After getting ran off the court in back-to-back seasons in the NBA Play-In Tournament, Charlotte Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak felt like it was best to make a coaching change.
About a week or so after getting eliminated, news came out that James Borrego had been relieved of his duties after guiding the team to 43 wins on the season; the second straight year of improving the team's record by 10 or more wins. The news came as a shock to many and for the first time since the firing, Kupchak met with the media and discussed the decision on Thursday.
"The decision was made to seek out another voice, to be honest with you. Coach Borrego was great for four years. The first year with us, we had largely a veteran team - it was Miles Bridges' first year. We had Kemba [Walker] at that time and as everybody knows, Kemba left at the end of that year and we decided to rebuild as quick as possible. The second year was COVID, the third year we had 72 games, and then this year we had the full season. Coach did a great job of recovering from that first veteran season and to be quite frank with you, rebuild pretty quick. Made progress every year and he did a great job. I know it's tough to make these kinds of decisions. We did wait about a week or so after the conclusion of the season before I went down to Florida with Buzz [Peterson] and met with our owner [Michael Jordan]. We met and I just felt that at the end of the day it was time to go in another direction. It was time to go to another voice, another coach to bring us hopefully the same kind of improvement that Coach Borrego gave us the first three years."
When asked if it was a collective decision, Kupchak stated that in the end, it was up to him to make the call.
"We had a long discussion and we got to a point where I said, 'okay, I'll decide tomorrow morning.' Buzz and I flew back -- a lot was discussed but ultimately it was my decision. I had Michael's support and Buzz's support. That next morning, I called Michael and told him what we were going to do and he was completely on board. Then later on that morning, I called coach in and it was tough. It was an emotional meeting, understandably. It's really the tough part of the job."
One of the factors that may have played a part in the decision was the usage, or lack thereof the rookies - James Bouknight, Kai Jones, and JT Thor. Despite not playing much in year one, Kupchak still believes each of the three have bright futures.
"Nobody really knows that much about the three players that we drafted last year and I remain very high on them. I was hopeful that they would play a little bit more than they did. Coach's decision. I always let the coach decide who plays and who does not play and this was not a 'development year'. This was a year that when we started the season, we had a goal of making the playoffs. And along with that comes some pressure to play veterans and not the young kids as much. Maybe I shouldn't have said that at the beginning of the year. But I didn't think not saying it would mean much either. The jury is still out. I'm very high on all three of them. I hoped we would have had more information by now, but the offseason is important for them."
Kupchak confirmed that Bouknight, Jones, and Thor will play in the Summer League.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of the decision which will be published Friday evening.
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