After declining to offer general manager Rich Cho a new contract, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan is planning to target former Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization, league sources told ESPN.
Jordan is planning to continue grooming assistant GM Buzz Peterson as a foundation of Charlotte’s front office, and Kupchak is a primary target to partner with Peterson, league sources told ESPN.
The Hornets announced Tuesday that Cho’s contract will not be extended and that the search for a new GM will begin immediately.
“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” Jordan said in a statement. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”
Peterson is a former roommate of Jordan’s at the University of North Carolina, and Kupchak is a former All-American at UNC.
Outside of the North Carolina extended family tree, internal discussion on another possible candidate for GM includes Gersson Rosas, league sources said. Rosas is the Houston Rockets’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
The Hornets have had no contact with Kupchak on a possible position, league sources said. Kupchak won two NBA titles as Lakers GM before he was swept out in 2017 upon the arrival of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
Kupchak became the Lakers’ full-time GM in 2000, and he engineered the Pau Gasol trade in 2008 that led to back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. He orchestrated a three-way deal with New Orleans and Houston that would have delivered All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers in 2011, but that was ultimately vetoed by commissioner David Stern.
Charlotte could miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season with a payroll that ranks 10th in the NBA at $117 million. Charlotte has a projected $119 million payroll for the 2018-19 season, with every player under contract except Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham.
Cho was promoted over former president of basketball operations Rod Higgins on draft night in 2014. Charlotte made two trips to the playoffs during Cho’s tenure — in 2014 and 2016.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who missed part of the season with severe headaches, has a year left on a contract that pays him north of $3 million per year. Clifford has had a strong relationship with Jordan.
Cho, 52, has worked in front offices for more than 20 years, including under Sam Presti in Seattle and Oklahoma City and less than a year as Portland’s GM.
“It’s been a privilege to serve as the Charlotte Hornets’ General Manager for the past seven years,” Cho said in a statement. “I want to thank Michael Jordan, Curtis Polk, and the entire organization for giving me that opportunity, and for their support since that moment. I also want to thank the basketball and business operations staffs, Head Coach Steve Clifford and his staff, and our players for their commitment to excellence and success. Charlotte is a special city with deeply loyal fans and I will always be grateful for my experience with the franchise.”