The team is expected to make the hire before the end of this regular season, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Mike Gansey, Los Angeles Clippers general manager Trent Redden, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Jeff Peterson, Washington Wizards senior vice president Travis Schlenk and Sacramento Kings assistant general manager Wes Wilcox are among the candidates, per ESPN.
Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin, the Hornets' new owners,from Michael Jordan for approximately $3 billion in August. Now they will make their first major decision about its direction.
From the press release:
"Mitch's success as an NBA executive speaks for itself and we thank Mitch for all his work during his six years leading our basketball operations," said Hornets co-Chairmen Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin. "His professionalism, integrity and commitment have been a major benefit to our franchise. We have built a strong relationship with Mitch during our time as owners. We are thrilled that he will remain with the franchise in an advisory capacity as his experience and knowledge of the NBA will be a valuable resource for our team as we move forward."
Schnall and Plotkin added, "As Mitch nears the end of his contract, we agreed that now was the right time to begin the search in order to put the organization in the best position for the upcoming offseason. We're excited to begin the hiring process for our new head of basketball operations as we continue to shape this franchise and work towards building a team for long-term sustainable success. We will take a deliberate approach to the hiring process and will focus on making the best decision for the organization's long-term future."
"After signing my extension two years ago, the plan has always been for me to move to an advisory role after this season when my contract ends in June," said Kupchak. "Now feels like the appropriate time to begin the search for the next leader of our basketball operations. I want to thank Michael Jordan for hiring me and bringing me to Charlotte. I'd like to thank Rick and Gabe for their support since becoming majority owners, and I appreciate the relationship that we have developed. I really like the core of our team, including our additions at the trade deadline, and I'm excited to watch their continued growth and development. The Hornets are in good hands with Rick and Gabe, and I look forward to helping any way I can. I believe our future is very bright."
In 2018, Kupchak took over a team that had finished 36-46 in consecutive seasons with Kemba Walker as its franchise player. Charlotte hired coach James Borrego shortly thereafter, and it signed-and-traded Walker to the Boston Celtics for Terry Rozier a year later. The Hornets' small front office has had some hits since then, most notably the selection of LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 pick in the 2020, but a few big misses, most notably using first-round picks on the since-waived James Bouknight and Kai Jones in 2021, have set the team back. The Hornets are now 11-41, and while they made a couple of appearances in the play-in under Borrego, they haven't made the playoffs since 2016. This season they they have allowed 121.1 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the NBA (and, since we're in the middle of a scoring boom, it is also the highest defensive rating in history).
Last week, coach Steve Clifford told reporters, "Let's be honest, [defense] is why I was brought here, and to this point I have failed pretty miserably. We don't care enogh about defense all the time. We're better than we were in some ways, but we're a -- what do they say? -- we're a 'sometimes' team. Sometimes, we run back; sometimes, we don't. Sometimes, we care about guarding the ball; sometimes, we don't. When the ball starts going in the basket, a lot of times we don't care about defense anymore."
Charlotte traded Rozier in January, then traded P.J. Washington and Gordon Hayward at last Thursday's trade deadline. Kupchak's successor will presumably rebuild the roster around Ball and 2023 No. 2 pick Brandon Miller.