Jeff Peterson optimistic about building the Hornets into NBA's premier franchise despite long odds

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jeff Peterson made it clear he wants to turn the struggling Charlotte Hornets into one of the NBA’s premier franchises.

That’s a lofty goal for the organization’s new executive vice president of basketball operations, who inherits a squad that is 15-47 this season and hasn’t been to the postseason since 2016-17 — the longest drought in the league.

But the 35-year-old Peterson isn’t flinching, and said he doesn’t feel any pressure.

“I think it's an incredible opportunity,” Peterson said at an introductory news conference Wednesday at the Spectrum Center. “I'm 35 and I've also seen a lot in this league in 12 years. A lot of things happened in Atlanta and a lot of things happened in Brooklyn.”

Peterson worked in the Hawks front office before spending the last 4 1/2 seasons as the Nets assistant general manager, where he helped facilitate the signing of free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, orchestrate trades for James Harden, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, and draft Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton.

The Hornets don't have nearly the level of star power the Nets once had, and their roster remains very much in flux.

Charlotte made a flurry of moves at the trade deadline, dealing established veterans Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington in exchange for draft assets and a group of players that include Tre Mann, Vasa Micic, Grant Williams, Seth Curry and Davis Bertans. They join a core group led by rookie Brandon Miller, LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges and Mark Williams.

“I'm very excited about our roster,” Peterson said. “I think we have a lot of good pieces and I'm excited to take this time to evaluate and see where we can tweak some things to get better. So we want to use these last 20 games to get better.”

Peterson and the Hornets are expected to be active in free agency this summer as they continue to rework the roster. Charlotte will have more than $40 million in projected salary cap space — seventh most in the league — according to Sportrac.com.

Hornets co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin believe they have found the right man to replace longtime NBA executive Mitch Kupchak, who is stepping down to take an advisory role with the franchise.

Schnall, who worked with Peterson while serving as a minority owner with the Hawks, called the Peterson hire a “home run” for Charlotte.

“It didn't take very long to figure out that Jeff was going to have a great career and be really successful in this line of work,” Schnall said.

Added Plotkin: “He is somebody that people want to work with and work for.”

Schnall said he's hoping the Hornets have found someone who can lead the organization for the next two decades.

Peterson's ability to build relationships across the league, his high IQ and his drive make him a perfect organizational fit for the Hornets, Schnall said. Peterson will have final say on personnel matters, but will consult with Schnall and Plotkin.

Peterson said it’s unfair to put a timeframe on when he expects the Hornets to turn things around, adding that he won’t skip any steps and wants the transformation into a winning franchise to happen organically.

“Our main goal is to have sustained success,” Peterson said. “We don’t want to make the playoffs one year and then we’re out for another three or four years. We want this to be sustainable and turn this team into a consistent winner.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba