Genreral Manager Rich Cho hasn’t always knocked it out of the park in the draft or free agency, but he’s been solid. It’s easy to look at past drafts and think “what could have been?” had the Charlotte Hornets elected to take a chance on Giannis Antetokounmpo instead of Cody Zeller, or went for the youth of Devin Booker instead of the experience of Frank Kaminsky.
Decisions like these have served as a point of contention among Hornets fans. Not only that, but this is the same guy that went out and signed the likes of Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert in free agency. It is not clear if those moves warranted criticism at the time or if hindsight has painted those decisions in a dimmer light.
Justified or not, Rich Cho will always be questioned for his proficiency at finding solid talent in the draft and free agency.
But one thing is for certain, this guy knows how to make trades.
Three players that were essential to Charlotte’s 2014 and 2016 playoff runs were brought to the team via trade. Matt Carroll was parlayed into Josh McRoberts, and Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien were swapped for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal for the 2014 run. Two years later, P.J. Hairston and Brian Roberts were sent away for Courtney Lee.
It doesn’t stop there. Three players that will be vital to the Hornets’ success this season were brought to the team via trade—Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, and Dwight Howard. All three were acquired with the ashes of previous moves that had flamed out in spectacular fashion: the selection of mega-bust Noah Vonleh led to the acquisition of Batum, who immediately stepped in and became the fulcrum of the Hornets offense and though signing Stephenson ended up being a monumental flop on the court, but it became the first of many steps that led to both Jeremy Lamb and Dwight Howard donning purple and teal.
The image below illustrates all of the trades Rich Cho has made since the disastrous 2011-12 season. For brevity’s sake, I’ve left out the selling of second round picks and other minor draft pick swaps. This is all about how player swaps have affected the product on the court. Just follow the lines to see the path of transactions that led to a particular player.
Turning a free agent bust into a diamond in the rough
When the Hornets signed free agent swingman Lance Stephenson in the summer of 2014, it looked like they had finally found a secondary playmaker and potential star to join Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker in Charlotte. Those aspirations never took flight, and the Lance Stephenson experience in Charlotte was terminated after just one season. But it wasn’t for naught.
The following offseason, Lance Stephenson was flipped to the Clippers for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes. Matt Barnes was then sent to the Grizzlies for Luke Ridnour (again). Luke Ridnour was paired with a second round pick and sent to Oklahoma City in return for Jeremy Lamb. The UConn product is now in his third season with the team and is posting career highs pretty much across the board. That’s not a bad return for one of the worst free agency disasters of the decade, and it doesn’t even end there.
The path to Dwight Howard also starts with Lance Stephenson
The other piece acquired in the Lance Stephenson trade was former Clippers center Spencer Hawes. Hawes was a polarizing figure on the court during his time here, as he did none of the things you expect out of a center while simultaneously doing everything you’d expect out of a guard. It wasn’t ideal, but he carved out a role.
You know what else isn’t ideal? Giving Roy Hibbert significant minutes. The Hornets thought they could find a reclamation project in the 7’2” big man after his disastrous stint with the Lakers. That wasn’t the case. Injuries, age, and confidence issues have sapped most of the Georgetown product’s ability over the years. He was a shell of his Indiana Pacers self, which was of very little use to the Hornets. Both Hawes and he were sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Miles Plumlee.
Plumlee, or MFP as he became so affectionately nicknamed here on At The Hive, played just 13 games during his brief stint with the Hornets. It looked like Rich Cho had taken the mess that was Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert and turned it into an equally big mess with a longer contract. What a disaster. How could he justify such a boneheaded mistake?
Here’s how: he took that albatross Plumlee contract (four-years, $50 million), combined it with Marco Belinelli, and sent the two to Atlanta. In return, the Hawks sent back Dwight Howard. That same Dwight Howard is currently sitting at fourth in the NBA in rebounding (and the 31st pick, which, after trading back in the draft, became Dwayne Bacon).
To summarize, sending away Lance Stephenson brought back Spencer Hawes. Trading Hawes away led to the acquisition of Miles Plumlee. Pumlee proved to be a key piece in the acquisition of Dwight Howard.
Victories like those appear in every branch of the chart. No matter where you start, you’ll always find a better player at the end. It’s a testament to Cho’s ability to recognize where his own team can stand to improve while also capitalizing on other general managers’ desire to overhaul their respective teams.
I don’t know what kind of things he said to get the Oklahoma City Thunder to give Jeremy Lamb away for virtually nothing, or to get the Grizzlies to give up a key rotation piece for Hairston and Roberts. But he gets it done.
Regardless of your stance on Rich Cho as an evaluator of talent in the draft or free agency, there’s no denying that he has done an incredible job at improving the team via trade. He emphasizes roster flexibility in almost every one of his press conferences, and that roster flexibility has kept the door open for him to keep wheeling and dealing to improve the Hornets.