Rich Cho’s savvy moves have the Hornets moving in the right direction.
Column: Guest contributor Peter Haley, who you may know from Hive Talk Live, conducted the following piece.
Less than a year after being hired as Portland’s general manager in the summer of 2010, Rich Cho found himself looking for a new position. He was hired by Michael Jordan on June 14, 2011 and, with then-Co-GM Rod Higgins, immediately went to work rebuilding the Bobcats. While the team’s record would take some time to turn around, the deals that Cho helped to engineer laid the foundation for a talented and exciting team that yielded the Bobcats its second playoff appearance this past season. It’s easy to say that the franchise had nowhere to go but up after its 7-59 campaign in 2011-2012, but the team’s history left much to be desired in terms of personnel moves. After a half decade of questionable draft picks and free-agent moves with Jordan seemingly pulling the strings, Cho’s presence in the front office was a stabilizing force and much-needed change in perspective.
Nine days after being hired in 2011, Cho made his first big move, drafting Kemba Walker with the ninth overall pick, then sending Tobias Harris, Stephen Jackson, and Shaun Livingston in a three-team trade with Milwaukee and Sacramento that yielded Bismack Biyombo and Corey Maggette. While Biyombo has never developed into the rounded player that the Bobcats’ front office hoped for, he has found moments to contribute. Maggette was sent to Detroit the next June for Ben Gordon and a future 1st round draft pick; while Bobcats fans were made to endure Gordon’s albatross contract, the pick couldn’t have worked out any better. The now-Hornets got lucky on lottery night 2014, and combined with Noah Vonleh’s prospects falling in the run-up to the draft, Cho took the best player available with the ninth pick.
Don’t let the Vonleh pick fool you, though—while Cho would admit that Charlotte beat the odds to land the power forward, the GM has been extremely shrewd and prescient in his dealings with personnel. After picking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor in the 2012 draft, Cho then signed two key players that would have important impacts, albeit in very different ways, on the suddenly youthful Bobcats roster. Ramon Sessions was brought in as a backup point guard to Kemba Walker and impressed many with his ability to get to the basket and foul line whenever he was on the floor; Brendan Haywood spent most of his time on the bench, but had a big impact as a veteran presence there and in the locker room. While these signings were important to the team, there may be no better series of events to show Cho’s foresight than to recall how he brought Josh McRoberts to Charlotte.
Very early in the 2012 season, Charlotte sent veteran Matt Caroll to the New Orleans Hornets for Hakim Warrick. What seemed like an innocuous move at the time set in motion a great rendition of buy low-sell high business, as Warrick was immediately put to use by then-Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap, playing in 27 games and starting 14. Seizing on the opportunity to get value at power forward on a team lacking in frontcourt talent, Warrick was sent to the Magic in exchange for Josh McRoberts. McRoberts quickly became one of the most important players for Charlotte in their playoff run, garnering praise both from Steve Clifford and Michael Jordan.
In the span of two years, Rich Cho helped to cobble together a team that was attractive enough to land Al Jefferson and reach the playoffs for the first time in four years. Led by players acquired by Cho and coached by the practically minded Clifford, the Bobcats impressed folks throughout the league, and did so knowing that there would be room to sign another big contract this summer. Knowing full well that LeBron James’ decision about free agency would trigger a number of moves throughout the league, Cho put a max offer on the table for Gordon Hayward instead of immediately going after Lance Stephenson, knowing that Utah would most likely match Charlotte’s offer. The Jazz did as expected, and combined with Houston’s decision to not match Dallas’s offer to Chandler Parsons, the market for Stephenson was reduced to the Hornets and Indiana. The Hornets, who had picked up Marvin Williams in the meantime, signed Stephenson to a favorable deal that required less commitment in contract years and salary. Adding a talented wing scorer and defender to Clifford’s system, as well as a veteran power forward to fill the now-departed McRoberts’ role, may end up being Cho’s most impressive offseason of his career as a GM. With the talent assembled, the Hornets and their fans have much to look forward to come November.