New Hornets coach James Borrego plans to make Charlotte relevant again in the Eastern Conference by developing the existing players on the roster.
He might not have any other choice.
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday that “there is no master plan to blow up this team right now” when asked about the chances of dramatically overhauling the roster after back-to-back 36-win seasons. He said Borrego was hired with the understanding that “he was going to coach the guys that are on this team right now.”
Borrego, who was hired Thursday night and is believed to be the first Hispanic-American head coach in NBA history, appeared to be up to the challenge when he was introduced at a news conference Friday.
“My mentality is this is our group and we are moving forward with it,” said Borrego, who becomes the 11th head coach in franchise history. “I’m excited about that current group as it stands right now. I think our biggest room for growth is the internal development piece.”
Borrego agreed to a four-year deal, with the Hornets holding a team option on the fourth year of the contract, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Borrego’s attitude is a good thing since Kupchak said the Hornets don’t have a lot of salary-cap flexibility at this time, something that will affect what the team can do this offseason in terms of free agency and trades. Kupchak noted that “right now the likelihood is we are going to go forward with this team.”
Borrego said it is up to him to develop younger players Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who saw limited playing time last season as rookies under former coach Steve Clifford. He also pointed toward getting more out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the No. 2 pick in 2012 and is just 24, and Frank Kaminsky, also a first-round draft pick.
“There is a group of young guys that after this summer should take a major leap,” Borrego said. “If they take a major leap, our roster changes significantly.”
New Hornets coach James Borrego is ready to roll with the team he inherited upon his hiring Thursday. Nell Redmond/AP Photo
The Hornets were sold on Borrego’s strong credentials as one of Gregg Popovich’s longtime assistants, including his abilities in player development, devising game plans on the offensive and defensive ends, and building relationships with players.
Although he was quick to acknowledge that turning the Hornets into a winner will be a challenge and that he doesn’t bring “a pocket full of fairy dust” with him from San Antonio, Borrego does feel the Hornets have quality pieces in place, including two-time All-Star Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard.
Borrego said that he is a “big fan” of Walker and that his goal is to open up the floor for him on offense to make more plays.
“It’s my job to put him in position to succeed,” Borrego said. “For me, that means giving him space and a floor that is open to create, so he should be excited about that. I’m in his corner. I back him. I’m with him.”
He likes Batum, too, calling him the kind of unselfish player that is hard to find. He also praised Howard for a terrific first season in Charlotte.
Borrego, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, knows what it’s like to win.
The 40-year-old spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA, including 10 with the Spurs working under Popovich, a stop where he won two NBA championships and went to four Western Conference finals.
Borrego has been a part of staffs that have led teams to the playoffs 11 times with stints in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando.
He said he plans to play an up-tempo style on offense, while placing an added emphasis on defending the 3-point line.
“There are pieces in place here to play that style,” Borrego said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.