Charlotte Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak on building around LaMelo, the upcoming offseason, thoughts on James Borrego and more

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Mitch Kupchak isn't the kind of guy to sit on his iPhone scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, swiping until his fingers are numb.

Still, that doesn't mean the Charlotte Hornets general manager isn't aware of the hundreds of thousands of views, likes and mentions involving the franchise seemingly constantly making the rounds on social media. LaMelo Ball's flashy passes and Miles Bridges' soul-snatching dunks typically blow up within seconds of them happening, bringing plenty of attention to the Hornets.

That attention doesn't go unnoticed by Kupchak.

"Social media cannot be underestimated, the impact that it has," Kupchak said Thursday. "Those of us -- I’m not one of them -- but those who are 30 years or younger -- and that’s a big part of the NBA’s fanbase -- (it) creates a lot of excitement, creates a lot of exposure whether it’s LaMelo or Miles. Eric (Collins, Bally Sports Southeast's play-by-plan man, I love watching our games. You don’t get any more energy than you would with our commentators watching our games on TV.

"At the end of the day, that’s all good, but you have to string together wins, too. That other stuff is great as long as we can string together wins. I think it’s great for the franchise. I think it creates a buzz about the franchise that maybe wasn’t here a year ago and I think that’s good. And we got to build on that. We got to take advantage of it."

The acquisition of Gordon Hayward, Kupchak believes, now also makes the organization more of a potential landing spot for prospective players than previously.

“Getting Gordon, (and) I even said it last year during the pursuit, to be honest with you I never really had 100 percent confidence that it was serious," Kupchak said. "I didn’t know why a guy would opt out of a contract in Boston and we didn’t have a great year ... We had a couple of nice players, but why would he come to Charlotte, right? But he did. I think that’ll help us with future free agents. I think we play the right way. I think free agents around the league look at the pace with which we play at and players want to play that way. I think we have a player's coach. If LaMelo continues to develop -- and remember why he’s so much fun to play with, which is his ability to pass -- then I don’t know why players wouldn’t want to come here to play with him. 

"So, those are things that bode well for us in the free agent market. But we got to build on that. It can go south quick. We’ve got something that’s good, that’s fun. We’ve got flexibility. Guys get along. There’s some excitement. We’ve got some upside. So, I think those are all things that are attractive to free agents and I wouldn’t be surprised -- although I wouldn’t count on it -- I wouldn’t be surprised if we did have a shot at another free agent.” 

That could be music to the ears of a fan base not used to hearing such things. Landing another veteran player to assist in expediting the maturation and winning process would be extremely beneficial for everyone, particularly Ball.

With their budding star already in the mix, surrounding him with the right players to compliment his skills is the main goal now.

“Drafting LaMelo at No. 3 and having such a promising season even though it was cut short, gives us more clarity on the direction of the franchise," he said. "We still need to add talent. Our margin of talent is not so good that we’re good enough to assume that if there was an injury or a health and safety protocol, that we could carry on like some of the teams in the NBA do. We do have three picks in the draft. Two of them are going to be in the 50s. But we do have a good pick in the first round and we have financial flexibility. Those are all areas we’ll look to, but we still got some work to get to the point where we can make the playoffs and we want to advance in the playoffs. We don’t just want to make the playoffs and lose in the first round. We want to build something that’s sustainable, that will allow us to get into the playoffs and advance each year.”

Kupchak spoke at length about a variety of subjects, Here are some of the highlights:

-- Sorting through the roster hasn't completely happened yet and there will be further evaluation prior to reaching conclusions about which direction they should go in. They have to figure out what to do with restricted free agents Malik Monk and Devonte' Graham. And there's also unrestricted free agents Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.

“We have to sort our way through that mine field, so to speak," he said. "It’s way too early. We have not started the process and some of those players are unrestricted free agents so we’re not going to have much say if they decide to do something different." 

-- Their projected cap space heading into this upcoming offseason is roughly $29 million. That number comes with a slight caveat, though. It doesn't include cap holds (the salary number of a free agent that would count against the cap), their first-round lottery pick in the July draft or the amount of money they would have remaining of they signed one of their own free agents.

"About 29 million-plus would be the number," he said, "but we expect it to be less than that."

-- Among the top priorities this offseason will be solidifying the center position. Shoring up the frontline It's something that must be addressed given the free agent status of Zeller and Biyombo.

"I don’t know if you can find one guy that can do it all," he said, "but you’d love to get some rim protection, some better rebounding, that sort of thing."

-- He's open to wheeling and dealing if the right move comes along. While it's too early to explore the market now since he's unsure who will become available until the playoff teams make their respective runs, he said it's going to be a tool in his box if necessary.

"We will certainly be active," he said. "We’ve got the ability with our financial flexibility to do trades that normally wouldn’t work and I think we’ve got some players that have value across the board. Whether or not we do something, I can’t say whether we would or we wouldn’t. But we’ll certainly explore it."

-- There was praise for coach James Borrego. The Hornets lost their final six games to end the season and never could fully secure the eighth seed. Kupchak noted the extenuating circumstances Borrego and his staff dealt with for most of the season.

"I think he’s done a great job," he said. "I thought we made a nice advanced step in our progress. We just completed exit interviews with all the players and despite the ending, everybody was really upbeat about the season. They love the way we play the game. They love the pace that we play at. Some players just want to play more, but by-and-large everything was positive. He’s remained hard-working and positive despite the health and safety issues and the injuries that this team experienced this year. Let’s face it: we did have a lot ankle sprains to plays and maybe some of those kind of things were soft tissue, we could’ve survived and continued to win games at a nice pace. But when you lose Gordon Hayward for the season and then you lose your young player that turned into a pretty effective player before he got hurt, that’s a lot to overcome. So, I think the coach did a great job.” 

-- He pointed to the development of some of the team's younger players -- citing Bridges, Jalen McDaniels, Caleb and Cody Martin and, of course, Ball -- and believes as a whole they are trending up.

"I don’t think anybody made or took a step backwards," Kupchak said, "so I think there was tremendous growth across the board and in general, without looking at the last two weeks of the season, which you really can’t discount. But in general I think as an organization we really took a big step forward.”