"I got 75 free agency variations and a physical rim protector ain’t one." -- GM Rich Cho mumbling to himself before last year’s free agency period, presumably.
The Hornets did something interesting this year — they went for it.
The majority of Charlotte basketball watching in the decade since the team’s glorious(?) return has been bad.
The playing, that is.
It can wear on you, watching a bad team with bad players and bad coaches do bad things all of the time. Slowly, steadily forcing you the viewer to care less and less about the present and more and more about the future.
Fans of bad teams like the once-Bobcats were ahead of the curve in terms of the Hinki-fying the NBA. Only none of use got multi-million dollar deals to run teams into the ground with an eye on what could be. All we got were disappointing seasons on repeat.
But no longer, apparently. "Win-now" has always been a dirty term in team sports. It implies that you don’t want to wait for the third date. That a team’s impatience and smelly desperation forces their moves, rather than calculated, well thought out strategery. Coach and de facto GM Larry Brown was win-now. He and the team parted ways after having achieved one positive season, the aftermath of which saw them owing Desgana Diop more money than the center should arguably have ever been owed to play basketball, as well as having destroyed the confidence and career of a certain mustachioed Bird-like wunderkind from the Pacific Northwest.
For that, I will personally never forgive him. Those commercials were the best.
But Mr. Cho has done things differently.
Cho did things so differently in fact, that in his first year as GM he helped tank the then-Bobcats to the single worst winning percentage in the history of the NBA (.106).
However, the process was ultimately failed by the results as the number one overall pick went to the New Orleans Pelicans in the form of transcendent superstar Anthony Davis, while Charlotte resigned to take the good, but not yet great, (and probably never transcendent) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick overall.
Since that day, whether by the urge of his demanding owner, his own free wil,l or perhaps both, Cho has tried to win in the present without sacrificing the future.
This season was a perfect example of walking that line.
Before the first game of the year the team traded rookie Noah Vonleh and veteran Gerald Henderson to the Portland Trailblazers for Nic Batum, while also managing to get Jeremy Lamb for essentially nothing from the Thunder.
Cho bought low on two talented players whose stock had dipped the past season, and whose teams no longer wanted them. It was both a great value play on Cho’s part as well as an intelligent balancing of the present and future, increasingly rare in a league that too often looks to full measures in regards to personnel (see Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers -- opposite ends of the chronological spectrum, yet equally dreadful).
Besides increasing Charlotte’s present potential, and staying the course with the future, Cho was also (totally) receptive to Steve Clifford’s request for more "size and skill". Behold:
When describing the positives of each of these players, at least one of those attributes will probably be listed first. So much so that the Tyler Hansbrough signing felt like a weirdly necessary balancing of the scales.
Not only has this past season showed off Cho’s masterful ability to walk the tightrope of team building, but he somehow became the architect of one of the most complete offensive transformations in recent memory. The Hornets, virtually last in every single important offensive category last season, finished ninth in offensive rating this season, while also managing to completely transform the offense from a stagnant, post up-heavy system, to a new-age pick and roll, 3-point launching attack.
Rich Cho finished 5th in Executive of the Year voting and deservedly so (especially when you consider those that finished above him, all had teams go further in this year’s playoffs). The man has single-handedly transformed the Charlotte front office from a nepotistic clusterf%#@ to a real-life, cutting edge collective of basketball minds that make some of the more prudent and insightful free agent signings and trades in the entire league (the draft, admittedly, remains a bit of a mystery).
Without question one of the worst things in sports is to fall victim to a dysfunctional front office, and at least for now, it seems the Hornets don’t have to worry about that anymore.