In 2011 the Portland Trail Blazers finished with a 48-34 record, underperforming their Over-Under of 51.5 and losing in the first round of the playoffs, albeit with the sudden decline Brandon Roy’s production due to injury. Their first year GM, Rich Cho was surprisingly fired on May 23rd reportedly due to a fallout with owner Paul Allen not due to performance in his role. However, just 21 days later he was announced as the new GM of the Charlotte Bobcats. From that point onwards Cho’s stint in Charlotte overlapped with one of the worst seven years of drafting and asset management in recent memory. I am not attributing this organisational failure solely to Rich Cho, more on that in the conclusion. However, it’s hard not to see the lineation from the minute Cho took over to when he left In February 2018. So grab a stress ball, put on some zen music and read my year by year breakdown of how the then Charlotte Bobcats cemented themselves into NBA purgatory for just short of a decade.
Drafted: Bismack Biyombo 7th + Kemba Walker 9th
Traded: Tobias Harris 19th Jeremy Tyler 39th
Cho started off with a bang, moving Stephen Jackson + 19th pick for Corey Maggette +7th pick. The method of the move was widely applauded by NBA personnel. Unfortunately the execution didn’t work out, the Hornets selected Biyombo a multiyear project who as one NBA executive told ESPN during a pre-draft workout “Biyombo just played a game of one-on-none… and lost”. Biz never developed how the team hoped and was eventually left to walk in free agency before returning to Charlotte via trade in 2018.
Charlotte’s other pick Kemba Walker turned out to be the best pick in the history of the franchise outside the top 3. At the time there was a common agreement among reporters & fans that Biz was Cho’s pick and Kemba MJ’s, in reality it was not that simple. Strangely enough most fans after the draft were more excited about the drafting of Biz than Kemba, safe to say that take didn’t age well.
The pick that Charlotte traded to move up Biz unfortunately became a multi time all-star (Tobias Harris) with the NBA gods feeling the need to rub salt into the Bismack sized wound for the Hornets. The 39th pick was traded away for “Cash Considerations”, heads up; you’re going to see this phrase used A LOT in the rest of the article.
Drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2nd + Jeff Taylor 31st
Like myself Rich Cho still must still not have recovered from the heartbreak of losing the Anthony Davis lottery in 2012, a top 5 worst moment for many Hornets fans. Charlotte’s consolation prize of MKG showed glimpses over his time in Charlotte, he was good defender finishing 9th in DPOTY in 2015 but his lack of offensive game and flawed shooting mechanics made him extinct in the NBA pace and space era.
Jeff Taylor, that was one bandwagon I was riding HARD, if you aren’t familiar with his game check out his rookie highlights. I will always remember Jeff Taylor locking down DeMar DeRozan and showing flashes of a perfect three & D player. Unfortunately, an Achilles tear in 2013 & off the court problems led him to forging a successful career in Europe with Real Madrid.
Drafted: Cody Zeller 4th
Traded: Alex Abrines 32nd as part of the Byron Mullens Trade (2011)
In an exceptionally weak draft Zeller at 4 was actually a solid if not spectacular pickup, the promise of a jump shot from pre-draft workout still has yet to show itself consistently.
Charlotte had traded it’s 2nd round pick for Byron Mullens, BJ (As he hated being called) was a former lottery pick buried in OKC, looking back it was clearly poor asset management and further evidence the team devalued 2nd round picks.
Drafted: Noah Vonleh 9th + PJ Hairston 26th
Traded: Dwight Powell 45th for cash + Scotty Hopson (Waived)
Strap in folks, this is where Charlotte’s drafting turned from below average to the worst in the NBA for a three year period. Noah Vonleh at 9 was a disaster from day one, he missed summer league with an injury and never forced himself into Clifford’s rotation. After being moved in the Nic Batum trade Vonleh has kept his struggled to stick as an NBA player signing a series of one-year, partially guaranteed contracts, straight up BUST.
PJ Hairston was a supposed high level shot maker with some baggage hence his slide in the draft, he certainly had the opportunities in Charlotte starting 43 games in 2015-16. However, he was a career 29% three point shooter who didn’t do enough of anything else to stick in the league, he was traded to Memphis as salary filler in the Courtney Lee trade.
