Hornets' Rod Higgins steps down

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Hornets have placed the team's future personnel decisions in the hands of Rich Cho after Rod Higgins has stepped down as the team's president of basketball operations on Friday.

Higgins had been with the team for the last seven years.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan thanked Higgins in a statement.

"Rod has been a consummate professional throughout his time with the team," Jordan said. "Thanks to his hard work and commitment, we have an improved roster and we are poised for success in the future. Rod was of great help to me as I navigated my first four years as majority owner of this franchise. I wish him all the best."

Cho will remain in his capacity as general manager and assume responsibility for the team's basketball operations, according to a news release issued by the team.

Cho will report to Jordan and vice chairman Curtis Polk. Cho declined comment through team spokesman Mike Cristaldi.

In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Jordan said it was his decision to give more power to Cho that led to Higgins' departure.

"Rod's strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team," Jordan told the Observer. "He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn't want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I'd work with Rod on that."

The Hornets owner says he wants Cho to manage the salary cup in addition to handling budgets.

"One of [Higgins'] strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams," Jordan said. "Sometimes when teams would call [proposing trades], they'd bypass Rod to get to Rich."

The move comes two weeks before the NBA draft and what is expected to be a busy offseason for the Hornets. The Hornets have the ninth, 24th and 45th overall picks and more than $13 million to spend under the salary cap.

Jordan has already said the team hopes to make a "big difference" in upgrading the roster this offseason.

Higgins declined comment on the matter via text message to The Associated Press.

Coach Steve Clifford, entering his second season with the Hornets, said he had a great working relationship with Higgins.

"He helped me a lot -- helped our staff a lot. He is a terrific basketball guy and a great person, and we're going to miss him," Clifford said. "With that being said, you know change is a big part of this league. We need to quickly focus and move forward and continue to build the right culture, roster, so we can be a good team year in and year out."

When Jordan took over as part owner in Charlotte in 2006, Higgins was one of his first hires the following year.

He's long been one of Jordan's most trusted friends.

Jordan was a rookie in the 1984 when he joined the Chicago Bulls and became teammates with Higgins, a veteran forward at the time. After a 13-year NBA career, Higgins went on to work with Jordan as an assistant general manager with the Washington Wizards.

Higgins later left the Wizards to become general manager of the Golden State Warriors before joining Jordan again in Charlotte.

Cho was hired by Jordan in 2011 as Charlotte's new general manager and Higgins' title became president of basketball operations. From that time, the two shared player personnel duties and regularly appeared together at news conference to discuss personnel moves with the media.

Jordan told the Observer that arrangement led to some "confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in."

Clifford said he's confident Cho will do a great job moving forward.

"Rich is very organized, on top of things," Clifford said. "I know we'll be prepared, we will be prepared for the draft, for free agency and you know just like we have in the past. I don't see that part being an adjustment at all. We've been working together for a year."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.