Rich Cho was tied to the Charlotte NBA franchise even before he started collecting paychecks from the team. In 2011, he was on the receiving end of the Gerald Wallace trade that sent the face of the Bobcats to Portland for Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, Joel Przybilla, cash -- luscious, luscious cash -- and two first round draft picks.
His time as general manager in Portland was short -- less than a year -- and other than the Wallace trade, his most notable move was signing Wesley Matthews in restricted free agency. But everyone loves Matthews, so that can only be seen as a home run that made the NBA, and probably the nation, better.
But we'll be looking at his time in Charlotte, focusing on the trades, signings and draft picks he made/was involved in to shape what is the current Charlotte Hornets roster. Of course, he hasn't always had clear control in Charlotte, as he was once working closely with former team president Rod Higgins, Michael Jordan and the rest of the front office. The Hornets have always presented a unified front, whether anyone every believed that or not. For the purpose of this exercise, we will refer to moves made since Cho's arrival as his own although we're pretty sure he can't take all the credit.
Even though Cho was listed as GM, Higgins was still given votes last year for the NBA Executive of the Year award. The reality is that it's always been a collective effort between Cho, Higgins, Michael Jordan, and now, Hornets head coach Steve Clifford. So clearly, whatever message the team was putting out there about the defined roles could have provided more clarity. But, with Higgins exiting this summer in what most assume was a result of balking at the proposal of a reduced role in the front office, there is no doubt Cho is the guy moving forward.
Draft picks: Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris, Jeremy Tyler, Bismack Biyombo (via trade)
Signings: Derrick Brown, Ben Uzoh, Melvin Ely, Taylor Griffin, Reggie Wiliams, Cory Higgins, Jamario Moon
Incoming assets from trades: Cash (for Jeremy Tyler), Byron Mullens (for 2013 second round draft pick)
Cho was brought in during June of 2011, right before that summer's NBA draft. One reason the hiring was notable from the start was because Cho wasn't someone from Jordan's inner circle. Jordan has always surrounded himself with close confidantes and people he's worked with and trusted. And truly, there's nothing wrong with that. But something obviously wasn't pointing the team in the right direction, and to his credit, Jordan realized that and made a smart hire.
Cho immediately made moves that helped shape the franchise. He drafted point guard Kemba Walker with the ninth pick and jumped in on a three-team trade that had players moving every which way. The trade ultimately sent Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and the draft rights to Tobias Harris (which had been acquired in the aforementioned Wallace deal) to Milwaukee while Charlotte received Corey Maggette and the rights to the seventh pick that year, Bismack Biyombo. Sacramento and several other players were also involved, but that was the meat of the deal for Charlotte.
At the time it looked like an aggressive move, and in retrospect, it was a very aggressive move. Cho was angling to pick up two cornerstones upon which to build the franchise. While Walker has not yet reached elite status as a point guard, it's fair to say he's the franchise's unquestioned starter and building block at the position. He's not untouchable, but it's by no means an area of need. Far from it. Cho did well with that pick.
Here's the thing with Biyombo. He blew up at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, and, well, he blew up at that game! Biyombo was always seen as a project, but I don't think Cho, Jordan, Higgins or anyone else realized it would take as long as it has for him to develop. Teams had been able to find diamonds in the rough before, and Biyombo displayed athletic and physical gifts that don't come in the same package very often. Reaching for him at seven and trying to nab the next Serge Ibaka was an understandable and respectable move, but it just hasn't panned out.
Drafts don't happen in a vacuum, though, so it's not always fair to look at players selected after a certain spot and label a pick "wrong." And honestly, this draft wasn't exactly the second coming of the ‘84 Draft. However, if Cho been able to land Kawhi Leonard (selected fifteenth by the Spurs), Nikola Vučević (sixteenth by Philadelphia) or Kenneth Faried (twenty-second by Denver) it would have obviously been more fruitful.
Leonard especially seems like something that could have happened, because he was mentioned as a possible Bobcat pick before draft. However, at the time none of those players were head and shoulders above Biyombo as far as being a known NBA quantity. (For more on the current state of Biyombo check out Chris Barnewall's excellent piece.)
While the signings of Derrick Brown, Melvin Ely and Reggie Williams all proved useful, none of the team's free agent signings changed the landscape of the franchise. Cho has often been able to find good talent via free agency, though.
Byron Mullens was buried on the Thunder bench and came to Charlotte in search of minutes and, apparently, shots. He found an abundance of both and took full advantage. Mullens was neither as good nor as horrible as some say. He was fine, took too many perimeter shots, was deplorable to below average on defense most of the time, and provided a handful of highlight plays, mostly dunks. He probably did more for the team than a 2013 second round draft pick (Àlex Abrines ended up being selected with the traded pick) would have, so it was another good effort from Cho.
