Hornets hire Charles Lee as coach

Then a Milwaukee Bucks associate head coach, Charles Lee fills in for head coach Mike Budenholzer during the first half of an NBA preseason game in October 2022. The Charlotte Hornets have named Charles Lee as their next head coach. The 39-year-old Lee joins the Hornets after serving as the Boston Celtics top assistant. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Hornets’ search for their 12th head coach in team history has concluded — Boston Celtics lead assistant coach Charles Lee has agreed to a four-year contract with the franchise.

The team made the official announcement last Thursday that the 10-year NBA assistant will join the Hornets after concluding the NBA playoffs with the Celtics, who recently finished the regular season with the league’s top record (64-18).

“We are excited to welcome Charles Lee as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets,” Charlotte Hornets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Jeff Peterson said in a team statement.

“His high character and his ability to connect with players while also instilling a culture of accountability will serve us well as we construct a competitive team built for long-term success,” added Peterson, who already has experience working with Lee during their shared time with the Hawks.

Lee, 39, has been viewed as one the league’s top assistant coaches and prime candidates to take the leap forward into a head-coaching position.

Prior to his inaugural season in Boston this season as the top assistant under Joe Mazzulla, the Washington, D.C., native began his NBA career as an assistant for the Atlanta Hawks (2014-2018), before joining the Milwaukee Bucks (2018-2023) as an assistant and rising to an associate head coach role as the team won the 2020-21 NBA championship.

“The opportunity to be the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets is a dream come true,” Lee said in the Hornets’ announcement. “The Hornets have a talented young core of players and I’m excited about our future and what we can build here. There are few places as passionate about basketball as the Carolinas, and I look forward to coming to Charlotte and getting to work.”

In 10 seasons, Lee’s teams have a combined 510-291 (.637) regular-season record, nine playoff appearances, seven division titles, and five Eastern Conference No. 1 seeds. Additionally, his teams have finished the regular season with the league’s best record in four of the last six seasons.

“Charles possesses a championship pedigree with a wide range of basketball knowledge and NBA experience, has a tremendous work ethic and is a great communicator,” Peterson said of Lee. “He shares our vision for this organization, and I look forward to partnering with him in building something special here in the Carolinas.”

As the Hornets’ new head coach, Lee replaces Steve Clifford, who chose to step down at the end of the season to transition into a front office role.

With the presumed healthy return of All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball, potential re-signing of free agent forward Miles Bridges, and the upcoming sophomore season of No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller, the Hornets will aim to build upon a new foundation and improve upon the 21-61 record they stumbled into this past season.

Charlotte ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive category during the 2023-24 campaign.

While this year’s NBA draft is viewed by draft experts as one of the weaker classes in recent memory, it’s possible that the team will have another burgeoning talent on the roster soon.

As announced over the weekend, the Hornets will receive the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, despite having the third-best odds (13%) to get the top pick; UConn freshman star guard Stephon Castle is a common name that has been mocked to Charlotte by predictive draft outlets.

Lee’s new coaching staff in Charlotte is also beginning to take shape.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last Friday that the Hornets are hiring Utah Jazz assistant Lamar Skeeter as the top assistant for Lee’s staff. Skeeter spent a decade with the Jazz under Will Hardy and Quin Snyder, moving up the ranks as a development coach into a lead assistant.

Three days later, Wojnarowski reported that Chicago Bulls assistant Josh Longstaff is also joining the Hornets’ coaching staff. Longstaff, who spent four years with Billy Donovan, also worked in Milwaukee and as a Hawks G League head coach.

The Hornets’ updated coaching staff isn’t the only recent change in the building.

On the same day as Longstaff’s hiring, Hornets Sports and Entertainment Co-Chairmen Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin announced Shelly Cayette-Weston as the organization’s president of business operations, effective July 1.

After spending 12 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers — including the last two years as the team’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Cayette-Weston will oversee the day-to-day business operations for all of HSE’s properties, including the Charlotte Hornets, Greensboro Swarm, Hornets Venom GT and Spectrum Center.