The Rich Cho Era in Charlotte has come to an end. It was announced on February 20th that Michael Jordan had decided to not extend a new contract to Cho after his current deal expires at the end of this season. The Hornets have been a middle of the pack team for the 6.5 seasons with Cho at the helm, so how did Rich Cho actually do as the GM?
Rich Cho’s Track Record
Hired in the summer of 2011 after spending a year with the Trail Blazers, Cho immediately got to work drafting the face of the franchise: Kemba Walker. Walker has blossomed into an elite point guard in the NBA, but he struggled as a rookie and so did the team. The 2011-12 Bobcats are one of the worst teams in NBA history, winning just 7 games during the lockout shortened year and posting the 2nd worst SRS of all-time at -13.96. Gerald Henderson led the team in scoring with a meager 15.1 points per game. The Bobcats were last in the league in defensive and offensive rating and it was generally just a disgusting season to watch.
And despite the team being so awful they were so unlucky as to miss out on the 1st overall pick in the 2012 draft, which would up turning into Anthony Davis. Instead, the Bobcats got the 2nd pick in the draft and took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over multiple future All Stars like Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. Now this is not entirely on Cho, it’s well documented that Michael Jordan has a large hand in player decisions and at the time MKG seemed like a fine pick, but ultimately this falls on Cho as the GM. Kidd-Gilchrist is an excellent defender, but has not developed as an offensive player in the league so far.
Hiring former Denver Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap as head coach prior to the season, the Bobcats would go on to once again have the worst SRS in the league in 2012-13 at -9.29. They were only saved from the worst record by narrowly edging out the Orlando Magic to win 21 games instead of the Magic’s 20. Kemba Walker took a clear step forward in his offensive development. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would show flashes of why he was drafted so highly with his selection to the All-Rookie 2nd team.
In the Summer of 2013, the Bobcats hired Steve Clifford from the Lakers and the team has been about a .500 win team (184-201) ever since. Kemba Walker has blossomed into an upper tier point guard. MKG has never developed the way he was expected to by the team, but is a very valuable player in the right role.
The team drafted Cody Zeller with the 4th overall pick in 2013 and Zeller has blossomed into a really solid center in the league. Cho also brought in Al Jefferson in 2013 and Jefferson was able to help push the team into the playoffs during his first year with the team.
The drafting on Noah Vonleh in 2014 with the 9th overall pick was a complete dud, but was defensible at the time as Vonleh was projected as high as 4th in some mock drafts (though the statistical translations of Vonleh’s college season were never as high as that). In 2015, the team drafted Frank Kaminsky who has been fine as a player so far in the league but that draft included an egregious mistake.
Reportedly, the team turned down a massive offer for that pick from the Boston Celtics. The Celtics apparently offered 6 future draft picks, including 4 first round picks, for the Hornets’ 9th overall pick. Reporting has stated that Rich Cho was actually in favor of accepting the trade, but it was owner Michael Jordan who ultimately declined the offer in favor of taking Kaminsky. Whoever is truly to blame for the failure, it is clear that was a huge mistake for the franchise especially given the point they sit at now. If they had accepted that trade and everything else had gone south for the team like it has, they would be set for a quick rebuild with a treasure trove of good to great draft picks.
Also in the Summer of 2015, the team traded for Nicolas Batum. Batum is a really versatile forward who can really help a competing team, but he lives between the level of a max player and a really good player. And he, unfortunately for the team, was a free agent during the spending bonanza of 2016 where he was able to secure a 5-year near max contract.
Another reported draft failure this past draft, there are rumors that Rich Cho wanted to draft rookie star Donovan Mitchell, but Michael Jordan overruled him to take Malik Monk when Monk slid in the draft (Monk has barely played and been really bad when he has played). To top it off, Rich Cho traded for locker room walking disaster Dwight Howard. While Howard hasn’t been horrible this year, his contract is just another one that the team would have to shed if they want to rebuild.
At the trade deadline, Michael Jordan publicly stated he would not trade Kemba Walker unless he was getting another All Star back although there were reports that the team would have been willing to trade Walker if they would have been able to shed one of their other big contracts.
Was Rich Cho a Good GM?
The team has slowly fallen into small market hell.
The Hornets are too expensive to just tank. And they don’t have the assets to get rid of their big contracts.
Overall under Cho, the Hornets went 212-321 with an average SRS of -3.51 equivalent to a 32.2 win team. Two 1st round playoff exits and just two seasons over .500. One of the worst seasons in NBA history. A boarder-line All Star point guard as the face of the franchise and a bloated payroll with an aging roster.
Rich Cho took the team from all-time horrible to a middling team who could make the playoffs if they have a good season. For a small market team with a big payroll, that simply is not good enough. Cho is an above average GM who made a handful of good picks, but was never able to overcome the will of Michael Jordan. I think in a different environment, Cho would have been able to get the team to at least be a consistent playoff team though likely still not a true contender.
The real question is, what better GM candidate is out there to get the team out of the mess they are in now? Reports have indicated former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is a leading candidate, but Kupchak’s tenure in LA did not exactly end in a promising manner. Likely, the best solution is to do a full GM search that leads to a candidate who has never held the roll before, but would Michael Jordan trust a rookie with his team?