Draft picks: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor
Signings: Ramon Sessions, Brendan Haywood, Jeff Adrien, DaJuan Summers, Jannero Pargo
Incoming assets from trades: Ben Gordon and a first round draft pick (for Corey Maggette), Hakim Warrick (for Matt Carroll), Josh McRoberts (for Hakim Warrick)
The Bobcats used the 2011-2012 season to completely bottom out and set themselves up for a chance to select Anthony Davis with the first overall pick and it almost worked. Cho's most well-known public moment is still him at that year's draft lottery with a look of utter disbelief and crushed dreams as New Orleans was awarded the first pick instead of Charlotte. Davis, a transcendent superstar in the making, was a franchise changer and Charlotte was oh-so-close to being able to build around him.
Instead, the Bobcats selected his teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at number two, a pick that, at the time, was mostly celebrated as the right thing to do. That was a small victory in and of itself; no one was used to the Bobcats making the right choice. Kidd-Gilchrist was going to be a project offensively (again) and was still very young (again) but the majority was in agreement that choosing him after Davis was the correct decision.
Looking back, the selection of Bradley Beal may have really set up the Bobcats for future success. Pairing Walker with Beal would have given Charlotte a dynamic young backcourt that could grow for the next decade. At the time, Charlotte likely had hopes that their own Gerald Henderson would blossom into that starting two, and it makes sense that they wanted to give him room to grow. Shoring up the wings on defense was nothing to sneeze at, and the other potential/possible selection for Charlotte there, Thomas Robinson, could have proved disastrous for the franchise.
The Jeff Taylor selection in the second round might have been the best bang-for-the-buck selection in the history of the franchise. Taylor is a legit NBA rotational player, and getting a player of that caliber in the second round is a job well done.
The draft was bound to be somewhat disappointing once Davis was no longer an option, but where Cho and company really made their money that season was unloading Corey Maggette for a first round pick and Ben Gordon. Yes, Gordon's contract was atrocious, but Charlotte got a protected first round pick just to take it. Gordon's time in Charlotte was bumpy and ended ugly. Charlotte would later cut him loose past the signing deadline so that he couldn't sign with a playoff team and be eligible for last year's playoffs.
Of course, the Hornets finally got some lottery luck when they were able to keep the draft pick received with Gordon in the 2014 draft. More on that later.
Cho also got rid of Matt Caroll's horrible contract (for the second time) by trading him for Hakim Warrick who he eventually flipped for Josh McRoberts. At the time, this trade barely moved the needle for most, but it didn't take long for McRoberts to show why adding him was much more than just subtracting Warrick.
McRoberts became a key piece last season and really flourished in Steve Clifford's system. Had it not been for a crazy LeBron-centered offseason, McRoberts might still be in Charlotte, as most involved on both sides of the table seemed to desire. Alas, Hornets fans will have to salute McJesus on his way through Charlotte next year as a member of the Heat.
Brendan Haywood, Jeff Adrien, and Jannero Pargo all played significant minutes at some point for the Bobcats. While Haywood was bothered by injuries, both Adrien and Pargo were forced into playing time because of injuries and prospered for the most part.
Ramon Sessions was one of the bigger pieces for the Bobcats and their effort to climb back to respectability. A nice combo-ish point guard who could both back up Walker and play alongside him, Sessions played a lot of good minutes to Charlotte.
Hired Steve Clifford, Head Coach
Draft picks: Cody Zeller
Signings: Al Jefferson, (re-sign) Gerald Henderson, Anthony Tolliver, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Hamilton, D.J. White
Incoming assets from trades: Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour (for Jeff Adrien and Ramon Sessions)
In a concerted effort to improve sooner rather than later, Cho and the Bobcats' front office fired Mike Dunlap after only one season and hired Steve Clifford. Dunlap's approach was clearly not working, and the team recognized he was not the coach to lead a transition team into what would hopefully be a legitimate playoff contender. Steve Clifford was another rookie head coach, but had been a trusted assistant on many an NBA bench and a valued branch in the Van Gundy coaching tree who drew nothing but rave reviews.
Clifford quickly proved his worth by transforming Charlotte into a top defensive team in the league. This cannot be understated. The Bobcats were once a good defensive team for a short time under Larry Brown, but for most of the team's existence, watching it attempt to defend anything more than opinions was brutal. Clifford was even able to get players not exactly synonymous with defense to be big contributors, none more so than the biggest free agent signing of Cho's career, Al Jefferson.