Charlotte’s 2nd round pick? Dwight Powell at 45 who they traded for cash considerations and Scotty Hopson who they waived. *Sigh*
Drafted: Frank Kaminsky 9th
Traded: Juan Pablo Vaulet 39th for Nets 2018 2nd round (55th Kulboka) + Nets 2019 2nd round (46th Talen Horton-Tucker)
“Frank the Tank” was doomed to fail from the start, firstly Charlotte famously rejected the “Godfather” offer of four first round picks from Boston as they chased Justise Winslow. Head coach Steve Clifford might as well have shouted from the top of the Spectrum Centre that he wanted Devin Booker, Charlotte worked him out twice, both times Clifford did one on one work and spoke highly of him pre-draft. Kaminsky never defended or shot it at a high enough level to make it as an NBA starter, he was left to walk in Free Agency after his rookie contract expired, they couldn’t even trade him.
The 2nd round followed a familiar story as the team didn’t come away with anyone, they traded the 39th overall pick for two future 2nd rounder’s from the Nets. On the face of it the trade seemed okay, but after tracking the picks over the years it turned out to be the 55th overall pick in 2018 (Arnoldas Kulboka) and the 46th pick in 2019 which was moved through several other trades, that pick eventually turned into Talen Horton-Tucker.
Traded: Malachi Richardson 22nd for Marco Belenelli & traded Petr Cornelie 53rd to OKC as part of the Jeremy Lamb trade (2015)
After a successful 2016 season with the team finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference, the “Win now” moves were now in full flow. Charlotte traded their first round pick (22nd) for Marco Belenelli + the 53rd overall pick. Charlotte were hoping for a 6th man to replace Gary Neal who had success the year previous. Belenelli struggled to find his San Antonio form and ended up being traded as part of a Miles Plumlee salary dumpy (That’s another article altogether). Irrelevant of Malachi Richardson (22nd pick) being a bust the asset management was poor, a one year rental for a 1st round pick has scared the Hornets and they haven’t traded a first round pick since.
The 53rd overall pick was later moved as part of the Jeremy Lamb trade, one of Cho’s better trades.
Drafted: Malik Monk 9th + Dwayne Bacon 40th
Traded: Frank Jackson 31st for cash considerations + Dwayne Bacon 40th pick
The Malik Monk project is still underway, over the past 12 months he has shown enough flashes to suggest he could be a late bloomer and this could be a good selection. However, Steve Clifford again was left frustrated as similar to the Booker draft it was clear he was enamoured with Donavan Mitchell who ended up going 13th. Until this day I am convinced that Charlotte had planned to select Mitchell after working him out twice, only for Monk to unexpectedly fall out of the top 10, how could they resist the guy who dropped 47 points on MJ’s Tar Heels?
In the second round Charlotte made a strange move, they traded the 31st overall pick for 40th overall, why? CASH CONSIDERATIONS baby, they’re BACK! Bacon has shown flashes in Orlando, so many that the team decided to trade away Vucevic, Gordon & Fournier so Bacon can have his own team and be the face of the franchise. Well, maybe that wasn’t the reason, but he will get an opportunity to log some major minutes for the rest of the 20-21 season.
So what have we learned about the Hornets drafting era from 2011-2017?
- The team didn’t value 2nd round picks trading them away at will.
- Three different trades were made purely driven by the objective of receiving “cash considerations”.
- A long list of lottery selections who never established themselves as above average starters in the league: Biyombo, MKG, Zeller, Vonleh, Kaminksy… I’m leaving Monk out of this list for now.
- To make things worse Cho doubled down on the selections of MKG & Zeller by signing them to large extensions.
- A lot of trades involving draft picks with very little reward, Jeremy Lamb or Courtney Lee were probably the best moves over this era. Maybe trades aren’t always a good thing?
- Steve Clifford still wakes up in a cold sweat after dreaming about the chance to coach Mitchell or Booker.
- Charlotte’s coaches did not successfully develop their draft selections. Why was it always such a challenge for these players to find playing time? It often felt like the team didn’t have a development plan. Is he the right coach for Orlando at this stage of their development?
- I still have PTSD from the 2012 draft lottery.
The Rich Cho era will always be known for his failure to draft effectively, However, is it fair that fans pin all the blame on one person? When Cho was hired as GM his background before basketball had been as an engineer and lawyer, the team valued his experience in quantitative analysis. President of basketball operations Rod Higgins said at the time of hiring those are strengths the Bobcats needed. ‘He has a unique set of skills that I don’t possess,’ Higgins [said]. ‘His analytical mind is a big plus for us. His legal background is a big plus for us. I’m a traditional basketball guy, and Rich is a very untraditional addition to our operation here.’ In Cho’s first six months he built a scouting database that cost $100,000, that was what he was brought in for, to add a method & system to the decision making process. It’s easy to pin the GM to the middle of the dartboard but was Rich Cho ever the one making the final decisions? We will never know.
What was the worst draft move made in the 2011-2017 era?
This poll is closed
Trading 1st for Belenelli
Cash Considerations (All three of them)