba Walker when he had the chance, but eventually his main priority for this team was to not enter into the luxury tax – and why Charlotte only offered Kemba Walker a five-year/$160 million contract.
The Hornets want to build from the ground up and have started that process already this year. Read the main takeaways from Mitch Kupchak’s media availability Monday below:
Wins and losses won’t define this team’s success
James Borrego, Mitch Kupchak, and owner Michael Jordan are all on the same page with the Hornets’ approach to this season and years to come. Wins and losses are not something they are focused on, and they won’t define the team’s success. They want to establish a winning culture and develop players that fit into their system – which is a process that does not come with immediate success in terms of wins and losses.
Kupchak echoed these same sentiments this morning. “We want to build something that can consistently get in the playoffs. And advance in the playoffs.” The team isn’t trying to push for the playoffs per se but are aiming to win as many games as they can with the vision and stye of play that can be sustained with the talent available. That talent being their young guys that are in this team’s long-term plans.
When asked about hitting Borrego’s “Four Pillars” and how the team is going about reaching those objectives, Kupchak said, “I think we are on the right track.” He knows it is two days before the regular season and that it will be a long 82-game season, so things can change, but their goal of hitting those pillars will stay consistent.
Mitch would not predict how many games the team would win but added that “success on this year’s team is to win as many games as you have a chance to win and, on the way, have progress, energy, and player development.” Kupchak wants to see his players play with energy and coaches coach with energy, while improving throughout the season.
The GM understands that it is a long season and knows there will be peaks and valleys through each player’s individual development. Progression is not linear, but this team is in a position where their owner, front office, and head coach are all on the same page – having the long view in place.
Don’t expect the Hornets to be players in free agency
“In the past we have not had the flexibility to pursue free agents. We will have flexibility this summer. Having said that, I don’t anticipate that we will be an active player in the free agent market. That’s not the way right now that we will build this team going forward.”
Mitch Kupchak said that the team will look to acquire young talent through “savvy trades” and will continue to draft well but does not expect to do so through free agency. Kupchak stated that he wants to “gather as many assets as we can going forward, whether that’s young players or draft picks. And of course having financial flexibility even though we might now use it.”
The Hornets may be a salary dump destination once they have open cap space, so that is one route where they could potentially acquire a young player.
It is not a realistic strategy for the Hornets to throw big money at free agents this summer. They get the contracts of Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo off the books this summer which will leave the team with north of $20 million in cap space – but using that is not wise. The team also gets off of Cody Zeller’s and Nicolas Batum’s deals after the 2020-21 season.
Charlotte is fully focused on the development of all of their young players, Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Malik Monk, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller, and the newly signed players. It would not make sense to throw guaranteed money at a guy this summer when they can save that money to extend their own young players that turn out to be effective contributors.
Kupchak echoed Borrego’s anticipated style of play and approach
Kupchak started his media availability Monday by stating that people should expect the “style of play we had the last six weeks of the season, which was a very fast-paced style of play where our younger players made big contributions.”
Borrego has echoed that he wants his team to push the ball, play at a high pace, put pressure on the defense, attack the rim, and defend at a high level. The Hornets now have players on their team that can uphold that gameplay and can buy into the brand of basketball this team is going to play.
The final six weeks of last season, Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon started and Devonte’ Graham saw an increase in playing time. This year, expect those two starting and Graham coming off the bench to provide valuable play. Borrego wants to play fast and energetic, and he has the pieces to do that. The players will have to buy in and take time getting used to the new pace. Success won’t come instantly, but as the season progresses, things like turnovers will go down and shot selection will improve.
How the team is different without Kemba Walker
When asked about how the Hornets are different this season without Kemba, Kupchak had an interesting response. “We don’t have anybody on this team who is going to automatically get minutes.” Every minute is going to be earned on this team. Borrego has said he thinks Rozier will play around 34 minutes per game, but apart from that, minutes are up for the taking.
The Hornets are going to need to get production from a collective group of guys. The roster does not include one player with Kemba’s production and skill, so it is going to be a concentrated effort with multiple guys needing to contribute on a nightly basis. Many of these young players have not been in this position or role yet in their NBA careers. It is going to take time to see who will blossom and take those major minutes.