Jefferson was going to leave Utah to make room for young bigs on the Jazz roster. The only question was where the talented big man make his money. Charlotte made a hard charge at Jefferson in the summer of 2013, and showed they were serious about bringing him into the fold. While a lot of observers initially scoffed at the signing, Jefferson proved his worth and then some dominating the low post on offense all season on his way to third team All-NBA honors. You could even argue he was underpaid.
He was also much better on defense than anyone expected, and not the black hole on offense when he got the ball in the post. A lot of his defensive impact was certainly a credit to Clifford's system, but Jefferson also deserves much of the praise he received.
For Charlotte, the signing did two things: It gave them a very real offensive force in the low post, and it paved the way for future free agent signings to at least consider Charlotte, something that had never happened prior to Jefferson's signing. Had Charlotte not signed Jefferson, the team would have been horrible again and likely had a very good shot at selecting someone in last summer's draft. But who would that have been? The draft didn't pan out exactly as many thought it might.
Cho also pulled the trigger on a trade near the deadline that swapped Sessions and Jeff Adrien for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from Milwaukee. Although losing Sessions stung a little, adding a shooter in Neal was desperately needed. Ridnour did not provide the kind of depth behind Walker that Sessions had, but Cho was essentially trying for a little more scoring punch at the risk of losing some depth at the one.
The book has yet to be written on Cody Zeller's NBA career, but his rookie season was fine. Although he started off looking out of place, after the All-Star break he began to slow down and play with more confidence and strength. He'll have to keep progressing as such -- a familiar tune with Charlotte draft picks -- and he'll certainly get his chances this year with McRoberts moving on.
Draft Picks: Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston
Signings: Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts
It's very likely Lance Stephenson (and perhaps Marvin Williams) would not be Hornets had Cho not been able to sign Jefferson one year ago. By making the playoffs and being seen as a team that is ready and willing to make moves to improve, the Hornets put themselves in position to keep make additional impact acquisitions. Playing in the Eastern Conference right now probably doesn't hurt either, but the Hornets are taking advantage of what they can.
Cho and company first made a massive offer to restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, but it was ultimately matched by Utah. However, it certainly made it apparent that Charlotte had no intentions of sitting on the sidelines. As the dust settled on free agency, the limited options at shooting guard dwindled. Charlotte played the waiting game perfectly as they did with Henderson one year earlier, and made the right offer to Stephenson at the right time. As a result, the Hornets made another splash in free agency for the second summer in a row, and at the same time plucked a key asset from a conference opponent.
Aside from the fact that Stephenson just makes the team better, the contract is so good for the Hornets that you have to keep double-checking it to make sure it's real. Instead of paying Hayward $63 million over the next four years, the Hornets agreed to pay Stephenson $18 million for the next two years, and the Hornets can pick up a team option for a third if everything works out. It's a fantastic deal.
Cho also signed Marvin Williams to eat up some of the minutes left over from McRoberts' departure and selected Noah Vonleh when he fell to the Hornets at nine with the pick acquired in the deal that sent Maggette to Detroit. He also got the shooter the Hornets desperately needed on draft night in P.J. Hairston, although it involved a swap with Miami forShabazz Napier. It was a good summer for Cho and the Hornets. It did nothing to stop the positive momentum the franchise has started to build over the last year.
Cho is part of the new breed of GMs that rely pretty heavily on analytics, so it makes some sense that his better moves would come from free agency and trades because those players have real NBA experience from which to draw conclusions. When looking at prospects in the draft, it's more difficult to extrapolate what a player will be able to do once they get to the NBA. But it's not like Cho has completely missed on draft picks to the extent the Bobcats had been known to prior to his arrival.
At worst, the picks won't pan out as reliable NBA contributors but they'll all likely be in the league for some years to come. The problem is they were all relatively high picks. Biyombo, Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist are lottery picks that have yet to impact the team in the way you typically need lottery picks to. But the draft is much more about luck and good fortune than anyone wants to admit. As discussed, he whiffed on Beal and Biyombo is in danger of not being extended after this season. But even the bad picks are defendable.
Still, Cho has knack for adding talent via trades and free agency and has an owner that is now willing to make things happen. Cho has probably done some learning on the job, but since he's been in Charlotte, his moves have been much more stable, impactful, and downright more intelligent. Regardless of how much he was involved with these moves in the past, it's his show now, and in Cho the Hornets trust.
All credit to Basketball Reference for transaction stats.