It’s been five days since the Charlotte Hornets surprisingly made James Borrego the first NBA coach fired in the offseason. Given the team’s year over year improvement in Borrego’s four year tenure, letting him go seemed strange.
The mentions of the At the Hive twitter account would make you think this is a James Borrego stan account. And for the most part, I was largely been a fan of the work he did here. The players the Hornets have drafted have mostly developed well, and the team’s offense has been a joy to watch more often than not. I certainly didn’t think there was a chance he’d be fired a few days after the end of the season, even with a second straight humiliating loss as the 10-seed in the play-in games.
While there was an illusion of security from outside the organization, JB didn’t seem to feel so secure. His last two press conferences, and his exit interview in particular, largely resembled a sales pitch on why he’s a good coach. It was a bit odd coming from someone who had just signed an extension less than a year ago.
On top of that, there was some smoke that maybe warranted some more of our attention throughout the course of the season. There was James Bouknight’s blowup that was well-documented. LaMelo Ball disagreed with his lack of fourth quarter playing time early in the season, and there were the occasional offhand comments about wanting more control of the ball and wanting to play more here and there. At season’s end, veterans Kelly Oubre and Montrezl Harrell held back but made allusions to frustrations over roles.
There were curious decisions with playing time throughout the season. The team’s 20-year-old All Star averaged 32.3 minutes per game, third on the team and 68th in the league. There were numerous occasions where Ball and Miles Bridges would watch the Hornets flounder through half of the fourth quarter before finally getting inserted for the stretch run. The most notable of these came in a loss to the Knicks on March 23rd. With the Hornets desperate for a win during their final push, they found themselves struggling to overtake the Knicks in the fourth quarter. Despite the gravity of the situation, LaMelo Ball sat out the first 6:04 of the fourth quarter, while Miles Bridges didn’t reenter the contest until there were only four minutes and 26 seconds left. The Hornets didn’t have time to do anything by that point.
For as good as the Hornets offense was under Borrego, the defense seemed to always be equally as bad. A lot of that is personnel and a lot of that is want-to from the personnel, but there is still a responsibility of the coach to scheme a defense that his players can execute. Borrego was never really able to do that for whatever reason.
There was plenty to like about Borrego as a head coach. The team got better each of the last two years after bottoming out and landing LaMelo Ball. Guys like Miles Bridges and Devonte’ Graham made huge strides under his tutelage, and most of the young players the Hornets have acquired have made noticeable improvements in the Hornets development program. The offense has shown flashes of brilliance, even though it cratered pretty badly after a super hot start this season.
So while firing James Borrego isn’t something I was expecting or rooting to have happen, it’s justifiable. Two consecutive seasons have seen extended losing stretches in the second half of the season and then ultimately ended in play-in game losses where the team looked wholly unprepared for the moment. The team hasn’t shown an ability to defend under this staff, and that’s something that has to be fixed for this group to make a mark on the league. And with all that, there may have been some tension behind the scenes that was starting to bubble up.
Mitch Kupchak has made few missteps in his time as Hornets General Manager. He probably deserves some benefit of the doubt with this decision if it was truly his. Now the Hornets turn their attention to job interviews for a new head coach that will be expected to immediately make this group a playoff team.