Kupchak mentioned how the veterans are still an essential part to this team’s success in how it relates to the distribution of play time between young guys and vets. “We have older players, veteran players, who we’re hoping for leadership from. They can’t be overlooked. They need attention, they need improvement.”
It will take time for Bridges, Bacon, Washington, Monk, and Graham to be comfortable in new elevated roles; struggles are going to be inevitable. The veterans are there to assist in that progress. Borrego has pointed to Nic Batum and Marvin Williams as being two guys that help demonstrate winning habits and how to be a professional on an everyday basis.
Today at practice, Nicolas Batum told the media that he was fine coming off the bench if Borrego wanted to keep P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges, and Dwayne Bacon in the starting lineup. Borrego did not announce who the starters would be for opening night and said the starting lineup could switch on a game-by-game basis. Regardless, Batum will provide valuable veteran minutes for the Hornets whether off the bench or in a starting role.
Kupchak is surprised how quickly P.J. Washington has developed
The Hornets general manager said P.J. Washington was clearly the one who stuck out the most for the Hornets this preseason. The rookie eclipsed double digits in scoring every game and impressed the team with his three-point shooting, pick-and-roll instincts, and defensive versatility.
The Hornets did not picture Washington starting the year with the team in Charlotte, but after his tremendous preseason and breaking into the starting lineup, it is certain he will get meaningful minutes early.
“To continue to get the kid to develop, he has to play. And based on his production to date, I think he will play. Whether that’s starting or off the bench.”
Kupchak was impressed mostly by Washington’s three-point shot. He shot 50 percent (8-16) in five preseason game. “He’s doing some things I did not see out of him in college, particularly his three ball. I know he increased his range.”
“He’s worked on his game, and he turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today, he can make threes.”
Anticipate Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels, Kobi Simmons, and Robert Franks playing primariy for the Greensboro Swarm this season
The Hornets GM said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Caleb Martin, McDaniels, Simmons, and Franks, “are in the G-League and playing a lot of minutes down there.”
Kupchak explained that the priority for these young players is to get them playing time on the court – whether that be in Greensboro or for the Hornets. Sitting on the end of the bench is not the strategy or approach the Hornets want in developing their young players. He said the signings of Kobi Simmons, Caleb Martin, and Jalen McDaniels reflect their commitment to player development for the future of this team and hopes one or more of those guys can eventually evolve into a full-time NBA player.
Nick Friedman will be in charge of the development of those players while they are in Greensboro and possibly come back up with them when they are brought up to the Hornets. Kupchak said Friedman will be going down with all of them this week as the Swarm begin training camp next week, adding he is a key part of the organization’s player development.
He mentioned it is possible that six or seven of the players that were in training camp could end up on the Swarm’s roster. He was specifically talking about the players they waived, Josh Perkins, Ahmed Hill, Thomas Welsh, and Joe Chealey. They have rights to all of those players.
Malik Monk needs to make the jump this season
Malik Monk is entering his third year in the NBA. He has received much scrutiny during his first two years surrounding his production and his thin frame, but he has taken strides to improve in that area. He added 23 pounds to his frame and will look to have an elevated role in the Hornets rotation this season.
Mitch Kupchak has been impressed with Monk to start the season. “We’ve seen great progress at the end of the preseason with Malik. We are still hoping and expecting at some point that he makes that jump from a young player that’s kind of finding his way to a player that’s going to be productive. The last (preseason) game was encouraging.
“If he can continue to do what he did this last preseason game. And it’s not just scoring with him.” He referenced he knows Malik is a good shooter. “I thought he was a really good playmaker that last game… I don’t even think he had a turnover last game.”
Kupchak understands that Monk’s performance like he had last week (18 points, 7 assists, zero turnovers) is not something he is going to do every game – he’s still a work in progress. Mitch thought the game “was a great building block for him.”
Kupchak thinks Monk is a key part for the Hornets future as it relates to player development. “For us to be on track going forward with our young group, we need a jump from him (Malik). That would be great.”
Monk is looking to make that jump in year three, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to do so. There are open minutes and a lot of scoring and ball handling duties that are needed. Monk can step right in and continue to develop his game and show the team he is worthy of a significant role.