What James Borrego’s hiring can tell us about the Charlotte Hornets’ future

The Charlotte Hornets hired Spurs assistant James Borrego to become their new head coach. Here’s what the hiring may tell us about the direction of the franchise.

News broke that James Borrego is in the process of finalizing a deal to become the new Charlotte Hornets‘ head coach. Borrego started his career in San Antonio as a video coordinator, continuing to New Orleans and Orlando as an assistant. In Orlando, Borrego gathered his only experience at the helm as the interim head coach. Borrego, who is only 40-years old, went 10-20 in his tenure following Vaughn’s firing, which came 52 games into the season. He then returned to San Antonio to serve as an assistant under Gregg Popovich.

Managing partner Curtis Polk announced that player development was the most desired priority in head coaching candidates. This likely means new GM Mitch Kupchak brought Borrego in to develop last year’s draft picks Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. Additionally, Borrego and his staff likely will focus on developing younger players like Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

What does it all mean though? Charlotte is a franchise in limbo, with a veteran roster that just can’t seem to put it all together. Simply put, the hiring of James Borrego points to a full rebuild for the Hornets.


Looking at Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, it’s evident there are some great coaches. Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown, and Doc Rivers are some standout names regarding coaching. Kevin Pritchard and Sam Presti both stand out as executives, making it clear there’s a lineage of success. Something outside of Popovich’s tutelage unites them, though – full rebuilds.

Mike Budenholzer endured a 24-58 record this season. Brett Brown went through the notoriously awful 10-72 season in 2015-16. Doc Rivers guided the Celtics through a 24-58 year in 2007-08. Pritchard, while never “blowing it up”, famously traded for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in a deal that many thought would lead to a tank. Lastly, Presti drafted two MVPs in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a likely third in James Harden, all with top 5 picks.

What does Charlotte’s rebuild look like?

A coach hired with a focus on player development and picking from a group that includes plenty of rebuilders indicates Charlotte is likely on the same track. So what could the Hornets’ off-season look like?

Well, it’s a difficult question and one that will be more easily answered after the draft lottery on May 15th. If Charlotte miraculously jumps to number 1 – there’s only a 0.8% chance of that happening – then it’s possible they keep the pick to try and snag Luka Doncic, who Kupchak personally scouted. More likely, Charlotte picks 11th. No one knows what that would mean. Shai GIlgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Colin Sexton, Miles Bridges, and Zhaire Smith have all been mocked to Charlotte, with no clear leader.

If Charlotte picks at 11, it’s not even certain they keep the pick. None of the above talents are “can’t miss”. It’s possible Mitch Kupchak chooses draft night to make a splash in Charlotte. Mitch could trade the pick solo, package it with Kemba Walker to move up, or attach it to Nicolas Batum’s contract to move him elsewhere.

After that, Charlotte’s rebuild would need to address the expiring Dwight Howard contract. The big man will make over $20 million this year. Teams in need of a big man, like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington are all possible landing destinations, should Kupchak move him to start a rebuild.

When Borrego’s contract is finalized, he’ll be the youngest coach in the NBA. Clearly, there are plans for Borrego to grow and mature alongside the Charlotte Hornets young players. Furthermore, he comes from a pedigree of coaches and executives who have all rebuilt.

This makes it likely Charlotte moves some of their aging veterans. No one knows what that rebuild will look like, but perhaps it will spur some action into a franchise that’s been standing still the last two years.