Hornets hire Nets’ Jeff Peterson

Hornets coach Steve Clifford (pictured) worked with the team’s choice as new top executive, Jeff Peterson, for one season with the Nets. (AP)

CHARLOTTE — After a rapid search for the Charlotte Hornets’ next president of basketball operations, new franchise owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin have found the man for the job.

The Hornets announced the hiring of Brooklyn Nets executive Jeff Peterson on Tuesday. League sources that reported he was among 11 other candidates that interviewed for the job.

Peterson, 35, leaves his assistant manager position with the Brooklyn Nets to become the NBA’s youngest top executive. He will need to revitalize a Charlotte team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016.

Sitting at 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Hornets currently have a 15-46 record with 21 games remaining.

On Feb. 12, president of basketball operations/general manager Mitch Kupchak announced he was stepping down after six years in that role. Kupchak is transitioning into an advisory role with the franchise.

“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. Now feels like the appropriate time to begin the search for the next leader of our basketball operations,” said Kupchak, 69.

Paths have crossed

There is some familiarity between the Hornets and their new head of operations.

While Schnall was a minority owner with the Atlanta Hawks, Peterson worked with the team as an intern in 2013. He got a promotion, to an assistant general manager role, in 2016. After three years, he took on that same role in Brooklyn, under Nets general manager Sean Marks.

Additionally, Peterson has a connection with Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who served as the Nets’ coaching consultant in 2021-22.

Prior to his NBA front office career, the Springfield, MO, native played high school basketball in Maryland and in college at Iowa, Arkansas and Florida State.

Other names have emerged as potential co-workers for Peterson, including Sacramento Kings assistant GM Wes Wilcox and Nets staffer Matt Tellem.

Charlotte’s new hire has a formidable road ahead. The team has the fourth-longest playoff drought (eight years) among the country’s top four professional sports leagues.

Building a franchise

In a recent Voice of the Nets podcast appearance, Peterson discussed the types of players he targets when building a team.

“There’s a bit of a sliding scale depending on what positions we’re scouting and trying to add to the team, but there are a few things that are non-negotiable: competitive makeup, someone who has some level of toughness, and of course we’re always looking for the guys who play the game the right way,” he said. “Unselfish. That was always my mentality when I stepped on the floor. The game is much more fun when you play that way and you’re getting guys the ball.”

When Schnall and Plotkin purchased a majority interest in the Hornets from Michael Jordan for $3 billion in August, they immediately found themselves in a situation where they had to prioritize selected personnel in order to solidify the Hornets’ infrastructure.

As the Hornets’ new lead executive, Peterson needs to build up a new basketball identity for the team. LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller, and — assuming a contract is agreed upon — Miles Bridges serve as the main pillars of the Hornets’ future.

However, the franchise has already laid some groundwork for a rebuild, dealing  veterans Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington at this season’s trade deadline.

Charlotte is now 5-5 since Feb. 10 after acquiring Tre Mann, Vasilije Micic and Davis Bertans from Oklahoma City and bringing in Charlotte natives Grant Williams and Seth Curry from Dallas.

“Right now, everybody’s trying,” Clifford said on Feb. 26. “If they try hard and have a feel for the game, you can be OK.”

Clifford’s own future in Charlotte is up in the air, signifying the level of mystery that surrounds the future of the Hornets. But for now, fans of the franchise can hold onto the hope that a drastic course correction is now underway.