The Charlotte Bobcats will bring an entirely different perspective to their front office today when Rich Cho is named the team's general manager.
In an exclusive interview Monday with the Observer, Cho and current general manager Rod Higgins confirmed Cho's hiring. Higgins will be elevated to the title of President of Basketball Operations. Cho, 45, previously was general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Cho is known for his eclectic background - he has been an engineer and a lawyer - and his experience in quantitative analysis. Higgins said those are strengths the Bobcats need.
"He has a unique set of skills that I don't possess," Higgins told the Observer. "His analytical mind is a big plus for us. His legal background is a big plus for us.
"I'm a traditional basketball guy, and Rich is a very untraditional addition to our operation here."
Cho became available in late May, after he was abruptly fired 11 months into his tenure in Portland, Ore. It was widely reported there that the breakup was over communication between Cho and owner Paul Allen, and not about Cho's job performance. While with the Blazers he engineered the deal with the Bobcats that sent Gerald Wallace west.
Blazers fans viewed the acquisition of Wallace as a coup.
Higgins reached out to Cho within a day of his firing, then went to team owner Michael Jordan, lobbying to hire Cho.
"With the value Rich has around the league, we put the pedal to the metal to hire him," Higgins said. "There's huge value in getting this done prior to this draft."
Cho was free to go to work immediately, and was in his office Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bobcats will have picks Nos.9, 19 and 39 in the June23 draft. That 19th pick was one of the assets Cho dealt in the Wallace deal.
Cho, the first Asian-American general manager in major-league sports, got here on an unconventional path. His family immigrated from Burma to the United States when Rich was 3. He earned an engineering degree from Washington State and worked for aircraft-maker Boeing for five years. But he had a dream of working in professional sports.
People he met in the sports business noted that agents and team executives often have law degrees. So Cho quit his job at Boeing to attend Pepperdine's law school. From there, he did an internship with the Seattle SuperSonics that led to a front-office job. He worked there about a decade, as the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. There Cho worked for one of the NBA's smartest executives, Sam Presti.
How do all those different careers serve him now?
"As an engineer and an attorney, you develop a problem-solving approach on a lot of issues and you learn to think more analytically," Cho told the Observer. "I think the best conversations in this business happen when you're determined to get something done, whether it's trying to make a trade or working with a player's agent. It's really helpful to put yourself in the other guy's shoes, and the law helps you do that."
Higgins said completing the Wallace deal at the trade deadline showed him he'd work well with Cho.
"We want cohesion in our strategy going forward," Higgins said. "All the conversations I have (with other teams) are probably not as cordial and upfront as the ones we had. With Rich, what you see on the surface is who he really is. I think I'm that way, too."
With Cho now coming in as No.2 in basketball operations, Higgins said he likely will spend more of his time working in oversight with Jordan.
Asked for his initial impressions of the Bobcats, Cho was brief: "I think we need some shooting and another big man."
Starting with the June draft, it's Cho's job to find those guys.
Have I just been out of touch or did this come out of nowhere? I thought Higgins had been doing a great job, not sure why we had to hire a new guy. Hope this guy pulls through.
It came entirely out of nowhere. Just when I've given up on MJ he pulls something like this. Here's why I think it's a great move:
1. Cho isn't part of MJ's inner circle. I think it's important to have someone that won't just be a yes man to MJ. MJ has the final say, but just having a respected differing opinion can sometimes make a world of difference.
2. LJJ said he doesn't have much experience but the experience and record he has is impressive. The current roster and overall financial health of the OKC Thunder are largely due to Cho's efforts. Would we like to be like OKC? Yes please!
3. Cho is an expert at managing the cap. Since a new cap system will ultimately come out of any new CBA agreement, it's imperative to have someone in the FO who can quickly grasp the numbers and work them to a team's advantage. I think Cho has the capacity to do this and do it well.
Yup, agree with Rufus. This was an out of the park move and one we desperately needed. We now have a vision, a darn fine negotiator (we owned that 3 way) and someone who looks to be able to follow it all through.
We're going to take that step back next year, but with another potentially great asset from the 2012 draft and all that cap room we'll be much better off in 2/3 years than we've ever been.