Mitch Kupchak brings long history to Hornets job

New GM won seven rings as Lakers' decision maker

New Charlotte Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak will need to decide the futures of the team’s star guard, Kemba Walker, and center Dwight Howard. (Sam Sharpe / USA TODAY Sports)

After six weeks, the Charlotte Hornets have a general manager.

The team announced that Mitch Kupchak will be the team’s general manager.

The Hornets parted ways with Rich Cho, who had been GM since 2011, on Feb. 20. Kupchak emerged almost immediately as one of the leading candidates to replace him.

A former North Carolina Tar Heels standout under Dean Smith, Kupchak played 11 seasons in the NBA before moving into the executive suite.

After serving a prolonged period as the GM in training under legendary Lakers executive Jerry West, Kupchak eventually became Lakers general manager and took over the full decision-making duties for the franchise in 2000, after West’s retirement.

The Lakers won seven NBA titles under Kupchak, including the year in which he took over for West midseason.

“In every role and in every stop during his tenure in the NBA, Mitch Kupchak has brought the highest levels of success to his teams,” said Michael Jordan, the Hornets’ owner.

Despite drafting near the end of the first round most years, Kupchak excelled at finding diamonds in the rough, including second-round picks Marc Gasol and Patrick Beverley.

Kupchak’s success with trades was more of a mixed bag. Under his watch, the Lakers dealt future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal for Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Lamar Odom. He also included a first-round draft pick in a trade with Boston that the Celtics eventually used to select Rajon Rondo. The Lakers also went four straight drafts, from 2010 to 2013, without a first-round pick, due to Kupchak trades.

Kupchak was also criticized by star player Kobe Bryant, after he held onto Andrew Bynum, the only lottery pick in his first 14 drafts as Lakers’ GM, for too long, passing up the chance to deal the young center for star players, including, reportedly, point guard Jason Kidd.

However, Kupchak also picked up key contributors Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol in trades, helping to keep the Lakers competitive long after their core group of players from the early championship team aged past their primes.

Kupchak was also criticized for picking up several aging veterans such as Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Steve Nash, although, with a team that was a perennial contender, the strategy of adding former stars as a final piece made more sense than it would with the current Hornets roster. Some of the veteran pickups, including Ron Artest, paid off for Kupchak and the Lakers.

In recent years, as Bryant headed to retirement and the Lakers faced rebuilding, Kupchak showed off many of the skills that will benefit the Hornets in the near future. Since 2014, Kupchak has drafted Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubak.

One of Kupchak’s first tasks as Hornets GM will be to determine the fate of head coach Steve Clifford, who has missed the playoffs the last two years. Kupchak’s level of patience with head coaches doesn’t bode well for Clifford’s future. Since Phil Jackson’s retirement in 2011, Kupchak has fired Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott less than two years after hiring them.

“I am confident that we can build the Hornets into a successful team that our great fans can be proud of,” Kupchak said.