Hornets aim to recreate Spurs’ success by hiring Borrego

Spurs assistant served as interim coach for Orlando in 2015

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, right, introduced new coach James Borrego on Friday. Borrego was previously an assistant coach in San Antonio. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hornets)

There is no more respected organization in the NBA, both for its stability and on-the-court success, than the San Antonio Spurs.

So it only makes sense that the Charlotte Hornets, a franchise that has yet to win its first playoff series, would turn to the Spurs in hopes of recreating their successful formula. That’s what they did last Thursday by hiring James Borrego as the 11th coach in their 14-year history as the Hornets and Bobcats.


The 40-year-old Borrego spent the past three seasons as an assistant to Spurs coaching legend Gregg Popovich. He replaces Steve Clifford, who was fired last month after going 196-214 during a five-year tenure that produced only two postseason appearances.

“We are thrilled to have James join our franchise,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, himself a new hire, said upon announcing Borrego’s hiring. “He brings a wealth of experience and a strong track record of player development from his time as a coach in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando.

“He has been a part of teams that have ascended to the highest levels of success in our league and understands what it takes to win in the NBA. James is considered one of the NBA’s most well-regarded assistant coaches, and it’s great to have him as part of our team. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.”

A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Borrego spent seven seasons with the Spurs, first as an assistant video coordinator in 2003 before working up the ranks to become an assistant coach. He left the organization in 2010 to spend time in both New Orleans and Orlando, and gained his first head coaching experience when he took over the Magic on an interim basis for the final 30 games of 2014-15, before eventually returning to the Spurs the following season.

In his 15 NBA seasons, Borrego has been associated with teams that have made 11 playoff appearances. He was part of the Spurs’ league championship teams in 2005 and ’06, and has been to the Western Conference Finals four times.

Borrego also has coaching experience as an assistant at the University of San Diego, a school at which he played three seasons, earning West Coast Conference All-Academic honors as a senior in 2000-01.

“I’m very excited to serve as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets,” Borrego said. “I want to thank (owner) Michael Jordan, Mitch Kupchak and (assistant GM) Buzz Peterson for this opportunity. I’m confident in the coaching foundation I’ve had the opportunity to develop during my time in San Antonio, Orlando and New Orleans, and I cannot wait to get to work in Charlotte.”

Borrego reportedly turned down the head coaching position at the University of New Mexico last year in hopes of landing an NBA job. It turned out to be a good decision when he began to garner interest from several teams following the Spurs first-round playoff elimination at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

He interviewed for the head coaching jobs with the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks and was scheduled to talk with the Milwaukee Bucks about their opening until deciding to take the Hornets position late last week.

The only other confirmed finalist for the Charlotte job was Boston Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, son of University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga.

“There are so many things he does well as a teacher,” Popovich said of Borrego recently. “There is a reason why people around the league love him and keep trying to hire him away from me.”

The Hornets have finished 36-46 and missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. They have never finished higher than third in the NBA’s Southeast Division and have qualified for the postseason only three times (in 2010, ’14 and ’16) since being reincarnated in 2004.