Charlotte Bobcats GM Rich Cho is likely to get a lot of stick for the mere mention of either the Oklahoma City Thunder, or the repeated hints at his role in helping build the Finals favorite while Cho toils miles away from the postseason with the league-worst Bobcats. To some, even comparing the team that set the dubious record of turning in the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history to a juggernaut that is three wins away from an NBA title (or, four fewer wins than Charlotte had all season) is bound to rub the wrong way.
And to others, he's easily dismissed with a "yeah, just let the team in front of you take Greg Oden while you go for Kevin Durant."
That's not quite fair, though. Because though Cho's post-lottery anecdote following Charlotte's "fall" to second in the draft was a little silly (reminding the press that the last time he picked second the team he worked for chose Durant), it's not wrong to want to build a team in the best's image. Just as long as you're not aligning yourself with that team, or cynically attempting to remind your team's few fans that you once worked with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which, in our faraway estimation, Cho is not doing in his interview with the Portland Tribune.
So when we read Cho telling the paper that his new team is "trying to build it similar to how we built it in Seattle/OKC," give the man the benefit of the doubt. Especially when you see what he's managed to do thus far — disposing both Michael Jordan as the hands-on guy for the draft and player transactions, while moving longtime Jordan buddy and co-worker Rod Higgins to an undisputed number two role.
"Rod has been wonderful to work with," Cho says. "We complement each other really well. He has a smart basketball mind."
Cho is mindful of not trying to take credit for Charlotte's front-office decisions. He wants everyone working toward a common goal.
"It was a team effort in OKC," he says. "One of the things Sam always preached -- and I really believe in, too -- is teamwork. That's something I've instilled here with the Bobcats."
That's not all he's instilled. Or installed. From the Tribune:
Cho has revamped Charlotte's scouting system, putting together "the most advanced database I've seen," he says. "It's an eyes, ears and numbers approach. It was something we were going to do in Portland, but didn't have enough time."
Ah, Portland. As you'll recall, Cho was fired from the team after less than a year on the job, which would seem to say quite a bit about the Bobcats' boss if it weren't for the fact that the Blazers also dumped Kevin Pritchard a year before — on the day of the draft, no less — and went the entire 2011-12 season (including the 2011 offseason and a major trade deadline during the campaign) without an official, full-time GM.
It's a mess, and it's quite telling when Cho says this about Portland, and then Charlotte:
"It wasn't the right fit," Cho says. "I'm in a great place now."
That's what everyone says about their old job, and their new job. But in Cho's case, for whatever reason, you believe him.
And think about what that entails. It's the difference between working for a billionaire in Portland who has in the past paid through the teeth for roster parts and draft picks, in the Pacific Northwest that Cho both grew up in and worked for as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics' front office, to working for a team that is incredibly hamstrung financially for an owner with nowhere near the sort of financial portfolio to back potential moves.
This is where the OKC model comes in.
Sure, drafting Durant helps. But so does surprising the league by identifying talents in the draft and taking chances on players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden ahead of where many had them pegged. Yes, the Thunder is the team that also traded for Jeff Green in the 2007 draft (asking the Boston Celtics to select him in a deal over several other quite suitable players), and Seattle/OKC brain trust did trust P.J. Carlesimo to take over the job of rebuilding coach with this group.
Missteps aside, the point remains. Cho is attempting to, in his words, "take a step back to take two steps forward" with Charlotte; and the only way this ends with a proper result is to actually take that step backwards. Maybe not to the point of setting an NBA record for futility (which Cho, though he doesn't have to, takes "full responsibility for that"), but enough to move the old and less-objective leaders aside while he starts slowly and hopefully ends successfully.
And if, a few years later, Cho is still living off of his (at that point, tangential) relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder? Then we're allowed to pounce on the guy. Until then, however, in this baby step rebuilding process that not even the 2004 expansion Bobcats had the foresight to embrace?
Let the man do his job. It can't get any worse down there, y'know?